Miss-Representation – how we portray women in the media, and what we can do about it

One of the sessions at the UK Girls’ Schools Association Conference in Bristol in November, which I hosted as GSA President, was an uplifting interactive conversation with colleagues from the States. It immediately preceded the arrival of Nick Gibb, Minister of State for Schools, who was delayed; the positive upshot was that we were able to talk more about international matters. Our colleagues from the States shared with us a project in which they had been involved – the development of a documentary, and a movement, entitled ‘Missrepresentation’, looking at how the media skews its portrayal of women. A colleague from Australia reminded me of this last week via Twitter, and I wanted to draw it to everyone’s attention.

Details of the documentary – and a 3 minute long trailer which is an absolute must-see – can be found at missrepresentation.org. A piece of advice – watch it yourself before you show it to others, especially children, as some of the scenes (although all taken from mainstream TV and music videos) are shocking, showing women in demeaning, violent, heavily sexualised poses. The derogatory comments made about women in the public eye such as Hillary Clinton when she was running for the White House, are highlighted too, and it is the juxtaposition of all these images and comments, which come tumbling out, one after another, which becomes overwhelming.

This is of course what girls in our society are exposed to every day, and we should take seriously not only the nature of the images and words, but their sheer volume. They form a compelling backdrop to the lives of girls and young women today; is it any wonder that as a society women often do not value themselves as they should? One of the high school students quoted in the film makes the point that ‘there is no appreciation for women as intellectuals – it is all about the body’, and this quest for impossible physical perfection, imposed by society, is one of the major reasons why women lack so much confidence. The film makes the point that children at the age of 7 divide equally by gender in their desire to become President of the United States; by the age of 15, there is a massive gap, and this is not in favour of the girls.

So what can we do? Well, watch the trailer – and see if you can watch the documentary at some point. Sign their pledge and follow the advice and guidance you will receive by email if you do. Above all, think critically about what you see around you and make sure you share this with the girls – and boys – you know. Our world deserves a fairer society, and we must all play our part in making this happen.

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