Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Preparing My Daughter to Take on the World

I sat down with my 13-year-old daughter the other day with the intent of revolutionizing her, or, at the very least, stoking embers of the fire which I hope will eventually energize her to take on the world.

We watched the documentary Miss Representation together. I've written about this film before and, even upon my second viewing, found that it remains a powerful indictment of the media of which I am a part. Miss Representation chronicles the long lasting impact of media sexism on our young women -- in coverage of women in politics, the denigration of women as sex objects, the sidelining of women's stories in news, sports and entertainment, and the media's emphasis on pleasing and catering to the male viewer/reader/consumer even though women watch more TV, go to more films and have control over 70+ percent of U.S. consumer spending.

The documentary presents statistic after wearying statistic which, when taken as a whole, paint a dire picture about the paucity of women in politics, the silence of women's voices in the halls of leadership (politics, business, media) and the lack of multi-faceted, intelligent, non-sex object protagonists in films and TV shows.

For every Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, Nancy Pelosi and Condoleezza Rice, there are thousands of media talking heads and bloggers who want to make hay by tearing them down based on how they look and what they wear. You need to search no further for a relevant example of this than to the current internet hubbub over the fact that our Secretary of State dared to go out in public wearing no makeup except for lipstick. I blogged about the insanity here.

For every popular portrayal of an authentic, flawed, realistic woman on the screen (The Good Wife, Grey's Anatomy, Nurse Jackie), the number of shallow depictions of women, particularly those which reduce women to body parts or as subservient to men, vastly outnumber the complex ones, by epic proportions.

But I didn't want watching this documentary to be a downer for my daughter. And it wasn't. It got her angry. It got her motivated to do something about this, to not fall prey to the messages with which she's bombarded about how she should look and dress, what she should want and how she should act.

She was already well on her way to speaking out against this. When assigned to write a persuasive essay recently, she chose to write about how women's sports should receive more attention and coverage in the media after pointing out to me that the women's collegiate basketball tournament games didn't receive a fraction of the coverage the men's hoop tournament received. (She's a hoopster and wanted to read about her role models, just like her brothers could.) Additionally, when she looked up scores and info in the newspapers, she found that the games for female college athletes were listed well inside the papers (if at all) and were designated as being part of the "women's" NCAA hoop tournament versus how the men's scores were presented, as part of the generic "NCAA basketball tournament," you know, the "regular" and only real tournament because it was the male one to which everyone is referring when they ask, "Did you fill out your brackets?" The tournament for women hoop players didn't get that kind of publicity. The women's tournament is an also-ran, insignificant by comparison, and wow, did that tick my daughter off.

We'd both rather see the likes of this -- an online profile of fantastic soccer superstar Abby Wambach who is smart, talented, hardworking and fearless -- than insulting attempts to try to yield web traffic with headlines like, "PHOTOS: Dakota's Very, Very Low-Rise Jeans" (about actress Dakota Fanning's pants) or "Inside Octomom's Adult Film Shoot," both stories which were found on a prominent mainstream news site today.

Image credits: Amazon and espnW

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