Miss Representation

Last week I watched a stunning documentary called Miss Representation and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. The documentary looks at the state of women in our culture’s media and politics. I realize that women are hyper sexualized in the media. I realize that most women hate their bodies and can never live up to the image of perfection we are presented with. I realize that women struggle to find their way into positions of leadership in our government. I realize women are still paid less than their male counterparts.

But I didn’t realize just how out of control sexual bias is in our culture. I suppose I thought about all the freedoms that women had gained in the last century and I wasn’t paying attention to how far there is to go. Take a look at some of these statistics and excerpts from the film:

-The U.S. is 90th in the world in terms of women in national legislatures

-67 countries in the world have had female presidents or prime ministers. The U.S. is not one of them. Cuba, China, Iraq, and Afghanistan have had more women in government than the United States.

-Women hold 17% of the seats in the House of Representatives (the equivalent body in Rwanda is 56.3% female)

-Only 34 women have ever served as governors compared to 2319 men

-“When I first ran for office, although my son was a senior in high school, the question I was most frequently asked was, ‘Who is going to be taking care of your children?’ and of course, it’s one of those questions that I don’t think a man has ever been asked when he has run for office.” –Nancy Pelosi, former US Speaker of the House

-“97% of everything you know about yourself and your country and your world comes from the male perspective. It doesn’t mean that it’s wrong. It just means that in a democracy where you talk about equality and full participation, you’ve got more than half the population not participating.” – Carol Jenkins

-The film spotlighted the way our media and culture handled Hilary Clinton and Sarah Palin during the 2008 elections. Sarah Palin went with a very feminine approach. She was the all-American wife and mother. She was called a slut, ditzy, ‘great jerk-off material’ (by several men on stations like FOX News and ESPEN, to name a few). On national television, she was asked about whether or not she had breast implants more than about what she would want to do for our country. And Hilary Clinton is painted as domineering, a bitch, old, ugly, haggard, etc. One news anchor said, “The only reason she’s running for office is because her husband messed around. It gets sympathy votes.” Oh, right. It has nothing to do with her credentials or leadership abilities. Over and over again the media criticized these women’s clothes, hair, cellulite, wrinkles, and bodies over their voices. The fact that media is so limiting and so derogatory towards some of the most powerful women in the country, then what does it says about media’s ability to take any women in America seriously?

-53% of 12-year-old girls feel unhappy with their bodies

-78% of 17-year-old girls feel unhappy with their bodies

-65 % of American women and girls have disordered eating behavior

-Rates of depression among girls and women have doubled between 2000 and 2010

-20% of Americans have sex before the age of 14

-1 in 6 women in America are survivors of rape or attempted rape (15% of those are under the age of 12)

-Study after study proves that TV violence enhances violent behavior. 1 in 4 women will be abused by a partner in their lifetime.

-Girls are learning to see themselves as objects. American Psychological Association calls self-objectification a national epidemic.

-Female characters in G rated movies are just as likely to wear revealing clothing as in R rated movies.

-US advertisers support this content- they spent 236 billion in 2009. Because of the deregulation – “This is the first time in human history that marketers have dictated our cultural norms and values.”- Caroline Heldman, Occidental College

-American women spend more money of the pursuit of beauty than on their own education.

-“There used to be a thing called family hour, where you couldn’t air anything inappropriate for families before 9 pm. That is gone. Today it is the wild wild west. In the last 25 years our lawmakers have essentially been absent, out of the picture.”- Jim Steyer, Common Sense Media

-More than 70% of women on TV are in the 20s and 30s. “ A male dominant system values women as child bearers so it limits their value to the time that they are sexually and reproductively active and they become much less valuable after that.” –Gloria Steinem

-“When I did my first television show…I had a lot of problems with the network because they were constantly telling me that I was too fat…I became very anorexic trying to somehow keep this job that I really wanted to keep…they ended up cancelling the show and they replaced it with Drew Carey…’cause he’s so thin,” –Margaret Cho, comedienne, actor, activist

-Women are merely 3% of Fortune 500 CEOs.

-Women hold only 3% of clout positions in the mainstream media (entertainment, publishing, advertising, telecommunications)

-Women comprise 7% of directors and 10% of film writers on the top 250 grossing films

-“I started acting when I was 28, and I was told that I was old, needed to lie about my age, and was asked to take my Stanford MBA off my resume. We need to challenge the media conglomerates to value women for more than their youth, beauty, and sexuality, and we must hold these companies accountable.”- Jennifer Siebel Newsom- Founder and CEO of Miss Representation

-“All of Hollywood is run on one assumption: that women will watch stories about men but men won’t watch stories about women. It is a horrible indictment of our society if we assume that one half our population is just not interested in the other half.” –Geena Davis

-Who are behind the scenes making the crucial decision about what we see?

Walt Disney Company- Board: 4 of 13 are women

Viacom- Board: 2 of 11 are women

TimeWarner- Board: 2of 13 are women

CBS- Board: 2 of 14 are women

FOX- Board: 1 of 16 are women

-Women only own 5.8% of television stations and 6% of radio stations

I appreciated that the film pointed to the fact that not only does the way our media handle women negatively impact females, it doesn’t help the male population, either. It doesn’t do anything good for anyone. And our media doesn’t just impact our own culture. American movies and TV shows are watched all around the world. I remember when I went to Morocco, some days it felt like every other guy on the street was asking to have sex (that’s a nice way of putting it). Of course he would expect that of me. Practically every western movie he sees has a guy and a girl that meet and then a few scenes (or one scene) later, they’re in bed together and every western magazine has some chick wearing a bikini and sultry pout on the cover.

There are so many issues the film touched. These are obviously complex issues and I’m not an expert by any means, but I think the statistics speak for themselves. I strongly encourage everyone to see it and think for yourselves. It’s on instant watch on Netflix.

Visit www.missrepresentation.org to watch a trailer, stay informed, and find out what you can do to make a difference. And please, men, do it too. If anything, you should’ve realized from this that you’re running the show. Therefore, you can make a big impact, too.

“I am over the passivity of good men. Where the hell are you? You live with us, you make love with us, father us, befriend us, brother us, get nurtured and mothered by us, so why aren’t you standing with us? Why aren’t you driven to the point of madness and action by the rape and humiliation of us?”- Eve Ensler



Do You Know the Poor?

Parental influence and involvement in political activities is one of the largest predictors of where their children’s vote will go.

So, this election I’ve been seriously pondering why my political tendencies are different from that of my own family. Politics were rarely brought up in my presence. In my opinion, this was great because I always relatively knew where my parents stood, but it allowed me to keep a very open mind and make a decision for myself.

I believe for most people, political preference simply comes down to personal life experience. When I think about my depression-era Grandpa who grew up in rural Iowa, a staunch Dutchman, man of God’s word, a tax accountant who had two or three kids by the time he was my age, it makes sense for him to vote Republican. When I think about my friend who is Hispanic, Catholic, left a gang when he became a dad of two, juggling a job at Wal-Mart and an auto-body shop while taking college classes to become an art teacher, I understand why he votes Democrat. It’s not right or wrong. It just is. And it’s a good thing, because America is a melting pot for a reason and we need to see things lots of different ways.

When I think about myself, I come from a conservative, hard-working, middle-class family. I chose to be a Christian and for me following Jesus meant loving the poor, homeless, orphaned, and broken. Not just sending them a check and prayers. It meant praying with them, touching them, smelling them, eating their food, sleeping on their floors, and attempting to see their life in the way Jesus so profoundly did (and I should still do a better job). And those people affected me and changed my way of thinking. I married someone who shared those thoughts, or actions. We got married young-really young. So we’re kind of broke and have had to live life in ways a lot of married couples don’t. But I’ve never been worried about being poor and desperate because we have networks. We have LOTS of family, friends, and churches that would cushion the blow if something devastating were to happen. So many people in America don’t have that. And here’s where my background and my current state divide.

I think a lot of people, perhaps some of my own family included, have a very inaccurate depiction of the poor. And this deeply, deeply saddens me.

First of all, to understand the poor, you must know the poor. If you want to talk to me about the poor I want to hear you say their names, show me their faces; tell me about their lives, and what your relationship with them has been like. Because if you’re going to tell me that volunteering to feed the homeless twice a year or donating your used clothing to a local mission is how you “know the poor” I think you have the Gospel all wrong.

If you think the majority of people on welfare abuse the system, if these people would just get jobs it would solve a lot of problems, or if you think tough love is going to change them then you don’t understand the culture of poverty. If my grandparents were poor, and my parents were poor, I’m going to be poor. And if by some miracle I make it through high school and into college and I make good money, my money goes to my family because they need help whether they’re in America or in another country.  If I have an influx of income, I spend it because it could be taken away at any moment. No one has sat me down and taught me how to save and honestly, you really can’t live off of minimum wage. Point being, if you didn’t grow up in poverty you have no way of comprehending what it is really like. I know I don’t! But I’ve tried hard to. You can get a better idea by building ACTUAL relationships with the homeless, orphaned, widowed, and disabled in your community. I promise if you do (and if you’re a Christian, you are CALLED to do this), your heart and your head might change a little or a lot.

I’m not politically savvy in the least bit and I choose to put my hope in God no matter who sits in office. I realize these conversations about poverty and politics and religion could go on for days and I really only skim the surface of a lot more I’d love to say. I understand it is not a black and white issue and am not claiming to be correct about everything. I just want to encourage people, especially my fellow Jesus-followers, to ask yourselves what your relationship with the poor looks like? Do you even have one? If you don’t, do you make judgments or have pre-conceived notions about the poor? Spend some time reading over scripture about God’s heart for justice. Justice for the physically poor, spiritually poor, homeless, widowed, orphaned, and foreigner.



“We can admire and worship Jesus without doing what he did. We can applaud what he preached and stood for without caring about the same things. We can adore his cross without taking up ours. I had come to see that the great tragedy of the church is not that wealthy Christians do not care about the poor but that wealthy Christians do not know the poor.”

Shane Claiborne, The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical