This weekend a friend shared a trailer for a documentary that premiered this year at Sundance called Miss Representation. Interesting timing because to me, it was a perfect example of our unit on the question of media regulation.
The film talks about how the media portrays women in the U.S. and the consequences this has on our society. Showing clips of scantily clad women on TV, the news, in magazines or clips from newscasters discussing women politicians’ appearances, plastic surgery, or their outfits, the film argues that given the amount of time we spend consuming media – internet, TV, radio, magazines – this portrayal of women is having drastic consequences on how girls view their roles in society.
I think this movie provides a great answer to the question of why media should be regulated.
Siochrú and Girard (2002) explained that media products require different regulation than other products. Media products are unique because “they produce us”. That is, media products help us understand and define ourselves by providing us with the “raw materials, often even the tools, to comprehend what our society is beyond our immediate experience.” Because of their important and transformative role in society, media products cannot be left to regulation solely by the market.
Miss Representation demonstrates this by arguing that the U.S. media is influenced by advertisers who have determined that women’s bodies are what sells, so this is what gets shown in the media. As a result, the message transmitted to society is that value lies in beauty and sexuality, and consequently women become conditioned to view themselves in terms of their appearance and men conditioned to value women according to the same criteria. The lack of focus on women’s intellectual and leadership capabilities makes it more difficult for them to get leadership roles in business, politics, and society in general, which is harmful to our society because their voices do not get heard. The movie points out examples like:
· “Little boys and little girls when they’re 7 years old in equal number want to be president of the United States when they grow up. But then you ask the same question when they’re 15 and you see this massive gap emerging.”
· “Women hold only 3% of clout positions in telecommunications, entertainment, publishing and advertising.”
· “Women make up 51% of the U.S. population, yet comprise only 17% of Congress”
Media regulation then becomes necessary for two reasons: in ensuring that the message is not transmitting values that will be adopted by and harmful to our society and its different groups, and second, in ensuring that all voices and viewpoints are equally heard and represented. If media is the means through which we learn about our communities we want to make sure the lessons we are learning are beneficial and fair, and that those lessons are accurate representations of all of society’s different members, rather than a select minority group.
In the film they make a point about the power of media as a tool for change. I think this film is not only a tool for improving women’s status, but maybe even more so as a reminder to us to look more critically at our media, how we interpret its messages and the effect it has on how we view ourselves and our lives.