In Miss Representation, actress-activist Rosario Dawson talks about how important it is for women to write their own stories. This is equally important in
entertainment and in journalism alike. Yet as I discuss in the film, today’s media climate is extremely toxic for women and girls, and for people of color.
That’s because the main purpose of TV programming today is not to entertain, engage or inform us. Sad but true: the purpose is generate sky-high profits for the tiny handful of mega-merged media corporations that own and control the vast majority of what we’re given to watch, see, hear and play in newspapers, magazines, TV, radio, movies, billboards and video games. When these six major conglomerates (Disney, Time Warner, NewsCorp, Viacom, CBS and General Electric) prioritize the financial bottom line over journalistic ethics, diverse and critical art, and the public interest, we all lose out… but women pay a particularly steep price.
Journalism is the only industry in America that has Constitutional protection, because a healthy democracy cannot function without a free, independent, critical press. Yet for decades, groups like Women In Media & News, Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting, the White House Project and the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film have documented that women are misrepresented and marginalized as op-ed writers, front-page news sources, lead anchors, and commentators… that is, when they aren’t missing entirely.
Scripted entertainment isn’t much better. As filmmaker Nia Vardalos wrote at WIMN’s Voices, Hollywood studios ignore data that show that audiences actually do want to support films with strong female leads, calling the success of Sex and the City, Mamma Mia and My Big Fat Greek Wedding “a fluke” and pressure screenwriters to change female leads to male characters. On television, the most popular scripted genre is the glut of procedural crime dramas that fetishize and glamorize rape, incest, and torture of women and children.
And as I discuss in “Miss Representation” and write in Reality Bites Back: The Troubling Truth About Guilty Pleasure TV, reality TV has been functioning as backlash against women’s rights and social progress. A decade of hyperedited, manipulative reality shows have portrayed women as stupid, bitchy, pathetic golddiggers who can never be happy without being passively chosen by any man who’ll have them. Through this genre, product-placement advertisers have collaborated with networks to create a regressive, 1950s-esque world in which we’re supposed to believe that women’s only achievement is marriage, their only power is their beauty, and in which women of color only exist as ignorant, hypersexual, “ghetto” “hos.” If you knew nothing about American women other than what you saw in “reality” TV, you’d believe the women’s movement and the civil rights movement never even happened!
This would all be really depressing if there wasn’t something you could do about it. Luckily, there are many ways to change the media for the better. So, after you watch “Miss Representation” and leave the theater or turn off OWN, you shouldn’t simply get angry— you should get active.
As a journalist, media critic and media activist, I have been working on issues related to women and the media since the early 1990s, and I can tell you that there have never been more ways to get involved. I founded Women In Media & News in 2001, as the first-ever national women’s media analysis, education and advocacy group. We work to increase women’s presence and power in the public debate through a variety of programs including media trainings to women’s rights and social justice groups; media literacy and education projects; a group blog analyzing representations of gender, race, class and other issues in the media (WIMN’s Voices); and a POWER Sources Project that connects journalists and media producers with an ethnically, regionally and professionally diverse national network of women experts who can serve as news sources. (I also travel across the United States and Canada doing multimedia lectures and workshops on issues related to gender, race, class and sexuality in the media, so if you want me to come to come to your school, non-profit or business, be in touch!)
In the decade since I founded WIMN, I started to see a feminist, anti-racist media movement growing organically throughout America, from the Women, Action and Media community in 2004, to the Women’s Media Center in 2005, to the increasing popularity of the feminist blogosphere. Programs like Seattle’s Reel Grrls and New York’s People’s Production House teach journalism, radio and filmmaking to girls, people of color, and low-income people, to help silenced communities tell their stories… just like Rosario Dawson encouraged. The Center for Media Justice in Oakland and the Media Justice League in San Antonio are fighting to hold media companies accountable to your needs, and advocating for fair media policies such as net neutrality, to ensure that the internet and other information communication technologies are equally accessible to all. The Media Literacy Project in New Mexico can help you get media literacy education in K-12 schools, and has online toolkits adults and kids alike can use to become active, critical media consumers.
And if you want to find positive, challenging, critical journalism and entertainment that represents women in all their diversity, where women speak in their own voices — just like Rosario Dawson encouraged — you can to turn to independent media alternatives, including GRITtv with Laura Flanders, WINGS radio, Ms., ColorLines, World Pulse,Bitch: Feminist Response to Pop Culture, Women’s Enews, and Feminist.com. You can read blogs like WIMN’s Voices, Feministing, Racialicious, The Feminist Wire, and Duly Noted, to name just a few, and watch video remixes at Pop Culture Pirate and Feminist Frequency.
From all the organizations and indy media outlets above, to the national Media Action
Grassroots Network, there is a vibrant movement in America that needs your energy, support and involvement to challenge damaging and inaccurate media content, improve representations of women, people of color and other marginalized communities, to advocate more just policies regulating the media and telecommunications industries, and to tell our own stories. Women and people of color have been working on these issues in the shadows for decades. Now that “Miss Representation” has shined a mainstream spotlight on this crucial advocacy, it’s time for you to join the movement. Welcome!
And the national http://mag-net.org/ Media Action Grassroots Network coalition, there is a vibrant media activist movement in America that needs your energy, support and involvement to hold corporate media accountable for damaging and inaccurate content, to improve representations of women, people of color and other marginalized communities, and to advocate fairer, more just policies regulating the media and telecommunications industries.
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