Feminist: “someone (woman or a man), who believes in the full social, economic, political equality of women and men.”
- Jennifer Siebel Newsom, Gloria Steinem
I sat with my brothers and a bowl of popcorn waiting for my favorite scene in “Mulan”. Likely we would rewind it, once, twice, a third time.
"I'll make a man out of youuuu"
We knew the words by heart, singing along without any sense of tone and believing that together we cheered on the bravery of the fiery female character. Maybe. But at the same time, I internalized the idea that one must transform from woman to man in order to prove her strength of both mind and body. And my brothers were internalizing the idea of women as cooks in the home with lines saying, "it doesn't matter what she looks like. But what she cooks like."
Over the years the shows have changed, but the message has remained largely the same.
The evidence of systemic oppression based on gender prejudices cannot possibly be denied. Although women make up 51 percent of the population, they comprise only 20 percent of Congress and still make only 77 cents per dollar a man is paid (this under anti-discrimination laws). In the media, only 29 percent of speaking characters are female in top films, and only a quarter of films have female protagonists.
Women are getting typecast and something must be done, whether we have keyed in on the sexism in our own lives or not. The only way to change the system is through individuals making a change within themselves and following through by standing up and speaking out.
Jennifer Siebel Newsom realized how close minded the media really could be towards women in her attempts to break into the acting world.
Where would her children look for role models?
Her first film project, “Miss Representation” is entertaining and informative, drawing on the voices of women in positions of power as well as speaking with teen girls working towards their own ambitious dreams. Figures who encourage others to continue pushing the boundaries are central voices; they inspire role models in their own poise and strength.
The work looks primarily at how women and girls are portrayed in the media, highlighting the damage it continues to reap on confidence throughout the female (and arguably, male) population. Women are complex people, each individual different than the next, but the images we see are primarily the same, all beauty and no brains. Or, like in “Mulan,” one must transform in order to prove herself worthy of success.
The message of MissRepresentation and the Representation Project is not meant to turn viewers away from the current media per say, but rather to educate viewers and encourage them to push pack against the images, to engage with them and question motives. Mulan is not a bad movie, it shows a strong woman and I will watch it again, but I watch it differently these days, aware of the message hidden behind the catchy songs and the humorous cartoons.
“Sexism sells because it's what’s being offered,” Newsom said. “However, through widespread engagement challenging the limiting portrayals of gender representation in the media, we can create a healthier culture.”
Newsom demonstrates this engagement with the #NotBuyingIt campaign, which challenges companies and brands that promote sexism.
“From Go Daddy commercials during the Super Bowl to a billboard at a bus stop in New York City, hashtag #NotBuyingIt has been used by tens of thousands on Twitter to challenge brands and companies which rely on misrepresentations of gender and extreme sexual objectification to sell their products,” Newsom said.
The movement encourages viewers to speak up, by, for example, writing letters to advertisers or companies. Likewise, in the spirit of positivity the Representation Project began a trend of images on Pinterest under the hashtag #mediawelike in order to support those companies that do make an effort towards gender equality and choose to move away from objectifying images.
Newsom’s movement is not limited just girls and women and invites everyone to be part of the conversation.
“It is about including everyone to change our culture away from patriarchy and dominance, and towards collaboration and equality,” Newsom said. “This absolutely means bringing men to the table and ensuring they are a part of this conversation as well.”
She encourages women and men, girls and boys to participate by taking the pledge on The Representation Project’s website, www.therepresentationproject.org.
"Talk to your friends, peers, and parents about feminism, and why it’s not about hating men - in fact, it’s quite the opposite,” Newsom said. “It’s just about making sure everyone - no matter their gender, race, class, age, sexual orientation or circumstance - can fulfill their potential.”
Gender stereotypes and oppression are a pervasive part of everyday life no matter how where we identify on the gender spectrum. But, by seeking out answers, paying attention, and speaking up, a more rapid change is just down the road.