Women Misrepresented in Media, Business | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Women Misrepresented in Media, Business


Amber Helsel

I recently started watching this show called "The Catch." It's about a private detective whose specialty is exposing fraud. One of the episodes in the first season that stands out to me is "The Benefactor." It's about a female U.S. Army ranger who is harassed by one of her fellow soldiers essentially for being a woman. In the end, the person harassing her turns out to be her brother, who claims he is protecting her. He tells her she's the strongest, bravest woman he knows, but ... she's a woman.

I hate the word "but."

He complimented her, and then dragged her down by reminding her of her gender. "You're a great Army ranger, but you're a woman," he said.

"You're a great scientist, but you're a woman."

"You're a great leader, but you're a woman."

"But" is a small three-letter word, but it can pack such a punch for a woman, or anyone really, who is trying to better herself or make a difference.

I've long thought myself lucky that I haven't heard much of that from my parents or family. They've always told me I can do whatever I set my mind to.

You want to be a chef? Learn how to cook. You want to be an artist? Do it.

They've given me practical advice about whatever it was I wanted to do at that moment, but they never told me I couldn't do it. Except maybe like become a superhero. But I can get myself ready for when that becomes a possibility, right?

Recently, I watched the documentary "Miss Representation" by Jennifer Siebel Newsom. The 2011 film focuses on the misrepresentation of women in mainstream society and the pressures we face because of it. It framed the struggle of women in a way I've never seen or thought about before.

One of the issues the film talks about pretty heavily at times is weight. One of the high-school girls interviewed said that she remembers worrying about her weight in fifth grade, and now that she is in ninth grade, she still worries.

When I was a child, there was a period in my life when I was, yes, a little rotund. I remember hearing comments about my weight over and over, even though I was just a kid who hadn't gone through a growth spurt, yet. And even then, I think I knew that. Around age 14, I grew a little taller and lost the weight, but those words stuck with me. I still had a tiny bit of baby fat around my stomach, so I still saw myself as fat.

The issue progressed and progressed, and now, I'm almost 27 and pushing 200 pounds. I look back at pictures of myself from back then, and I wish I had seen myself for what I was: a beautiful girl who shouldn't worry about her weight. Now I have to work just to see myself in a decent light when I look in the mirror. I know I'm not alone in feeling the need to be something I'm not.

Women are objectified to the point where we are vilifying ourselves and women around us. I can't count the number of times I have heard other women comment on the appearance of one of their peers, and it's almost always something negative. They're too skinny or too fat, have too much acne, or are too weird looking.

"Miss Representation" brings another interesting issue into light: The more women are objectified and feel the need to fit into a cookie-cutter mold, the less likely they are to pursue ambitious positions like political office or leadership roles, which means fewer voices heard.

In an article from The Nation published in 2014, writer Steven Hill remarks at the very beginning that, "At the current rate of progress, it will take nearly 500 years for women to reach fair representation in government."

Did you get that? 500 years.

UNWomen.org says that as of August 2015, only 22 percent of national parliamentarians were female, though that statistic has increased from 11.3 percent in 1995. In the U.S., women hold less than 20 percent of congressional seats. In Mississippi, nine women are state senators out of a total of 52 seats, and 16 are representatives of 122 total. That makes a total of 25 women in congressional seats in Mississippi passing laws that affect everyone in the state. Women have 25 of 174 seats in the U.S. Congress.

A large reason this happens is the fact that for the most part, women are misrepresented in Hollywood and on TV shows, and even in some news broadcasts.

"Iron Man 3" was supposed to have a female villain, but the director had to scrap the idea because it wouldn't sell as many toys. So much for superhero inspiration.

"Miss Representation" points out that in general, women aren't protagonists unless they're in dramatic films or romantic comedies. In films, only 16 percent of protagonists are female. And mostly, we're just portrayed as women who are waiting for a knight in shining armor to come rescue us.

If we're leaders in films, we're mostly portrayed as bitches. This isn't true for all films and TV show, but it's a trend I've noticed over the years. And God forbid that we're political leaders in real life. Mainstream national news outlets tend to focus on female politicians' appearances, not their ideals.

The thing that drove the film's message home is the idea that men essentially control the media, or at least it seems that way if you look at who is behind the major media companies, or writing serious columns in other Mississippi newspapers.

An article on Yahoo! Finance says that in 2014, six of the 10 highest-paid chief executive officers were in media, and guess what? All six are white men. Men sit at the top of most American media companies, from Disney to Comcast to Time Warner to FOX. Men oversee companies producing content that penetrates our lives on a daily basis.

The rarity of my current position at the Jackson Free Press isn't lost on me.

I'm female, I'm young, and I'm in a major leadership role. I'm finally beginning to realize that if anyone is going to help make a change, to change the conversation, it's going to be women like me, women who have been empowered to speak out and ask for more. I remember all the time that if it hadn't for that one moment when I spoke up, I probably wouldn't be in the position I am today.

Assistant Editor Amber Helsel is a foodie-in-training and an artist. Her patronus charm is a cat. Email her story ideas at [email protected].

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