In last week’s Montreal Gazette, Janet Bagnall wrote that while women “should make up half of elected officials and not 20 per cent, earn 100 cents for every dollar earned by their male co-workers and not 77 cents, and direct and star in movies about women instead of being the half-dressed sidekick to the male star”, we aren’t quite there yet. Instead, women’s public lives are being undermined in every direction. This is the subject of the documentary Bagnall’s piece reflects on: Miss Representation is a Sundance Festival winner written and directed by Jennifer Siebel Newsom who argues that current media images reinforce that women today must “look like Miss USA, have sex like Samantha on Sex and the City and think like June Cleaver”.
For me International Women’s Day is not about a celebration of how far we have come, although I have recently been reminded by those of generations before mine, that we have come a very long way and that in this current struggle, we mustn’t be ignorant of that, nor see this particular struggle in a vacuum. But for me, International Women’s Day is a call to action, it is a rememberance of this history, and a warning against apathy. It is important for me however that we not just use these days to get angry or rivetted by a cause, but to be propelled to action. Today’s release for example of Invisible Children’s viral KONY 2012 video was made by people who know that actions can be powerful, and who hope that Americans and their allies will act, rather than just simply care. We are too often propelled to care, but not enough to act. My hope for International Women’s Day is that individuals are propelled to act, to change, to carry the passion and momentum forward, and that is why I am excited about Miss Representation. I hope that this is a film, regardless of its weaknesses, that will enlarge our understanding and appreciation of the importance of critical media and of real girls’ empowerment.
It is with this hope too that I have worked on the FemmeToxic campaign started by Breast Cancer Action Montreal. While FemmeToxic is inspired by a women’s health movement, it resonates particularly with me because of its delineation of topics like self-worth, self-esteem, gender-specific media and marketing and body image. FemmeToxic has identified some of these issues as the reason why women and young girls are more susceptiple to the chemicals in our environments. We are marketed to, we consume more, we shop more, we use way more products, and we are at greater risk of chemical exposure because of it. Young girls are particularly susceptible to media messages and marketing of particular products that then lead them to be increasingly vulnerable to the harm of those same products.
This is an issue to get angry about. REALLY angry. Not unlike many of the issues that arise in Miss Representation, this too is one we can not blame on the girls themselves, but we need to look at larger social and systemic issues of what we allow to be in the media, and how we allow women to be represented. We shouldn’t slut-shame or fat-shame, and we shouldn’t criticize the way women in the media present themselves, but shame the companies and media conglomerates that force/ask/inspire them to do it. The issues arising in Miss Representation and by groups like FemmeToxic are ones on which we can take real action and have a real impact. We can choose what products to buy, and we can choose what kinds of media to consume. We can have an affect on policy in our regions and countries. We can ask for change, and hopefully this is a film that will propel people to do so.
I am proud to represent FemmeToxic tomorrow evening at a special International Women’s Day film screening of Miss Representation at Concordia University. I invite you to join us in this screening, and more importantly in a discussion about how we can create change.