Tonight on the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN), the much anticipated documentary, Miss Representation airs at 9/8c. The documentary, written and directed by Jennifer Siebel Newsom ,takes an in-depth look at the calculated business of selling sexism and misogyny in much of popular entertainment, media, culture. Based on the trailer and the buzz surrounding the film, Newsom and her team pulled together a dynamic set of women across all areas of the “sexualization of women and girls in society” spectrum to speak on the subject, including Condoleezza Rice, Geena Davis (who runs her own gender justice organization), Margaret Cho, Jennifer Pozner, among others. The trailer for this documentary has popped up in my Facebook news feed about ten times (and not all from Women’s Studies alums, either), with each woman declaring it a “must watch” and “Finally! Someone talks about this!” With that kind of support and anticipation behind it, it’s clear that despite the (inexplicable) successes of reality TV stars turned celebrities, Two and a Half Men, “Almost Legal” countdowns for teen stars, and the option to reconstruct your entire body with the right tools and serums, women are tired of being told how to look and be everything but what they actually authentically are. Miss Representation is long overdue. I hope with it comes not simply reform in representations of women, but also solidarity among women where we can support one another in all the forms we manifest ourselves in. That means all women identified women, not simply cis-gendered, size six, blond middle-class and educated white women, but Black, Latina, trans, Korean, Indian, lesbian, those with disabilities, poor, fat and all the other beautiful identities in between. I have found in past conversations about gender justice in media that all of those other identities get lost in the fight for equality and instead the movement’s demands suggests activists are simply asking for Hollywood and advertisers to replace that size two, blond-haired white model with a size 12 redhead.
As I prepare for an interview with Vocalo this evening on the documentary, Dark Girls, I find the juxtaposition of the two in my day’s plans to be poignant. First, because as Dark Girls explores the complicated history of colorism among Blacks, where the verbal and nonverbal sentiment has been “light is right,” it is extremely important to recognize what influences and perpetuates that white supremacist frame of thinking and practice. These intraracial politics do not simply exist in a vacuum of Blackness, thus allowing others complicity to be disregarded. Mainstream cultural institutions like Hollywood, the fashion industry, television’s dependency on advertising, and popular music play a significant role in perpetuating and promoting this ideology. Second, because I cannot wait to see how much Miss Representation touches on not only the sexualization of women of color and those who don’t fit into the mainstream heteronormative societal framework, but also if it discusses the often complete absence of those women in television and film all together. If mass audiences don’t see Black women or Latina women or Asian women or Arab women, so on and so on, except in extremely limited, generally stereotypical roles—how do those women and girls formulate their sexuality, understand their beauty or attractiveness (think this summer’s Psychology Today article), and build their identity in relation to society? And in turn, how does that society allow them to express those identities, sexuality(s), and beauty, especially if they don’t fit into what’s on TV or the big screen?
These are just a few thoughts that will be with me this fine evening as I watch what I hope signals a growing trend among women and the larger American society, to demand and create better environments for us to, as Ms. Winfrey would say, “live our best lives.”