Today I watched the trailer for a new movie about the representation of women in the media.  The trailer pulled me in with some pretty impressive numbers, like the fact that American teens take in 31 hours of television a week, and nearly 11 hours consuming media EACH DAY.  When do these kids go to school?

I agree that teenagers in general are probably spending too much time watching TV or on Facebook, and I agree that a lot of the messages young women get from the media are wrong, and put too much emphasis on physical beauty and especially their bodies and sexuality.  I have a 16-year-old sister, and one of my great hopes for her is that she will place greater value on her character than her looks.

In fact, it’s not just teens, but women of every age (including me) who are affected by the media’s representation of us.  We take cues from books, movies, and magazines, and we listen to their messages about gender, relationships, love, marriage, even sex.  But if we want to find the truth in the messages presented to us, we’ve got it out of order.  We should first start by knowing the truth about ourselves – that we are valuable human beings – and then we should sort through the messages in media with a discerning mind, rejecting those that are false, and accepting and sharing those that are truthful and encouraging.

This is harder for young women to do, since the process requires some maturity.  That’s why female role models and good parenting are so important.  My parents wouldn’t allow me to watch PG-13 movies until I was 13.  I don’t think this rule made my parents good parents, but it was the principle behind the rule: “We don’t want little Hadley to be badly affected by certain images or messages until she is ready.” 

I appreciate that the “Miss Representation” movie is going to point out how harmful media’s messages can be when they aren’t filtered, but the trailer lost me, however, when it started rehashing much of the “evidence” that women are behind in U.S. society.  I know I don’t care what percentage of Congress is comprised of female Members, and I certainly don’t mind that Iraq, Afghanistan, or China have more women in government.  American women are free to dress as they please and have as many children as they please… aren’t these things more important?

We can change the culture surrounding the representation of women in the media, and I do believe forward progress has been made.  It’s important to remember that movie-makers’ first concern is not to tell the truth about how valuable women are.  Instead, their first concern is to produce messages that will resonate with, entertain, or even shock viewers.

It should, however, be of first concern to conscious media consumers and loving parents to pursue, support, and take in media messages that represent women well.  If we could create this demand on a large scale, the movies and music would be made to go with it.  This is already happening!  But ultimately, girls and women should not learn their worth from any media source – good or bad.  They should learn it on their own, and through personal relationships with supportive families and friends. 

Treatment of women in the media may be in part cause and in part reflection of treatment of women in reality.  We should focus on bettering both, but with the perspective that women in the United States have made – and are still making – huge gains.