Numbers don’t lie: Women make up 51 per cent of the population, yet comprise just 17 per cent of Congress. That is just one of the facts director Jennifer Siebel Newsom highlights in her debut documentary “Miss Representation.”
The film strings together statistics and interviews with women leaders to underline what it sees as a barrage of criticism and deluge of negative imagery the media rolls out on a daily basis.
“Unfortunately, the media and our culture is sending back to us the message that a woman’s value lies in her beauty and sexuality, and not in her capacity to lead,” Newsom told ABC News’ “Top Line” today.
Mainstream media, Newsom said, is particularly guilty.
The film highlights a jarring headline from New York Magazine juxtaposing Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin: “The Bitch and The Ditz.”
Fox News appears to be a repeat offender. The film shows a montage of the cable news network’s anchors and guests zeroing in on the physical appearance or mood swings of political female leaders.
In a clip from 2008, Fox News anchor Bill O’Reilly asked a guest on his show what might be the downside to a woman in the Oval Office.
“You mean besides the PMS and the mood swings?” said the guest, author Marc Rudov, who later said he was joking.
Other clips showed a Fox News commentator criticizing Hillary Clinton for appearing “haggard” and looking 92 years old.
Some of the most powerful footage in the film comes from interviews with high school girls.
“There is no appreciation for women intellectuals,” said one student, Ariella. “It’s all about the body, not about the brain.”
Another student, Angelina said in the film that classmates would tease her because they assumed she had an eating disorder.
“I was told to like, go throw up or go have a hamburger because people thought I was anorexic or something,” she said. “So I would eat a lot so people didn’t think I had an eating disorder.”
Newsom said the kids she interviewed are “frustrated and challenged, because the media is celebrating role models that aren’t necessarily healthy role models for young people.”
Sexist treatment does not get any easier with age and experience, as Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., illustrates in the film.
“When I first ran for public office, which is now over 20 years ago, although my youngest was a senior in high school, the question I was most frequently asked was, ‘Who’s going to be taking care of your children?’” Pelosi said. “And, of course, it’s one of those questions I don’t think a man has ever been asked when he runs for office.”
“Miss Representation” notes that in her four years as speaker of the House, Pelosi never once appeared on the cover of a national weekly magazine. In his first four weeks as speaker of the House, Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, appeared on five covers.
“It would do all us a service if the media started to portray women who had really accomplished great things, healthy role models for young people,” said Newsom. “Then we’d start to value women more and you would start to see a cultural shift where women were seen as leaders.”
“Miss Representation” will be shown in Washington, D.C., at American University on Nov. 10. It will re-air on the TV channel OWN on Nov. 12.