I recently watched Miss Representation. While the movie didn’t present anything new to those of us who do gender equity work, it did presented an updated, relevant analysis of media’s portrayal of women and the harmful messages it sends to us and to girls.
One thing that really stuck out to me was the observation that women are basically only considered relevant when they are in their 20s. According to representations we see in the media, real, perfect, worthy women are in their 20s, slim, beautiful (consistent with a racist, white standard), able-bodied, and straight. When I got to the part in the movie in which this was being presented and analyzed, I thought of all of the wonderful women I knew, mentors, who had told me stories about feeling that they became irrelevant as soon as they turned 40. This message from the media was represented in how they were treated by coworkers, students, etc.
As you know, I’m in my 30s. So, yay, I get to look forward to this with every passing moment. But besides looking forward, this movie made me look backwards. Want to know the main topic of conversation I had with my therapist when I was 25? My age. I thought I was so old. I clearly was not a worthy woman because I was such an “unaccomplished woman” at the age of 25. TWENTY FIVE and I thought I had passed up my chance at success. I thought I should have been so much further than where I was – never mind the fact that I already had a graduate degree, two professional jobs, a life partner, two dogs…I mean, come on. What did I think I should have been? I’ll tell you – I was comparing myself to celebrity women. I really was. Yes, it’s embarrassing. Completely embarrassing. What I saw when I looked to media for portrays of women were women in their 20s who had reached the top of their games. I thought I should be there too. I wasn’t. Few women were. It took years and perspective to accept that.
Besides the obvious devaluing and disrespect of women beyond their 20s, I think the (embarrassing) above experience highlights two other concerning points: 1) OMG, what is life like for female actors? Seriously, you are done after your 20s? You are expected to make it by your 20s? Holy… 2) Why aren’t there positive representations of women learning, changing, and growing? Where are the representations of our processes? It’s like you’re either born perfect and you succeed early or you’re not and you suck. Come on, we deserve more than that.
People, I spent money, lots of money I didn’t really have, in therapy because it was a problem that I was TWENTY FIVE. Sheesh. Think about what I could have done with that money. Economic power, huh?
The movie’s tag line is, “You can’t be what you can’t see.” I totally agree with that. I just want to add, “and OMG it costs so much to try to be what you do see.” The costs here are more than money.