"If the media is sending girls the message that their value lies in their bodies, this can only leave them feeling disempowered and distract them from making a difference and becoming leaders." - Jennifer Siebel Newsom
It's our 4th session of Making Media That Matters! The staff continue to marvel at how quickly this program is moving along. We all meandered into the space on Friday afternoon in Kaimuki, talking story and getting ready. Vera planned a super-fun ice-breaker BINGO game for the group, which involved running around in a fury, trying to fill out BINGO cards. Each slot on the card asked us to find someone that fit a description, such as "I was born in another state" or "I have a sister" or "I love to draw." The first several students that filled their cards got a prize, and we excitedly and haphazardly ran around asking each other questions. It was a fun way to learn little tidbits about each other that we might not otherwise have known...like the quiet, shy girl in the corner that adores punk music. :)
After our BINGO game, we screened the film Miss Representation, by Jennifer Siebel Newsom. The film
analyzes our current media sources and how they perpetuate and sell the idea that a woman's value lies only in her youth, attractiveness, and sexuality, instead of her intelligence or leadership ability. Conversely, the film discusses how the media teaches men that power, aggression, and superiority over women leads to success. The film attempts to break down these gendered stereotypes for its viewers, and the staff hoped that it would be a good teaching tool for the students. If you're interested in watching the trailer for Miss Representation, please click here. The film interviews several celebrities and journalists in the public eye, such as Jackson Katz, Geena Davis, Jean Kilbourne, Gloria Steinem, Lisa Ling...and many others.
Even though I've seen this film several times, one of the quotes from the beginning of the movie (made by Jean Kilbourne) sticks with me, as it feels like truer words have never been spoken:
Girls get the message from very early on that what’s most important is how they look, that their value, their worth, depends on that. And boys get the message that this is what’s important about girls. We get it from advertising. We get it from films. We get it from television shows, video games, everywhere we look. So, no matter what else a woman does, now matter what else her achievements, their value still depends on how they look.
Every single woman in America has felt this pressure since they were a young girl. There is no escapingit. It's never more apparent to me than in the magazine section at a bookstore or grocery. Go to any magazine isle and you'll find that the "women's" magazines are filled with thin, white, perfect women with zero flaws: no cellulite, no pores, no blemishes, no wrinkles. They are smiling at the camera like being beautiful is most
worthy thing a woman can achieve. Article after article and headline after headline spout how to achieve the "perfect" body, get rid of "trouble" zones and "blast fat!" While "men's" magazines are full of images of scantily-clad models, staring vacantly at the camera with a "sexy" pout, body slick with body oil. These are the messages that are perpetuated over and over again, both on screen and off in every media avenue available; and children grow up with it constantly shoved upon them.
I grew up with crippling self-esteem issues because of my appearance. I remember vividly being our students' age, and how important it was to be thin and beautiful if you were a girl. It's painful to realize that things haven't changed much. After the film, our students discussed what they watched through a writing exercise on the wall of our space, led by our workshop instructors, Noa and Serena. The students' answers reiterated the film's purpose, as they took turns writing their answers to these questions: Who has power in mainstream film and media? Some answers: Rich White men/Upper class men/Men/White men/People who are considered attractive/Rich people
What or who do you see most on tv and in the movies? Some answers: Hot guys and girls/Straight people/Almost nude women/Sexy ladies/Old men/Photoshopped women
Who are the most common main characters? Some answers: Fathers who think they know what's best for their daughter/Attractive young guys with important things to do/CIS, straight, white men/Masculine guys with abs/Shirtless men/Insecure women/Manly men with pretty girls that follow them around
We talked as a group about some of our answers and about how the film might inspire us to change the way that women are portrayed in the media. A few of the girls made significant comments about how important it is to just "be who you are" but then followed that sentiment up with thoughts like, "Guys want girls that are confident and secure." I made a mental note that many girls were still comparing their worth to what boys' think or what males are looking for. While the message to be yourself is a wonderful one, how do we instill the lesson that the ultimate goal isn't to gain male attention or approval?
One of our students expressed frustration at how difficult it is to change these things, and how it often
feels like it is impossible to make a difference. She posed the question, "How do we do this? How do we actually go about changing the world?" It was such a big question that the room fell silent, and I could actually see staff members' brains working in unison, trying to come up with a simplistic answer to a rather impossible question. A few staff members spoke about how we are trying to create change by making media that matters, hoping to widen the media landscape and infuse it with stories we won’t otherwise see. Another staff member talked about reframing the question..."instead of thinking about change, think about creating, and using that creation to inspire change." I wish I had called upon a quote from Katie Couric from Miss Representation in that moment: "The media can be an instrument of change or it can reflect the status quo...it depends on who is piloting the plane." - Katie Couric
I wish I had spoken about how slow change is, and how frustrating that gradualness can be. I wish I had told them that just talking about these issues, amongst our group, amongst their friends, and with anyone else that is willing to listen, can make small ripples of change that can be surprisingly effective and fulfilling. But not seeking the words I desired, I clammed up in the moment, only feeling the frustration of the participants in a real, palpable way that was admittedly a little stifling. You know what they say about hindsight, right? It is ever-so-true.
Our film instructor, Lisette, moved the conversation toward filmmaking. We discussed and learned how
to make a proper "pitch" to a fictional movie executive. Lisette pointed out that a pitch is meant to be short and engaging, should emphasize the main character, and should demonstrate why people would care about the film. We talked about who would make a powerful protagonist and completed another writing exercise on the wall to develop character, location, and story ideas/topics for the protagonist to tackle. Some of the powerful protagonists the students' come up with were: An action heroine, your inner self, a strong woman with a difficult past, a strong intellectual woman. Some non-traditional roles that they chose for the protagonist were: A female athlete, a female character that travels the world but isn't looking for love but truth, a superheroine, a crytozoologist, a martial arts mentor, a bioengineer. I loved these ideas, and it was so glaringly obvious through this exercise that we desperately need strong, intelligent females represented more accurately in our mainstream media.
Lisette gave the students a few moments to complete their very first "pitch" idea (using a handout to guide the process). A few students chose to share their pitches to the group, with titles like, The World That Made Us, and I Speak With My Eyes. We moved on to the different roles of key members of a film crew, such as the director, the assistant director, the producer, the director of photography, sound crew, and the
slate. A few staff members participated in acting out a common filming scenario for the students, so they could get an idea of what it looks like and sounds like on an actual film set. Then we broke into smaller groups so that the students could take turns in each role. The room was buzzing with energy, laughter, and students calling out, "ACTION!" while other students held fake cameras and checked the sound and lighting. It was fun to see some of the more reserved participants take on the director role without hesitation, further demonstrating that when it comes to their passion, they leave any reservations or shyness at the door.
Our night together ended after the exercise, and students were again invited to stay to enjoy a screening of Wonder Women: The Untold Story of American Superheroines by Kristy Guevara-Flanagan. Many students stayed and enjoyed pizza and snacks as they watched the film, while staff quickly met to debrief and enjoy the success of session four. We're so proud of our students and staff and what we're able to accomplish in just 3 hours a week. We cannot wait for session five. :) *Special thanks to our photographers, Valerie Narte and Malia Derden!*