“You Can’t Be What You Can’t See”: Miss Representation & Obama at Barnard

Last night I had the serendipitous occasion to see TWO inspiring women-centered videos–one after the other–that both articulate the need for more positive portrayals of women in the media.

Miss Representation is a documentary written, directed, and produced by Jennifer Siebel Newsom, who was inspired to put together this story when she found out she was going to have a daughter and wondered if her daughter would be able to evade the treacherous media messages hurled at women from the moment we set eyes on a TV screen. It’s the documentary we in women’s studies have all been waiting for: a film that finally compiles and montages all of the footage of female politicians’ sexist treatment by pundits and media conglomerates. The filmmaker traces the systematic disempowerment of women by the media through the objectification and trivialization of the female body and mind. She intersperses the eloquent words of high school students, analyses from scholars, and images of notable women in American history with a steady stream of the violent and hyper-sexualized shots of women’s bodies and jaw-dropping statistics about women’s marginalization in media corporations, political office, and other decision-making posts. It is a spell-binding and galvanizing narrative whose messages resonate on multiple levels and with men and women alike.

Here’s the trailer:

And then, with all of that in mind, I saw the footage of President Obama’s commencement speech to the graduating women of Barnard College’s Class of 2012. In it, he articulates the same message: that you can’t be what you can see. Malia and Sasha, he said, will be successful and empowered women because they watch Michelle and Marion Robinson. Watch the whole thing; you won’t regret it.


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