MISSplaced blame: women in focus at court square theater.

After viewing Miss Representation at Court Square Theater, then sleeping on it, then thinking on it, and then writing about it for several days, I reached this exciting and hopeful conclusion: we’re ALL culpable. Women point the finger at men, and at each other, men point the finger at women, and all that’s left is your own finger pointing at yourself. Which finger you choose to point with is entirely up to you.

When Marian Wright Edelman, Founder & President Children’s Defense Fund, states in the documentary, “You can’t be what you can’t see,” I understand what she means. It’s hard for children, male or female, to become something that, for lack of a decent example, they’ve never been exposed to. For instance, if a child never had a responsible, loving parent, then how can he or she become one? But tell that to Sally Ride or Amelia Earhart. History shows us that every new advance, any kind of progress, starts with some sort of pioneer… there’s a first time for everything… and those pioneers — people of all genders and races and backgrounds — did indeed become what they couldn’t see. This pioneer spirit might not be fully awakened in us all, but if one female child can aspire to be the president of the United States, she clears a path of hope for the rest. What I’m saying is… we don’t need a TV commercial to show us our potential. We don’t necessarily even need a good role model, although that certainly helps. Some people need only the pioneer spirit, to rise above their current circumstance and see themselves differently. This is where social progress occurs. In the heart of each individual.

artfuldodger1One part of the film I thought particularly interesting discusses the impact of WWII on women. As I’m sure you know, during WWII women entered the workforce in droves to fill the gaps left by deployed men. This was a new and tantalizing taste of freedom and purpose and ambition for women. After the men returned, most women were laid off. Okay. But what I didn’t really think about, which the film points out, is that television during that time — its programs and commercials — subtly urged (is that an oxymoron?) women to stay home and attend to domestic responsibilities. Commercials and shows depicted women cleaning and cooking and the like, and doing a good job of it. Here were thousands of women feeling displaced because they’d enjoyed their jobs during the war and were now relegated to scrubbing Jello off the kitchen floor again… television gave women a renewed sense of pride in being the woman of the house. And it was necessary, really. (Personally, I would have LOVED being a stay-at-home mom. That ship has sailed, and I accept that, but I am nurturing by nature and would have been GREAT at it!) Anyhow, the film contends that this steady diet of domesticity fed to women by their televisions created a social environment where women stopped believing they could competently work outside the home. It’s been nearly seventy years since then, and the film asserts that seven decades of this message has caused today’s young women not to aspire to high-level professional occupations. I don’t recall the exact statistic, but the idea is that if you poll really young girls, many of them will say they want to be the president or a business owner when they grow up. When asked a few years later, after countless hours of discriminatory media consumption, those same girls say they want to be teachers (gasp!), or nurses, or other typically female, lower-level positions. Ergo, the media erodes a girl’s confidence, and fewer women enter high-level jobs or seek positions of power. But… Sally Ride and Amelia Earhart and countless others have transcended gender stereotypes….

womeninfocus1So now we get to the blame game.

One of the female interviewees in the film states that men are “emotionally constipated.” They, too, have been negatively affected by how the media portrays women. They are not immune to the objectification, dehumanization, or “pornification” of women. And as her remarks continue, she seems to imply that men are being conditioned to be abusive. I am concerned about this with my son. As his mother, I’m his primary female role model, but there’s only one me, and lots and lots of other females in the media who project a different image. Of course I don’t want him to grow up thinking women are fake or plastic or worthless objects. Then again, my dad served in WWII and until 2005, also received this same diet of June Cleaver and Lucy Arnaz, and, other than making us eat dinner in the family room on Saturday nights so he could watch Solid Gold, he didn’t objectify women. He had great respect for his mom, his wife, and his three daughters. Heck, even my tenth-grade students understand that wearing Victoria’s Secret underwear will not make them look like Heidi Klum.

So what’s our excuse? Women can’t totally blame the media for all their issues or shortcomings, because someone like Oprah Winfrey or Billie Jean King will come along and shatter those misconceptions. Likewise, men can’t blame their “emotional constipation” on the male-dominated media, because someone like my dad will come along and show he doesn’t buy into all that.

That’s the key. We just have to get every single person on the planet to stop buying into ridiculous images and ideals of women AND men. It’s really just awareness. I mean, once you realize you’re being manipulated, then it’s your own fault if you continue to be. Hence the finger pointing earlier. And so that’s what Miss Representation strives to do, even though I’m still not sure the film adequately conveys it… Let’s just drop all notions, related to groups of people (genders, sexes, races, income levels), that are limiting. Let’s just decide not to believe it any longer. And let’s stop blaming the other groups for our own oppression and access our pioneer spirits. Visit the Miss Representation web site to join one of their many campaigns to empower ALL people and dismantle sexism altogether.

Thanks again to Court Square Theater for providing a chance for the Harrisonburg community to explore our own culpability.

Copyright © 2012-13 · All Rights Reserved · ilovemyburg.com. Written content by Katie Mitchell. Photos by Brandy Somers. This material may not be copied, downloaded, reproduced, or printed without express written consent. Thank you for respecting our intellectual property.

MISSleading media: women in focus at court square theater.

womeninfocus8The saga continues…

Here we are, at the third installment of this series about Miss Representation, a documentary which explores the effects of various media on women. Tonight I’m writing about mixed messages—mixed messages the media sends to women of all ages, and mixed messages in the documentary itself. For example, there’s a part of the film where Gloria Steinem and Jane Fonda (two separate interviews) rail against the unfair, unrealistic expectations that women must be young and beautiful and sexy and physically perfect in order to be valued… yet these two women are caked in makeup and hair spray. Again with the makeup thing… really? I know, I know… but I couldn’t help notice that two well-known and highly respected women who have, their whole lives, supported the ideas of equal rights, feminism, and self-expression, are worried about looking their age. ??? Have they, too, fallen under the same spell they’re criticizing? And if Gloria Steinem and Jane Fonda can be duped, is there any hope for the rest of us? Ugh.

I’m sure I’m remembering the segments of the documentary out of order, but I recall a part where a series of images is projected—images of Bratz dolls and Sarah Palin, of Paris Hilton and Florence Nightingale, of Barbie and Daisy Duke and Hillary Clinton. There are also photos from various fashion magazines, and a demonstration of how photo editors digitally “enhance” (manipulate) the faces and bodies of the models. Why do we even need real-life models anymore, now that we have this technology? How has the modeling industry survived the advent of Photoshop? I mean, the models’ eyes get enlarged and widened, their cheekbones defined, their noses straightened, their waists whittled, their breasts lifted, their thighs thinned… all with a few clicks of the mouse. In the end, the images look only remotely like the original models. Sorry, viewers, but what you see is a carefully crafted illusion… not a real human being.

The dolls, sexy movie stars, and Photoshopped models send an immediate and lasting visual message, that’s, for some, more influential than a speech by Margaret Thatcher or an interview with Georgia O’Keefe. And while we know commercials are inherently deceptive and manipulative, even “reputable” news channels like to report on our female leaders’ appearance much more frequently than they would a man’s. So even female politicians, artists, doctors, scientists, humanitarians are reduced to their physicality, rather than elevated to their intellectual capacity. Why would a young woman aspire to become a leader if even the news doesn’t acknowledge female leadership? This leads me to what I think is the most disturbing portion of the film: “news leaders” like Bill O’Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, and Glenn Beck calling women (like Hillary Clinton, Michelle Obama, and others) “b*tches.” In one clip a news anchor asks if Sarah Palin had breast implants! I mean, I made fun of (then) Governor Palin’s “Russia” comment, but I didn’t call her a b*tch and question the authenticity of her body parts. I also remember an image of Hillary Clinton wearing something that revealed about a centimeter of cleavage. Like Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction,” this incident was quickly dubbed the “Cleavage Controversy.” Can you imagine hearing about Bill O’Reilly’s “Bulge Controversy”? Never. And have you SEEN Rush Limbaugh? How he could ever remark about someone’s looks is beyond me. Can someone Photoshop him?

I’m sorry – was that b*tchy?

The point is, women have bodies, and whether they dress themselves in business suits or bathing suits, someone will criticize their appearance and ignore the rest. And THAT is a mixed message. What’s worse is the effect this constant negativity has on the relationships among women. Women question each others’ ability to lead, because we believe women lack the emotional fortitude to be tough, firm, consistent, rational, logical. (I’m laughing now, thinking of my mom and how strong she is, in so many ways. Really, you have no idea.) The constant focus on female appearance has created a habit of unhealthy comparison. This “beauty competition” causes jealousy, which causes hatred, which is really just self-hatred. Do men have this dilemma? I’m asking sincerely, because I truly don’t know.

And so we’ve ingested the poison. We’ve been conditioned to hate each other. A common compliment among women is to say, “You’re so pretty. You make me sick.” That is self-loathing wrapped in flattery—another mixed message—kinda like a cockroach wrapped in bacon. Goes down so smoothly you don’t know what you’ve consumed.

All this, unfortunately, has a lasting effect. One that can be overcome with awareness, yes… but it’s hard to “un-ring the bell,” so to speak. Once an idea is firmly planted and grows into an ideal, it’s hard to uproot it. If I had to give a name to this burden, I would call it unworthiness – a sense that no matter what one does, it’ll never be enough. As one high school student says in the documentary – her name is Maria – “When is it going to be enough? How long is it going to be for someone to take a stand?” I’m sad that she feels so defeated at such a young age, and that she doesn’t see herself as someone who can take a stand.

womeninfocus9I’ve always been tall and slender, just like my parents. Yes, I used to run a lot and completed a couple of marathons, but no matter my current level of fitness or what I eat, I stay pretty scrawny. I’ve gotten some flack from other women about this… I’ve been on the receiving end of “you make me sick.” Many people think that because I’m an ectomorph, I’ve had it easy. I haven’t. Like the film explains, women of all shapes and sizes will be judged for their shape and size until… until it’s no longer a value, I guess. So I’ve been judged, too.

Let me paint you a picture, lol: In ninth grade, I was 5’11” (like I am now) with a size ten shoe, and thirty pounds lighter with red, frizzy hair. I was Ronald McDonald. My two best friends in high school were David and Austin, because to the girls, I was that “weird girl,” quiet and awkward and lanky and bookish. I didn’t wear a bra until I was fourteen, and that was only because kids made fun of me for not wearing one. I didn’t need one, and I still don’t. I remember my friend Shannon in seventh grade coming to my defense, telling other girls that my bra was invisible… the latest thing! While other girls/women hated me for my thin frame, I coveted their curves and long straight hair. I would wear leggings under my jeans in hopes of filling them out just a little more. I never went so far as to stuff my bra because I would have been mortified if the sock had somehow moved to a strange position or, God help me, fallen out. But I certainly considered it. On the flip side, no men ever say to me, “Hey, baby! Nice protruding hip bones!” or “Look at the rib cage on her!” A mixed message: women seem jealous of my body type, but men seem disinterested in it.

Okay, my face is starting to flush because I’ve revealed A LOT in this post. I will add this: my body has served me well, and it continues to serve me well. There’s really nothing I can do to change what I have (or don’t have), and that’s fine. My short hair doesn’t get many whistles either, but I like it. I think it suits me.

But I’m still not leaving the house without makeup on.

Copyright © 2012-13 · All Rights Reserved · ilovemyburg.com. Written content by Katie Mitchell. Photos by Brandy Somers. This material may not be copied, downloaded, reproduced, or printed without express written consent. Thank you for respecting our intellectual property.

MISStaken identity: women in focus at court square theater.

Part Two of Four

future woman, in focus.

future woman, in focus.

The previous post, “Girl Talk,” summarizes my experience talking to women about issues facing women. It also underscores how totally confused I can get when faced with a complex topic. The remaining posts in this series — this one and two more — will explore the statistics presented in the documentary Miss Representation, the complexity of gender stereotypes, the mixed messages conveyed by the “media,” and ways of sorting it all out and moving forward. Maybe. ha ha.

I should re-iterate that this type of post is a slight departure from what we usually do, and everything you read here is what I see through my personal lens. That’s really all anyone can offer. So, I take full credit or blame for the ideas contained herein (official disclaimer).

After the Women In Focus social at the Dodger, I headed to Court Square Theater for the documentary. I must’ve gotten there earlier than I intended, because there were just a handful of people seated around me. But sure enough, just two minutes before the film was to start, a long line formed in the corridor. Now, ladies, do we have to be late for everything? And did we have to perpetuate a female stereotype at a film that explores the perpetuation of female stereotypes? So Michael Weaver politely took the stage and assured us that the film would start just as soon as they could get everyone through the ticket booth. And several women, ahem, just talked right over him. Eventually, the theater filled up: eleven men and a zillion women.

I’d like to share this synopsis from the Miss Representation web site in case you didn’t see the film:

“Like drawing back a curtain to let bright light stream in, Miss Representation uncovers a glaring reality we live with every day but fail to see. Written and directed by Jennifer Siebel Newsom, the film exposes how mainstream media contribute to the under-representation of women in positions of power and influence in America. The film challenges the media’s limited and often disparaging portrayals of women and girls, which make it difficult for women to achieve leadership positions and for the average woman to feel powerful herself. In a society where media is the most persuasive force shaping cultural norms, the collective message that our young women and men overwhelmingly receive is that a woman’s value and power lie in her youth, beauty, and sexuality, and not in her capacity as a leader.”

Writer and director Newsom, a former actress turned activist and documentary filmmaker who herself experienced debilitating body image problems, narrates the film. The film relays lots of disturbing statistics, some of which I’ll try to summarize and tie together here.

First, as a nation (according to the film), we spend more on beauty than on education. However, the film does not fully substantiate this claim. Does it mean that a lifetime of beauty products and procedures costs more than four years of college? And what if the student gets a scholarship or grant? There aren’t grants for beauty products, so I can see how those numbers might be unclear.

STILL, the statement implies that women value beauty over education, which IS a sad idea, no matter what you believe. If you believe it, then it stands to reason that, according to the film, sixty-five percent of women and girls will experience some form of eating disorder. If females value beauty so highly, then they’ll go to extreme lengths to achieve it. Newsom also implies that the MEDIA forces/conditions/brainwashes women (starting at a very young age) into valuing beauty over education. This is the part I struggle with. I think it’s safe to say that our upbringing and social/economic environments do shape our values as kids. But once we’re adults, we can choose our values, and if I value beauty over education as a grown-up, that’s my choice, not necessarily the media’s fault. What the film strives to do is make everyone aware that the media is manipulative (in many ways) and therefore, what the media “tells someone” about him or herself is not necessarily true. For many of us, this awareness occurs naturally as we age, but not for all of us. And even if we DO become aware, it’s hard to reverse the damage.

The documentary also gives statistics about females in the film industry. Only seventeen percent of protagonists in movies are female, and these roles typically “revolve around the pursuit of a man.” That IS a sad statistic, yes, but I can think of a few films where the female protagonist had an agenda other than something romantic: Jackie Brown (my all-time favorite); Million Dollar Baby; and The Silence of the Lambs, to start.

womeninfocus7The film purports that “women appear to be empowered” but any female protagonist is “very much objectified and exists for the male viewer.” Further, the film states that objectification leads to violence, like rape. I believe this to be true, but not purely in a man-objectifying-woman sense. As a culture we’ve become object-oriented and materialistic, and many times we mistreat others because of our view that they’re somehow disposable. We’re all collectively guilty of that. However, just because a man sees a sexy or scantily clad woman in a movie does not mean he’ll commit a violent crime. Plus, that would suggest that by wearing provocative clothing, women are “asking for it.” I don’t think Beyoncé was promoting rape during her half time show.

So, how is all this objectification occurring? Well, according to Miss Representation, women comprise only three percent of people in “positions of clout” in telecom professions. Essentially, men are the “puppeteers” and women are the “puppets.” But let’s not forget — women are accepting the Hollywood roles that they themselves are objecting to… right? I mean, women are PAID money to portray certain characters, who might then have a negative effect on a female audience. We can’t talk out of both sides of our mouths. A woman can’t rail against the chauvinism of a Hollywood film AND be its leading lady. I’m not an actress, but I do wear makeup. If makeup is a problem (and if you’ve seen a mascara commercial recently, you’ll probably agree that it IS a problem), then I am part of that problem. I am contributing to it by purchasing the product. The film, and the web site, asks us — all of us — to stop purchasing products that contribute to objectification in this way, very much like the way we’ve evolved to avoid products that harm animals or the environment. I can’t disagree with that philosophy.

But, I like makeup. I like feeling pretty. I like getting compliments. That doesn’t happen when I leave the house without my face on. Clearly, I am contributing to my own objectification and that of others. Uuuuuuugh. Like I need more to feel guilty about.

To me, all this data adds up to a bunch of mixed messages, which the film also explores, and which I’ll delve into next time. Thanks for reading. Please offer your comments! We are lucky to live in a nation where we can openly discuss topics like this, and we are doubly lucky to inhabit a city that encourages social debate, awareness, and progress. Thanks again to our Court Square Theater for unearthing the discussion.

artfuldodger2Copyright © 2012-13 · All Rights Reserved · ilovemyburg.com. Written content by Katie Mitchell. Photos by Brandy Somers. This material may not be copied, downloaded, reproduced, or printed without express written consent. Thank you for respecting our intellectual property.

girl talk: women in focus at the court square theater.

Part One of Four (yes, I’m serious.)

Well, what a night this was. One that dredged up all sorts of psycho-emotional sludge I try to pretend no longer exists… stuff that, at age forty, I should be beyond, I guess. And so what started as a pleasurable outing with several ladies of the ‘burg, our conversations meandering innocently enough, turned quickly and unexpectedly to doubt about my ability to “successfully raise” two children, anger and shock, dismay at my evolution as a human being, and sadness that as a woman, maybe I haven’t “come a long way, baby,” and really, I have no one to blame but myself. As I work through my notes about the Women In Focus social at the Artful Dodger and the documentary Miss Representation hosted by Court Square Theater, I see they reveal a disappointing truth. Warning: this is the first ever potentially offensive ilovemyburg.com post, lol. And, the views expressed in this post are solely mine… unless you agree with me, which would reeaally make me less nervous right about now.

Women In Focus was a celebration of women’s stories hosted by the Court Square Theater, featuring presentations of Miss Representation, a documentary about women and the media; North Country, a film starring Charlize Theron as a mine worker; and The Vagina Monologues. The series kicked off with a social at the Artful Dodger. Lots of ladies, and men who love and admire them, attended – including several strong female members of our community, like Sara Christensen, owner of The Lady Jane, Lara Mack (she’s back!), Alice Wheeler, Ashley Hunter, Laurie Benade, Suzi Carter, and several others.


event organizer, Laurie Benade! Bravo!

womeninfocus4 Brandy, Sara, and I got on the topic of Condoleezza Rice, and how some magazine called her a dominatrix because of her outfit – forget the fact that this highly educated woman was at one time the US Secretary of State and that she could smoke your butt on Jeopardy. Somehow her outfit that day smacked of sexual power (not intellectual or political power)… even though she was not at all dressed in a manner one might call “provocative.” Then we talked about what THAT means – dressing in a provocative or promiscuous way… and then the question was posed: can a man dress promiscuously?
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
What would that look like? Low-slung pants? Tight pants? No pants? No shirt? And would a man look at another man’s outfit and say, “Look at that slut!”? Then again, when did “we” (whoever that is) decide that any type of attire is bad or inappropriate? I know I am uncomfortable showing a lot of skin, but I don’t know WHY I am. Gosh, this is confusing. But somehow, in terms of women’s fashion, most people equate conservative dress with frigidity/prudishness, and revealing dress with promiscuity/porn stardom.

This led to a discussion of Beyoncé’s Super Bowl halftime show. My kids and I watched the Superbowl. My daughter watched the game with great interest, and when Beyoncé performed at halftime, she made no mention of Beyoncé’s outfit, but rather remarked about the TV screen dance floor and “cool special effects.” My son, who for the entire first half of the game ran in circles around the family room, wearing a cape and underpants and wildly waving a foam sword, had a different reaction. He sat down and watched her performance, every second of it, mouth open, eyes fixed on the TV. He dreamily said, “Mom, she’s shaking her body” and “Why is she only wearing her underwear? Isn’t she cold?” Now, these are children, and I didn’t coach either of their responses –these were their natural reactions to Beyoncé’s show. Interesting. And I really don’t know what conclusions can be drawn from it. My son seems to admire the female form.


My daughter complimented her singing and did notice that Beyoncé’s entire band was female. But neither of them criticized her. What were the adult viewers thinking? Did the men ignore her talent and dedication and only see her thighs? Did the women also ignore those things and secretly hate her thighs? Geez. Now I sound like some kind of feminist. Or chauvinist. Or alarmist. Or extremist. Or maybe just a polite receptionist. I don’t even know.

Later, as the effects of this evening sank in, I wondered… should I have told my six-year-old son not to have stared at Beyoncé? Would that have shone a light on something beyond the scope of his kindergarten mind? Am I a bad mom for letting him – or both kids – see it? By doing so, have I created in my daughter a self-destructive habit of comparing herself to others? Egads. Beyoncé is a beautiful woman – yes – she’s also talented and successful, whether you like her music or don’t. Can we praise her and condemn her in the same breath?

And so I think about what I want to impart to my children. My kids see what many people don’t see – they see me in the morning, with my pale face and crow’s feet, my rumpled, frizzy hair, no makeup, frumpy bathrobe – they see me in the raw. But they also see me prepare to leave the house, in full hair and makeup and appropriate under- and outer garments. Am I silently teaching them something I don’t want to – that I am ashamed to leave the house without my mask?

womeninfocus6As I reread this post now, I see how confused I am. Or was on that night. Or still am, because I’m not done thinking about it. I even noticed the “lol” I typed earlier, like I’m apologizing for having an opinion someone might disagree with. If I were a man, would I have typed that “lol” ?


A thousand words, and I haven’t even GOTTEN to the documentary yet. Also, the word “Beyoncé” starts to sound weird when you’ve read it/written it 27 times. Okay, I’m taking a break to watch something with Will Ferrell in it. I’ll be back with more heavy stuff soon. Stay tuned for part two.

PS–a big thank you to Court Square Theater for bringing these issues to the forefront, as uncomfortable as they might be sometimes. And to the Artful Dodger for letting us hang out.

Copyright © 2012 – 13 · All Rights Reserved · ilovemyburg.com. Written content by Katie Mitchell. Photos by Brandy Somers. This material may not be copied, downloaded, reproduced, or printed without express written consent. Thank you for respecting our intellectual property.