'Miss' the point: Women's Center screens feminist documentary

Andrew Sheeler / Sun Star Reporter
Dec. 6, 2011

More than 60 men and women gathered Thursday, Dec. 1 to watch “Miss Representation,” which bills itself as “a documentary film about women, power and the media.” The free screening, in Gruening Room 208, was sponsored in part by the UAF Women’s Center. Other sponsors included the Women & Gender Studies program, the Northern Studies Club, the Students of Change sociology club and the American Association of University Women Fairbanks Chapter. The showing was followed by a manifesto written by students of professor Kayt Sunwood’s “Theories in Women’s and Gender Studies” class.

The 90-minute documentary, which premiered at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, took no prisoners in its examination of media gender bias. Statistics throughout the film showed how women are systematically excluded from the higher rungs of politics, business and the media. For example:

  • Three percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are women
  • Women directed seven percent and wrote the scripts for 13 percent of the 250 top grossing films in the U.S.
  • In the U.S. House of Representatives,  women make up 17 percent of the seats.
  • The United States places 90th in the world in terms of women in national legislatures.

Women make up roughly 51 percent of the country’s population. The film’s director and narrator, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, interviewed a variety of national figures, including actors Rosario Dawson and Margaret Cho, Congresswomen Diane Feinstein and Nancy Pelosi, and prominent women’s rights advocates such as Gloria Steinem and Jean Kilbourne. The film featured a number of male voices as well, including advocate Jackson Katz and the director’s husband, California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom.

When the film ended, the audience gave a strong ovation. Then it was time for the students of “Theories in Women’s and Gender Studies” to deliver the manifesto. The manifesto, written by Kathy Nava, Megan Lindbergh, Rosemarie Scheuerle, Ana Richards and Tanja Mullins, was titled “Negative Repercussions of the U.S. Media on Minorities, Women and Children.” While the manifesto addressed many of the points raised in the documentary, the students also raised issues of their own.

Richards, a graduate student pursuing an interdisciplinary degree, spoke about the pressure black women feel to bleach their skin and straighten their hair. Lindbergh, a sociology junior, brought up a case study in Fiji, where within 38 months of television’s introduction, 74 percent of teenage girls surveyed said they were too fat. Scheuerle, an early childhood development major, talked about the sexualized portrayal of children in shows such as “Toddlers & Tiaras.”

“It’s disgusting to think of pedophiles watching these shows,” Scheuerle said.

Kayt Sunwood, director of the UAF Women’s Center, teaches the students who presented. “They are fantastic,” Sunwood said.

The students said their motivation for putting on the event was to build interest in Sunwood’s class and the department.

“We all want to encourage people to take women’s studies,” Scheuerer said.

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