Miss Representation: The Issues

Post by ywib marketing team member - @MeganRendell Think about it…. Women make up a mere:

  • 3% of clout positions in the mainstream media,
  • 3% of Fortune 500 CEO’s,
  • 7% of mainstream film directors,
  • 16% of film protagonists,
  • Canadian women earn $0.72 or every $1 a man earns

yet our gender is representative of 51% of the population.

On Monday December 5th, YWiB, in collaboration with NetworkinginVan.com, Vancouver YWCA, and PeaceGeeks, hosted a screening of the powerful documentary “Miss Representation” written, directed and produced by Jennifer Siebel Newsom.  This 90-min documentary unveils the under-representation of women in positions of power and influence in North America as well as the limited portrayal of women and girls in mainstream media.

Along with the documentary screening, a panel of speakers were assembled to facilitate an interactive conversation regarding the probable causes of this misrepresentation of women in leadership positions. Moderated by Janet Austin, CEO @YWCAVAN, the panel consisted of 4 distinguished Vancouverites: Pamela Martin, former CTV News anchor and current Director of Outreach in the Premier’s Office @Pamelamartin_bc; Amy Chan, columnist for 24 Hours Newspaper and The Huffington Post @amyfabulous; our male Kirk LaPointe, Ombudsman at CBC, themediamanager.com and UBC School of Journalism adjunct professor @kirklapointe; and Carolyn Jacks, National Vice-Chair of Equal Voice and journalist.

The dialogue of the evening began with some Canadian statistics that offered contrast to the American data supplied by the film. The documentary stated that on average women in the US earn salaries equal to $0.77 on the dollar in comparison to the same positions held by a man. In comparison, Canadian women are earning less at a mere $0.72 on the dollar. Progressively, Canada shows some promise with regard to female political leaders when stacked up against our US counterparts with Canadian women comprising 25% of MPs, 23% of municipal councilors and 33% of MLAs. Considering women represent roughly 51% of the population of our country relatively, these numbers are still low.

Following introductions, the panel was faced with a variety of topics which included the effect media has had on the participation of women engaging in politics professionally, the extent to which the media can be held responsible for the (sexualized) portrayals of women and what we, as a whole society can do individually to support young people in general with overcoming these challenges.

Topic # 1: The under-representation of women, young women, in Canadian Politics

Diving into the topic Kirk LaPointe shared that his belief is that the largest deterrent for women is the job itself as ”it’s grueling and not truly fit for anyone.” Pamela Martin agreed and shared that although she’s covered politics the past 30 years she never realized how long and trying it is to be in the public eye calling it a true “blood-sport”. Understandably, she went on its easy to see why many women, or anyone, decide they do not need or want that type of attention. “It’s more than a 10-hour day, every single day, 7 days a week. That’s true if you are the premier or if you are an MLA.” Carolyn Jacks weighed in pointing towards the 3-stage process of getting elected as the largest deterrent for anyone.  Step 1: Individual nominates themselves to run; Step 2: Party has to elect her/him to run for them; Step 3: Public votes for their representative.  Equal Voice finds that Canadians are not particularly bias to whether they elect a male or female, it’s the party that doesn’t tend to nominate women in “winnable-ridings.”  She also suggested that the confrontational way politics is discussed needs to change and can help the popularity of the profession as a whole.

Probable solutions to these issues, Martin suggests that services such as childcare assistance for families involved in politics would help well-balanced people get involved. “After all isn’t that who we want to be leading us, well balanced human beings who are in touch with what people’s lives are like?”

Topic #2: The role the media plays in the demoralization of females and discouraging women to become leaders

Kirk quickly argued that media cannot fully be held accountable, even though he agrees that they are a large contributor; “everyone must accept that we are individually responsible.” He elaborated, “We are in this era of abundance where conventional media no longer controls their ability to sell an audience to an advertiser. The advertising business model is beginning to shake pretty badly and until new models emerge to somewhat salvage some of this there will be a race to the bottom in order to secure a rather temporary, transient audience that will fill the bucket today financially.” Agreeing with Kirk, Pamela brought up the fragmentation of the media market as another source of the elevated exploitation of women and celebrity.  “I think it’s forced all the media to veer away from the things we used to have on television, including really great journalism…the media in general is pushed to an extreme to try to win audience share… To me that is why the sexualization has gotten so extreme as well as the violence.”

A better understanding of society’s infatuation with celebrity could lead to solutions of this issue as Kirk explained.  “Every piece of research I’ve seen inside media demonstrates no matter how old you are, how much education, income, or gender, you are fascinated with celebrity culture. It’s important to understand that and not belittle it. What we need is a better treatment of celebrity culture so that we can understand how it illustrates human condition in some respect or how it can be used to mobilize politically and socially in society.” It’s not a matter of shutting off the TV but about supporting the channels that “tell the stories you want hear and reinforcing that. Advertisers will in turn respond if you begin to vote with your feet and your remote.” ‘Amy Fabulous’ (Chan) weighed in saying that if we “wait for media to change its going to take a very long time but if we change the lens in which we absorb and see the media, thus understanding what creates self-worth and women’s empowerment, the way that we see and absorb media will be different.”

On this note Kirk expressed the importance of (social) media to be used correctly to “bring forward the best of the shift in society.” He also discussed that he has always felt that music leads the world to change and highlighted the fact that this past year women have been well represented on the top charts creating some of the most inspirational music. Naming specifically Adele, Kelly Clarkson and Florence Welch as excellent role models. “I see great hope in that women, young women in particular, are seeing themselves in the spotlight.”

Reflecting on local media coverage Kirk expressed a serious concern he has, “there is one huge hiccup I cannot understand and I ran a newsroom for a long time...I do not understand how it is that we’ve staged an Olympics in this city yet we do not have women in the sports section of our paper or on television.” On this note, Janet Austin explained that she had read a report written by the American Psychological Association, regarding the increased trend to sexualize female athletes and after reading it went to review a newsstand. She “found 5 sport magazines; 4 of them were of men who were actively engaging in sport and 1 of them was a woman who was wearing a bikini and just passively standing there.” Up until this point she had never thought too much of this and was surprised at how desensitized to this she had become.

Following the panel discussion was a Q & A session that raised questions regarding the ability to frame a society of men and women working together to create a gender equal society, how to best engage men in this dialogue and how to find positive male role models that are capable of leading by example.

Carolyn immediately pointed out that men are engaged and discussed employers who’ve developed programs that have specifically focused on increasing women’s roles in decision-making capacities in newsroom. These programs were developed by her male leaders. “Men need to recognize the privileged position from which they can speak and that if they don’t take that humbly, then they’re missing a real opportunity,” Kirk urged. He went on to point out that although the hostility is wearing down in newsrooms, he wouldn’t necessarily vouch for corporate offices.  Adding to both points, Pamela mention that although today “local news is largely represented by women, one of the reasons is that women are generally willing to be paid less money, therefore, less men are seeking local television jobs.”

The final question of the evening came from a young man seeking guidance to find better role models in today’s society. He stated that it’s hard to find “strong male role models that are sensitive to gender issues and can discuss these issues in a social context in a way that is cool or comfortable with other men.” The panelists didn’t immediately have an answer to this but after a few short moments, Pamela suggested that they are out there. When you come across these men in today's society hold tightly to that relationship she urged.  Look to your peers, co-workers, and family and start this conversation. We all have the ability to stimulate change if we so choose.

For more information about the documentary “Miss Representation” please visit  http://missrepresentation.org/ and check back for information regarding additional screenings brought to you by YWiB in the new year. In the meantime, start the conversation.