Some Thoughts on Miss Representation’s ‘How the Media Failed Women in 2013’

There’s not much I need to say about this video, it’s pretty much on-point. It gives us a very clear (albeit, America-centric) insight into how women are still being let down in terms of media representation; how women are still being hyper-sexualised while also being portrayed as stupid, overly emotional, harpies etc, etc (the list goes on). It’s a depressing illustration of what we already knew about the pressures women still face in western society – but squeezing so much of it into a three minute video makes it all the more jarring.

There’s just one element of the video that I do take issue with and that’s the inclusion of Rihanna and Miley Cyrus. It’s patronising and unnecessary. These are women who are in control of their image and their sexuality. Why is this portrayed as a bad thing? I know there are elements of this that are problematic; hyper-sexualised women in the media are a product of society’s overarching male gaze. The age old marketing myth is that sex sells and these two seem to stand testament to this.

It’s not really fair to compare the two because they are a lot different. Rihanna, to me, seems to be in control of her own sexuality, rather than just using it to shock and appall the general masses (though there probably is  some of that going on too). Much of her music doesn’t talk about wanting to please a man but rather focuses on her own enjoyment of sex, which is quite innovative in an industry where women tend to be treated as objects for the sexual enjoyment of men, rather than vice versa. Women are not often portrayed as liking sex, which is what makes Rihanna so controversial to some. Sure, she’s sexualised and the whole shtick of “good girl gone bad” does feed into the age-old virgin/whore dichotomy, but the difference between her and the usual instances of this is that Rihanna unabashedly flaunts her enjoyment of sex and has a “fuck you if you don’t like it” attitude. There’s a big difference between that and the usual sexualised starlet who strives to please a man rather than please herself.

Miley is a little bit different. I kind of wish the video would specify the reasons why she was included. If it was for her cultural appropriation of black culture and the fact that she dehumanises and demoralises her black back up dancers and little people for the sake of spectacle and stirring up controversy and appearing “cool”, then I can’t fault that. However, a lot of the Miley hate seems to stem from a place of – for lack of a better term – “slut” shaming. Miley annoys me for a lot of reasons and none of them include the fact that she enjoys sex and isn’t ashamed of it. Nope, there’s the aforementioned cultural appropriation stuff, her try hard attitude (we get it Miley, you like drugs. V. cool and alternative *yawn*) and the fact that she seems to think that she’s starting some kind of movement by producing vacuous pop music and taking her clothes off (because nobody has ever done that before..?) and also her trivialising of mental illness. If she was included for any of those reasons then okay, fine. However, I’m not so sure that is in fact why she was included.

Don’t get me wrong, I think the video is great and makes an important point about how women still have a long way to go when it comes to fair and unbiased media representation. However, I don’t think the inclusion of any female pop stars would ever be on par to the rest of what was included in the video, and it serves as a flaw in an otherwise perfect example of why we still need feminism. I’m going to end with a quote from Gloria Steinem on the subject of Miley Cyrus and her new image being a setback to the feminist movement because RELEVANCE:

“You know, I don’t think so. I wish we didn’t have to be nude to be noticed. But given the game as it exists, women make decisions. For instance, the Miss America contest is in all of its states, forms … the single greatest source of scholarship money for women in the United States. If a contest based only on appearance was the single greatest source of scholarship money for men, we would be saying, ‘This is why China wins.’ You know? It’s ridiculous. But that’s the way the culture is. I think that we need to change the culture, not blame the people that are playing the only game that exists.”

One thought on “Some Thoughts on Miss Representation’s ‘How the Media Failed Women in 2013’

  1. Decent article, decent arguments, however:

    -Her “cultural appropriation” has been done by white people for years. White culture and black culture are intertwined and have been for over 300 years. White kids have been breakdancing and rapping to black music since the 80’s. So I don’t see the problem there. Twerking is something I can imagine all races doing in high schools these days, just like freak dancing and whatever.

    -There’s a master manager who’s behind all this. I find her annoying, but this is how she decided to explore this part of her identity by going along with this manager who’s systematically in charge of ‘identity changing’ of stars. She’s a slave to the pop industry.

    -Finally, she’s still a kid in a lot of ways. We’ve all been there. At age 21, I was still an immature brat. Everyone talks off the cuff at some point.

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