This post was published on the American Family Insurance Employee blog, Cube with a View, on February 28, 2012. It has been slightly edited for the purposes of this blog.
The film brings to light the media’s limited and often sexualized portrayals of women and girls, and discusses how this has impacted how women think of themselves and whether they think they can be leaders.
The film had such a powerful impact on me; I literally can’t stop thinking about it. I sat there watching the film with tears in my eyes, listening to young girls talk about their body image and women talk about ways they’ve felt inferior to men both socially and at work.
I heard staggering statistics (cited from the film):
• Women hold just 17 percent of the seats in the House of Representatives.
• Women are merely 3 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs.
• 65 percent of American women and girls report disordered eating behaviors. (Disordered eating behavior goes beyond clinical disorders like anorexia and bulimia and includes more subtle behaviors around food and eating. Some examples include obsessing about food and calories, not eating enough and eating only in private.)
I had some personal realizations
It hit me how much the media influenced my teen years. My friends and I spent too much time judging and scrutinizing our bodies. I wish we’d heard messages that made us more comfortable with ourselves so we could have put that energy into other things.
The film cites a statistic that 83 percent of consumer purchases are made by women. I thought about some of my favorite purchases – lipstick, boots, yoga pants. Some of the companies that make these products portray women in degrading scenarios in their ads. If I buy their products, I’m condoning that.
I felt good about some of the choices I’ve made as a woman
I choose to be a working mother. I have friends who choose to stay home, a noble choice, one I’ve often judged myself for not making. But, as I sat there watching the film, I felt proud of the example I’m setting for my boys – women can do anything.
When I lived in Washington, D.C., I worked with federal government leaders and was often the only woman in the room. I chose to speak my mind in spite of that fact, and, most of the time, was respected for my opinions and experience.
As I left the auditorium, I asked myself how I’ll change. Will I retire my makeup case and stop buying boots? Much to my wallet’s chagrin, probably not.
I realized I don’t have to lose my femininity to be taken seriously. However, I do need to think about how I’ve sometimes allowed expectations created by the media to influence what I’ve chosen to express about myself and what I’ve downplayed. Choosing lipstick over leadership, fashion over courage, or beauty over brains won’t serve me well.
We’re lucky to work for a company that was courageous enough to screen this film. We’ve got some amazing women in leadership positions here and I think over time, especially if we stay mindful of these issues, we’ll have more.
So, what can you do?
- Watch. If you haven’t seen the film, find an upcoming screening in your area. Or watch this trailer that summarizes the film’s themes. In fact, THIS Thursday, March 8, there's one happening at Sundance here in Madison sponsored by WWIG - sign up!
Educate others. Tell people about the film and the powerful statistics it brings to light, either in person or using your social media networks.
- Call companies out. The organization behind the film started a social media campaign called Not Buying It. To participate, update your status on Twitter or Facebook when you see an ad that misrepresents or degrades women and use the hashtag #notbuyingit. Companies are using social media to listen to what people are saying about them. I’ve tweeted #notbuyingit and it feels good to take action.
Speak up. Many times, women sit in meetings quietly or speak with apology or reluctance. Those of you who know me know I speak up in meetings (I’m a former New Yorker!), so I’ve tried to encourage other women to speak up by asking them what they think.
There are many other things we can do as individuals and collectively. What are your ideas?