As a clip of Gossip Girl’s protagonist Serena Van der Woodsen seductively eating a strawberry flashed on the screen in Caswell Hall, a burst of laughter emanated from the crowd. Students murmured in disgust and subsiding horror when a shot of Toddlers in Tiaras appeared.
Portions of Miss Representation, a documentary by filmmaker and activist Jennifer Siebel Newsom that illustrates the negative effects of the media’s misrepresentation of women in today’s culture, were shown to ninth through twelfth graders at an All-School Meeting on Jan. 6 and to the Parents’ Association (PA) on Jan. 10 to raise awareness and generate discussion.
The documentary interviews a multitude of men and women, including actors, directors, producers, political figures, high school students, activists, university professors, journalists, broadcasters and authors, who together conclude that women are unable to reach positions of power because they are evaluated primarily based on their appearances and not on their accomplishments or intelligence.
Actress Daphne Zuniga and television executive Lindy DeKoven were interviewed in the documentary and spoke at the ASM to encourage girls to find strong female role models, seek empowerment and assert equality with men.
“I thought, ‘What would Katherine Hepburn do?’” Zuniga said when asked how she kept her integrity intact in the male-dominated Hollywood film industry. When she was asked to do a nude photo-shoot, Zuniga said, “Katherine Hepburn wouldn’t take off her clothes, so I left.”
Diana Kasten, mother of Millicent ’12, learned about Miss Representation through her involvement with The White House Project, a non-profit organization that encourages women to seek leadership positions in business and politics. Kasten introduced the documentary to the Parents’ Association and Head of School Barbara Wagner in the fall of 2010, who then discussed bringing the film and its lessons to the attention of the School community. The ASM and PA meeting was planned by Director of Admissions Jeanette Woo Chitjian, Physical Education instructor Tinka Brown, Physical Education Department Head Julie Napoleon, School Counselor Emily Vaughn and Assistant Head of School and Director of Upper School Laura Hotchkiss.
Inspired by the documentary and its mission, Millie ’12 has created a new club at School, Women In Leadership (WIL).
“It’s right on target to what we’re being told everyday, how we can be women leaders,” Millie said.
After seeing the film, 50 students signed up as members of the new club.
But Kiki’13 said she felt the film’s message was repetitive and unnecessary for Marlborough students.
“It seemed to me like just another thing about women. Everyone at Marlborough is mature and confident because we’re in such a welcoming environment,” Kiki said. “If they were to show this at a co-ed school it would have a much bigger impact.”
Brown said she may incorporate some of the information into her 9th Grade Health class curriculum.
“It’s one of the best things I have seen in a long time,” Brown said. “I think it will open [students’] eyes and hearts and hopefully teach girls to boycott watching things that degrade them.”
According to Allie’12, the most interesting part of the film was women’s ability to tear each other down instead of supporting a common goal.
“We’re disgusted at the fact that Jessica Simpson uses her sexuality for power, but we also criticize Hilary Clinton for degenderizing herself in what she wears. It’s not only men judging women, but also women judging other women,” Allie said.