Miss Representation: The Media-Defined Value of Women and Girls

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On Wednesday, March 6, as part of its National Women's History Month series, Converse College will host a screening and panel discussion of the award-winning documentary Miss Representation to explore how the media's limited and often disparaging portrayals of women and girls has led to the underrepresentation of women in positions of power and influence. Expert panelists Dr. Carol Edens Epps, Director of Counseling Services at Converse College; Dr. Lisa Johnson, Director of Women's and Gender Studies at USC Upstate; and Dr. Julie Sexeny, assistant professor of cinema and media studies at Wofford College will lead a discussion following the film. An art competition and exhibition for high school and college students is also being held in conjunction with the event.

The film explores connections between these statistics and the overwhelming message we receive about women and girls through the media: a female's value and power lie in her youth, beauty and sexuality, and not in her capacity as a leader.

Supported by the McKinney-Jernigan Creative Collaboration Grant, the Breakfast Business & Professional Women's Club of Spartanburg, and the George Dean Johnson History Fund, the event will be held at 6:30 p.m. in Daniel Recital Hall, located in Blackman Music Building at Converse. Admission is free and open to the public. For information, call 864.596.9087 or email amy.cox@converse.edu. Information about the documentary is available on the Miss Representation website.

According to the MissRepresentation.org, the United States ranks 90th in the world for women in national legislatures, our nation's women hold only 3% of clout positions in mainstream media, and 65% of women and girls here have disordered eating behaviors. The film explores connections between these statistics and the overwhelming message we receive about women and girls through the media: a female's value and power lie in her youth, beauty and sexuality, and not in her capacity as a leader. This message is reinforced in the minds of American teenagers as they consume media—television, music, movies, magazines and the Internet—for an average of nearly 11 hours per day.

The film features stories from teenage girls and provocative interviews with politicians, journalists, entertainers, activists and academics like Condoleezza Rice, Nancy Pelosi, Katie Couric, Rachel Maddow, Margaret Cho, Rosario Dawson and Gloria Steinem. It premiered at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival and was selected for broadcast network premiere on OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network.

"In American society, women of all ages are more likely than men to experience low self-esteem and poor body image," says Dr. Tracy Ksiazak, assistant professor of psychology at Converse. "These concerns can have profound implications. For example, young women in high school and college, on average, take fewer challenging math and science courses than their male peers. Research studies have found connections between these young women's educational choices and a lack of exposure to portrayals of accomplished women in prestigious careers. Many mainstream media portrayals of women depict negative, unrealistic, and unhealthy images of what it means to be a woman."

The event is championed by four Converse faculty members from various disciplines who believe it will challenge and inspire Converse students at a critical juncture in their lives—as they solidify personal identities, aspire to leadership positions, actively partake of mainstream media, and strive to make a difference in their world. Marketing professor Dr. Amy Cox and art history professor Dr. Zan Schuweiler co-teach an interdisciplinary first-year seminar called "Packaging Women" that investigates topics like gendered marketing, depictions of women in popular media, and women's body image. Psychology professor Dr. Tracy Ksiazak has conducted research on how gender interacts with giftedness to influence women's attributions for their own success, and also teaches about cultural factors that can impact women's mental health. History professor Dr. Melissa Walker teaches a popular course on women's history and has focused on women in much of her research and publications. The faculty members are incorporating the event into courses that span their disciplines, from "Theories of Personality" and "Abnormal Psychology" to "Consumer Behavior" and "Management Principles". The Converse College Wellness Center is also partnering to provide an information display highlighting issues ranging from body image to eating disorders.

Converse hopes the event will bring together diverse perspectives from across the Spartanburg community, ranging from women's organizations to community employers to mothers and daughters who attend together. "Many real women spend valuable time, money, and emotional energy trying to fit unattainable ideals portrayed by mainstream media, experiencing consequences ranging from decreased self-concepts to eating disorders in the process. It is important to engage our students and greater community in conversations about these issues, to foster appropriate self-confidence, and to encourage active involvement in shaping the course of our world," Ksiazak says.

Art Contest for High School and College Students

As a means to further engage students in reflection and personal expression in response to the film, Converse will host an art competition and exhibition for high school and college students, with cash prizes for top winners in both divisions. Participants must attend the screening, then create visual works inspired by themes in the film. Submissions should be delivered to the Department of Art & Design in Milliken Art Building at Converse on Thursday, April 11 between noon – 6:00 p.m. A public exhibition of all submissions will be displayed in Milliken Art Building from April 12 - 25, with prizes of $100 for 1st place collegiate division, $50 second place collegiate division, $75 first place high school division, $25 second place high school division, and $20 third place high school division awarded. For more information on the art competition and exhibition, contact Dr. Zan Schuweiler at zan.schuweiler@converse.edu.

DOWNLOAD THE FLYER (PDF) for more info.