The Empowerment Project – Combatting the Representation of Women in the Media

The next time you’re at a cinema, watching TV, at a play, or even just passing by posters on the street, try this little experiment. Keep count of the number of women you see, and weigh that against the number of men. And for each person that you see, ask yourself just one question — is this person being objectified? That is to say, is sexual attractiveness the main identifying characteristic of this person?

As you probably know, this category will, without a doubt, be overwhelmingly female. Everywhere you look, the voices and thoughts of men push their way to the forefront, while women lounge silently in the background in decorative poses. Out of the 100 top-grossing films of 2010, only 19 centered around women, and according to the Media and Gender Monitor, only 24% of news stories globally were about women. (See more stats here) In media, women are denied personhood, and are reduced to sexual objects of flawless outward beauty.

Far from being “harmless fun”, the battle cry of misogynists everywhere, this one-dimensional portrayal of women is deeply damaging. In a 2010 paper by sociologist Stephanie Berberick, she outlines how the rising rate of cosmetic surgeries and eating disorders is related to the objectification of women in the media, and draws a link between this and violence against women. Young girls, in particular, are incredibly vulnerable to this endless slew of messages that their worth lies in how they look, and their ambitions are pulled in the direction of achieving physical perfection, to the detriment of other goals and opportunities.

Last year, The MissRepresentation project summed up the problem with the line, “You can’t be what you can’t see.” Generations of women have grown up in a world, reflected through the media, where men go off on adventures, save the world, run the country, go off into space, achieve sporting excellence, develop as human beings. And women? Women are beautiful. The lucky ones get fallen in love with.

Which is why I was excited when I received an email about a docu-series called The Empowerment Project: Extraordinary Women Doing Extraordinary Things. Led by Sarah Moshman and Dana Cook of Heartfelt Productions, the project aims to share the stories of inspirational women in a variety of career fields — how they got to where they are, their biggest challenges and how they overcame them, what it’s like to be a woman at the top of their particular profession. To make this vision a reality, however, the project needs funding, and needs to reach at least $25,000 by May 27.

You can have a look at the list of women they plan to interview on their Kickstarter page, and have a preview of their first interview, done with Jill Soloway, Sundance best director winner and director of Afternoon Delight, United States of Tara and Six Feet Under. The entire project will be undertaken by an all-women crew, who will not only do the interviewing, but will showcase their thoughts and experiences as they grow and learn on their journey.

The all-women crew!

The all-women crew!

If, like me, you’re tired of seeing and hearing only men wherever you go, if you’re tired of all-male expert panels on TV and endless male voices talking about their experiences on the radio, and tired of the constant portrayal of women as no more than instruments for male pleasure, then you’ll understand why this project is so worthwhile. Highly successful women are so often denied a platform that young girls have little opportunity of seeing what they could truly achieve, and too many believe that their only chance of success is through dieting, cosmetic surgery and a rich husband.

So get clicking, pledging and sharing, and together, let’s help make this happen. One project alone may not turn the tide on the abysmal state of female representation in the media, but we need to make it known that we reject the sexist depiction of women as purely aesthetic beings, and that we are hungry to hear and learn from women who have pursued their dreams and achieved great things. And in this mountainous battle, every little pebble counts.