This phrase was used in a New York Magazine article describing the destructive labels used by mainstream media to describe women; in this case, specifically referring to Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin, respectively, regarding the 2008 Presidential campaign. The phrase is used again in the superb documentary, Miss Representation, which exposes and describes the challenges created for women and girls as a result of mainstream media's focus on looks as a means to measure success and value in our culture.
The film, written, directed, and produced by Jennifer Siebel Newsom, premiered in 2011 at the Sundance Film Festival, with its broadcast premier on OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network in October 2011. I saw it for the first time last week at a screening event in San Francisco.
Here are some statistics from the film:
• Women hold only 3% of the "clout" positions in the media.
• We have been electing our leaders from about 6% of the population (i.e., white men over the age of 35 with a professional degree).
• Teenagers spend on average 10 hours and 45 minutes per day consuming media (this includes watching TV, watching movies, reading magazines, listening to music, and going online).
In the United States, the media is one of the most persuasive forces shaping our cultural norms. The message being sent is that a woman's value lies more in the way she looks rather than in her power to lead, and the fast track to success lies in having a reality TV show and a sex tape. Since the media is such a powerful force, how can we empower girls and women to stand up to and challenge limiting labels and encourage men and boys to stand up to sexism? Here are ten ways you can positively influence the conversation:
1. Have a conversation at work. At your next women's initiative group meeting, association get-together, or activity, set aside time to talk about gender stereotypes, double-binds, cultural mindsets and recognizing the portrayal of women in advertising. Whether talked about or not, many of these topics impact whether a woman stays or goes at a company, and that influences attrition rates which is a direct hit to the bottom line.
2. Allow women and girls to tell their stories. According to the film, only seven percent of film writers and ten percent of film directors are women. As a result, women's stories either aren't being told or are told from a male perspective. At work, make sure to talk about your successes openly. If you own a business that focuses on women and girls, devote some of your blog space to your clients and constituents to promote them and allow them to tell their stories.
3. Have a conversation at home. Talk to your kids after a TV show or a movie. Raise questions about the story or ask, "What if that character had been a girl instead?"
4. Remember that your actions influence others. Make it your new mantra to stop judging yourself & others so harshly. Women - every time a girl hears you talk about your big thighs or how much you hate your stomach, she keeps a mental scorecard about her own body, and ultimately, her worthiness. Men - take note about how you talk about women and the message this sends to your sons and daughters.
5. Focus on your strengths. Many TV stories and magazine articles focus on deficits, negativity, what's wrong, and what can't be fixed. Instead, make sure you can identify your strengths and how to leverage them at home and at work. These strengths assessments are reliable and valid measures that you (and your kids) can use: The Realise 2 (www.strengths2020), by the Centre of Applied Positive Psychology; StrengthsFinder 2.0 by Gallup (www.strengthsfinder.com); and the VIA (Values in Action) Strengths Inventory by Drs. Chris Peterson and Martin E.P. Seligman (www.authentichappiness.org).
6. Use the power of the purse. Women hold 86% of the purchasing power in the United States. Use this power to stop watching shows and films or buying products that portray women and girls negatively. Make your voice heard - write letters to the editor, to your Congress person, or to TV executives demanding change. In addition, you can call out sexist and offensive media you see by using #NotBuyingIt on Twitter.
7. Identify positive role models. At work, indentify people who can serve as mentors and sponsors (both men and women) who can positively shape your career. At home, have your kids make lists of people they consider to be positive roles models and discuss.
8. Identify your faulty thinking patterns. As I explain in "High-Achieving Women Think Differently," people carry with them a set of rules or beliefs about the way they feel the world should operate. For many successful women, their deeply held beliefs about how they should live and work (and look) produce faulty assumptions or "crooked thinking" that underlie stress patterns.
9. Go on a media diet. Limit the amount of time you and your kids spend consuming media.
10. Talk about your mistakes. Women and girls need to hear that the path to success doesn't lie with perfection. If you have some work experience under your belt, talk about the mistakes you made and the vulnerabilities you have.
While parents, teachers, friends, and employers all influence a woman's story, it is undeniable the power that the media has in shaping the lives of women and girls. Limiting labels interfere with a woman's ability to realize her potential, and that impacts the number of women and girls who ascend to leadership positions. Companies and countries won't truly thrive (either socially or economically) until women hold more positions of power and influence.
Paula Davis-Laack is a lawyer turned positive psychology practitioner, professional coach, and work/life expert specializing in stress, work, and lifestyle issues for high-achieving women. She is also an advocate for empowering women and girls in life and in business. Connect with Paula via:
Her website: www.marieelizbethcompany.com