Jennifer Siebel Newsom: Is the Media Misrepresenting Us?

September 30 - On The Dot
FIRST THOUGHT: Representation for All

One of the reasons we started On The Dot is to share more stories of women who are doing brave and inspiring things. Sadly, we don’t see enough commanding, free-thinking females represented in movies, on TV shows and in modern literature.

Who are the female stars of the small and silver screens or the women featured in the pages of popular magazines and books that make you feel powerful? Maybe it’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Hermione Granger or Elizabeth Bennett. Wouldn’t you like to see more of them in the media?

Today, let’s use a critical eye to learn more about how women and girls are represented in the media we’ll consume.

WOMEN IN NUMBERS: 37.5 Percent

A report from the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media has highlighted seven ways in which women and girls are stereotyped and underrepresented on-screen. On prime-time TV shows, 37.5 percent of female characters have thin bodies, compared with only 13.6 percent of male characters.

Think family films are safe? Think again. Some 28.3 percent of female characters wear sexy attire in movies that are supposed to be kid-friendly, whereas men are almost always covered up. If these facts get you riled up, consider checking out the institute to see how you can help better portray realistic, strong women and girls in the media.

WOMAN TO WATCH: Jennifer Siebel Newsom, Filmmaker and CEO and Founder of The Representation Project

Jennifer Siebel Newsom is one pioneering lady making a stand against such stereotypical treatment of women in the media. And as a longtime film-industry player, you can bet she's felt the sting of female stereotypes firsthand. In fact, when Jennifer first arrived in Hollywood to pursue acting at 28 years old, her agent urged her to remove her master's degree from her resume and lie about her age. She couldn't imagine raising a little girl in this kind of degrading culture, and saw a connection between how women were represented in film and how they were underrepresented in powerful positions. So, she decided to do something about it.

Jennifer wrote, directed and produced a documentary film called Miss Representation, released in 2011. Seriously, ladies, carve out 90 minutes of your day to watch this documentary on Netflix. It opened my eyes to how women are represented, and it’s motivated me to be careful about what media I personally consume.

With commentary from Katie Couric, Margaret Cho and more influential folks, the film shows the viewer dozens of movie and TV clips highlighting how women are often depicted—from sex objects to victims of violence to ditzy damsels.

Following the documentary’s success, Jennifer started a nonprofit called The Representation Project, with the goal of using film as a catalyst for cultural transformation. The organization works to actively critique the media through educator resources and social-action campaigns like the #NotBuyingIt hashtag, which can be used to call out sexist advertisements.

Jennifer’s newest film, The Mask You Live In, shows the other side of our gender-divided culture. Men and boys recall being told to “man up” and hold in their emotions, often resulting in violent outbursts and depression. The film aims to illustrate how we, as a society, can raise a healthier generation of boys and young men.

With the talent and passion for telling the tales that many don’t want told, Jennifer is unapologetically questioning the media and challenging us to critique what we watch. It’s all because she knows that in order to change the world, we have to start by changing the conversation.


I’ll leave you with these words from writer Alice Walker, which were quoted in Miss Representation:

“The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.”

This is Melinda Garvey signing off until next time. Remember, ladies, empowered women empower other women. Share On the Dot so more women can have a voice. Thanks for getting ready with us!

To learn more about our conversation, check us out at and talk to us @OnTheDotWoman on Twitter and Instagram. We’d love to hear your voice.

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