The Hartford Courant, 2/19/2012
By Susan Campbell
Act One: I am sitting cross-legged watching a televised Western with my brothers. We three are imbued with the Code of the West. We let our guns do the talking and today, we wear our plastic Colts in our leg holsters.
But on television, there’s yet another corseted, bustled young woman being threatened by a bad guy. She does not reach for her Colt. Instead, she puts a hand to her mouth to scream. I think to ask my brothers why she doesn’t fight back — or at least move her hand so someone might hear her scream —- but I am afraid this is something I should know and I don’t want to look stupid.
Act Two: At school, someone starts a rumor that a little boy named Mickey eats bats. Mickey smells funny and lives in a trailer and doesn’t need any more social negatives. He sits crying on the playground. I am Mickey’s deskmate and am honor-bound to do something. When the kid next to me repeats the rumor, I punch him and spend a fruitless hour in the principal’s office, during which I am chastised for not acting like a lady. I am no lady. Do you see a bustle? I wear a sidearm.
Act Three: My mother is making me wear a training bra and I am not happy because 1. It itches, and 2. I know that strapping that thing on forever marks me as one of those corseted pantywaists who won’t shoot back. I know this because the media —- and my church —- tells me so.
Act Four: I stop being a rabid moviegoer because I’ve grown sick of the monotonous portrayal of women as two breasts with legs — long ones. And then a friend introduces me to the Bechdel Test, in which a movie is judged worthwhile if:
1. It has at least two women in it.
2. Who talk to each other.
3. About something besides a man.
The test was introduced in 1985 by Alison Bechdel, whose comic strip, “Dykes to Watch Out For,” ran for 25 years. Her test in no way measures a movie’s worth, but it does eliminate a lot of riff-raff.
Do you worry this is just one woman whining? Reread the Super Bowl Twitter feed and see what commenters thought of the sexist ads that involved naked or scantily-clothed women to sell things like computer products and chips. Who knew God put women on earth to sell Doritos? I’d always hoped for a higher calling.
Jennifer Siebel Newsom also noticed that it’s hard to find strong women and girls portrayed in the media, and in response, she wrote, directed, and produced the documentary “Miss Representation,” which debuted in 2011 at the Sundance Film Festival. She’s an actress, and a graduate of Stanford, and Stanford’s Graduate School of Business. The birth of her daughter prompted her to look at what faces her little girl as she grows up in front of a screen, as she thumbs through future magazines, as she listens to music and watches videos.
The average American teenager (female and male) spends 10 hours and 45 minutes consuming media every day, so women’s misportrayal affects us all. Boys and girls see a media-constructed world in which men’s roles are inflated and women’s roles are deflated. Those portrayals train no one for the real world. This isn’t about fighting back. It’s about standing up.
The Permanent Commission on the Status of Women, Charter Oak Cultural Center and the Women & Gender Resource Action Center at Trinity College are co-sponsoring a free showing of “Miss Representation” at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Charter Oak, 21 Charter Oak Ave. in Hartford. The movie will be followed by a panel discussion that will include Anna Doroghazi, director of public policy and communication at Connecticut Sexual Assault Crisis Services; Nikki McGary, instructor of women’s studies and a doctoral candidate in sociology at University of Connecticut; Frances G. Padilla, executive vice president at Universal Health Care Foundation of Connecticut, and Teresa C. Younger, executive director of the permanent commission.
Bring your sons. Bring your daughters. The evening is free.
Susan Campbell can be reached at email@example.com.