I had the pleasure of being a panelist for a screening of Miss Representation, a 2011 documentary that explores how the media’s misrepresentations of women have led to the underrepresentation in positions of power and influence. The film takes an unflinching look at the limited, even disparaging portrayals of women and girls in popular media – think reality television, music videos, and entertainment news. Miss Representation demonstrates how a simplistic view of women in the media translates into barriers for women seeking leadership positions in our society.
The film and following discussion was a powerful reminder of the responsibility that we in the marketing industry need to take in portraying both women and men as well-rounded individuals instead of leaning on stereotypes to communicate brand messages.
Included in the footage was the 2006 Dove Evolution video that sees a woman transformed through styling and Photoshop into a billboard-ready model. This campaign quickly became famous globally for exposing the unrealistic standards of beauty to which women are held and was seen as a seminal moment for the portrayal of women in advertising. Yet if we’re looking for a barometer of how far we’ve come since Evolution was released six years ago, we only need to look at the latest crop of Superbowl advertising to see that the industry’s legacy of babes in bikinis advertising still persists.
If our culture is the product of storytelling – whether in films, television, advertising or video games – then it matters who the teller is in this scenario. We need more tellers – women and men– who represent diverse perspectives and are ready to portray both genders as whole people, not clichés. Using American statistics, Miss Representation points out that women occupy only 3% of the clout positions in the media industry. While we’re not as good at keeping these statistics in Canada, certainly we’re a long way from equal representation at the executive levels. By doing a better job of populating the marketing industry at every level with diverse points of view, we’ll be positioned to make more progressive choices about how to portray women in advertising.