As a media studies major and a feminist, the representation of women in media is one of my favorite subjects.
My first brush with the aforementioned came at age 15 when I took a three-week summer course called “The Critical Essay: Popular Culture” at Franklin & Marshall College. Much of the class was focused on feminist theory and criticizing the overt use of phallic symbols in advertising. Upon my return from the program, I canceled my subscription to Seventeen magazine and signed up for Newsweek, disgusted by the shallow topics discussed in the former and determined to become a positive, educated force in the world of media.
I’ve also been lucky enough to attend both an all-girls high school, where those in power couldn’t be anyone but women, and Temple, where diversity is a given and I’m able to major in media studies. These experiences have enabled me to seek out some pretty awesome examples of powerful women in the media; here are some of my favorites.
Hate it, love it – you know you’ve been talking about it. Lena Dunham has gotten a lot of flak for her portrayal of female adulthood, mainly because most of her characters are white and upper-middle-class, which I can’t deny is a narrow demographic. But I’ve also heard people express distaste because of how irritating they find their characters’ personalities.
This, for me, is the best part of the show. There’s Hannah, the protagonist, whose rampant self-deprecation and anxiety result in consistently awkward encounters and destructive relationships. There’s Marnie, Hannah’s best friend, who can’t help but stalk her ex-boyfriend due to a double whammy of narcissism and insecurity. Shoshanna, the baby of the group, tries to get back at a guy who won’t take her seriously by sending him emojis of a panda bear and gun. And Jessa is – well, she’s Jessa. Even the boys of “Girls” have been getting their share of character development lately: Shoshanna’s boyfriend Ray is 33 and a self-proclaimed directionless loser, and Hannah’s twisted ex-boyfriend Adam is strangely charming in his inability to bathe regularly.
Regardless of their likeability, the personas are realistic. Women – people – are flawed. My favorite part of modern day feminism is its allowance of an honest portrayal of womanhood, and “Girls” captures that like no other show does.
Also known as Amanda Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra, who is also known as the frontwoman of punk/cabaret band The Dresden Dolls, and also known as Amanda F—ing Palmer – this woman is a boss. Her tattooed eyebrows and unshaved armpits may scare away the tamer of the feminist breed, but her DIY ethos and badass mentality are something that any millennial can support.
Palmer has been circling the Web lately with her TED Talk entitled “The Art of Asking.” In the talk she outlines her method of funding creative projects: ask for help, and offer something in return. In this case, she asked for donations and offered a free album. With the help of Kickstarter and about 25,000 fans, she successfully raised enough money to fund a record independently of a label, thus giving the recording industry a giant, $1.2 million middle finger. Talk about power.
I want to be Tavi Gevinson. If there’s any 16-year-old that can make me feel badly about my accomplishments, it’s this one. By age 13 she was an internationally recognized fashion blogger; at 15 she created her own online magazine; at 16 she gave a TED Talk about said magazine that has more than 350,000 views on YouTube. Um, and she’s been on The Colbert Report.
Rookie Mag serves as a forum for teen girls to read and share stories of fashion, body image, pop culture, relationships and everything else that they have to deal with. Ideas are communicated via articles, personal accounts, photographs, videos and playlists. Celebrities like Zooey Deschanel and “Community” actress Gillian Jacobs often stop by to do guest pieces.
The main reason I like Rookie Mag, despite no longer being a teenage girl, is that there is nothing on the site that tells you what a teen girl “should” be. Writers speak from the perspective not of experts, but as people who have experienced some things yet are ultimately, as Gevinson says in her TED Talk, still trying to figure out how to navigate the world. And that’s something I can get behind.
Looking for a new role model? This documentary’s creator is Jennifer Siebel Newsom, a former actress who saw the current media landscape as a damaging backdrop for her newborn daughter to grow up in. That, and the lack of strong female film roles available to her, inspired her to investigate the social and political implications of gender in the media.
“Miss Representation” can be criticized for its occasional overreaching condemnations. But unlike “Girls,” it also does a good job of getting opinions from women of a variety of ethnicities, creeds and professions. Comedian Margaret Cho, anchor Katie Couric and second-wave activist Gloria Steinem are just a few of the influential women interviewed, and they all have something insightful to say about the state of women in the media. This eye-opening film is a must-see for all media consumers, aka the entire American population.
Julie Zeglen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.