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So I finally saw Miss Representation.  A documentary about the limiting portrayal of women and girls in media has been previously screened in private and public in Vancouver by great organizations including the YWCA, YWiB, the Projecting Change Film Festival, and the Vancouver International Film Festival.  Last night it was shown by the Vancouver Board of Trade at a Women’s Leadership Circle networking event.  I had been wanting to find out more about the VBOT, so what better an opportunity than to attend their screening and meet some of their members.

I already had a high awareness about the skewed, often fictional portrayal and objectification of women and girls in media.  I often say that my husband is more of a feminist than I am (he grew up in a household with four women – his three sisters and his mother) and it is he who regularly criticizes the useless, hyper-sexualized images of women in advertisements and in movies.  He will not stand for Disney princesses in our home if we ever have a daughter.  He wants strong, intelligent role models for his nieces so that they know that careers as engineers or scientists are just as available to them as anything else.

The film was thought-provoking and well-done, but it was the panel discussion afterwards which impressed me.  It was intelligent, entertaining, and affirming.

Elise Rees, transaction tax partner at Ernst & Young and chair, The Vancouver Board of Trade Government Budget & Finance Committee spoke of the need for sponsorship of women, to help them excel and advance.  She drew the distinction between mentorship, which is providing advice, guidance, and encouragement, and sponsorship, which is being at the table with someone else and being their champion.  Opportunities for women arise and get realized when they have a sponsor.

Chantelle Krish, manager, advocacy and public relations, YWCA Metro Vancouver, spoke of including men and boys in the conversation.  Responding to a question from the audience about how talking about change can make people uncomfortable, she reminded us that change IS uncomfortable.

Darlene Forst, president of Skydance Entertainment, emphasized the point about men and boys on the issue.  How to include them in the conversation?  Invite them, she says.  Darlene’s media perspective was compelling.  Having seen the film previously and analyzed it, she reminded us that the film itself is media, that the images and messages were carefully selected and crafted to influence an audience.

These were just some of the comments that stood out last night.  There was some debate whether the advancement of women or portrayal of women in media is as bad in Canada as it is in the US, which was the viewpoint depicted in the film.  In some cases, things do feel more progressive here, but it certainly depends on the perspective.  Chantelle cited the instances of domestic violence that are not widely spoken of or get passed as acceptable behaviour is a reflection that we shouldn’t take things for granted in Canada.

One of the things that was missing from the film was the power of women as investors.  The film highlighted the dominant narrative in media companies and in US politics – CEOs, Boards of Directors, and political leaders are predominantly men.  The decisions made by these people focus typically on a single bottom line.  Especially in media, the results tend to be – what sells the most product?  This singular influence of decisions – financial returns – leads to a dumbing-down of media.  We get drilled into our minds that sex and violence sells, that by preying on fears, guilt, and insecurities, companies will be able to sell more products and services.  Sure, we can exert our purchasing power as consumers and vote with our money.  What is far more compelling is if we vote with our investment money because this is where it all starts.  CEOs and Boards of Directors answer to investors.  The power of women as investors is immense because we can start to influence a different kind of bottom line and a different sort of return on investment.

So, the call to action for women?

  • If you’re in a position to “sponsor” or be the champion for another woman – do it, speak up, get her noticed.  If you are a woman, trying to get your voice heard, reach out and seek out a sponsor.
  • Invite men and boys to the conversation.  This is an important issue that affects their well-being as much as it affects women.
  • We are surrounded by media all the time.  Increase your awareness of this and ask yourself if your actions or inaction contributes to negative stereotypes of women.
  • Positive change IS uncomfortable.  Step out of your comfort zone.
  • Vote with your investment money.  As active and vocal investors, women will have the greatest influence.