One reason women are greatly underrepresented in power positions like those in the national government is the media's depiction of them as powerless. Young women do not aspire to high government positions when they fail to see frequent role models. They perceive leadership as masculine.
"The most common way people give up their power," said Alice Walker, "is by thinking they don't have any."
A new film documentary, Miss Representation, a Sundance film by Jennifer Siebel Newsom, makes clear the American media's overwhelming depiction of women as entirely secondary to men. Dramas, tragedies, and comedies alike tell stories about men; the few commercial films that tell women's stories (ten percent) show them primarily as sex objects by displaying their bodies with sexy and scanty clothing. Women are often depicted negatively — as "bitchy" and as competing with each other for men instead of determined to make it in business or a profession by working at it.
As for television news shows, most of them have emphasized women reporters as sexual beings, not thinkers or professionals, by featuring low cleavages and lots of leg shots; the reporters themselves admit this in Miss Representation. They know they are often dressed like cocktail waitresses instead of in clothing appropriate for serious business.
Teenagers have been highly susceptible to the constant emphasis upon "perfection" in women's bodies by magazines and in newspapers. They fail to realize that the female bodies shown in ads are always digitally altered and that therefore the so-called beauty they display is simply unattainable. The result of this falsification is to lower teenagers' confidence and increase the incidence of anxiety, anorexia, and suicide. Teenage girls HATE their bodies! Making objects out of women also leads to violence because many men have come to believe it is their right to dominate women.
The American media, Miss Representation demonstrates, is overwhelmingly in the hands of men, giving out news, ideas, and stories from the male perspective only, with programs showing men in control and women trying to influence them by sexual means. There is only one women's TV channel; all the others are run by men. Multiple magazines hammer relentlessly at women's attempts to improve their bodies; none has been designed solely to feature their intellectual and professional achievements. It's easy to conclude that makeup and hairdos always trump brains, determination, and success. This situation bodes badly for American democracy.
Since the women's point of view is seldom available to them, women will remain unaware of their own true selves, believing they will never share in our democracy because they are not smart enough and not beautiful enough for men to want to share it with them. Any improvement in this situation can only come very slowly because of lack of encouragement by the media. Each generation has to learn for itself that women can aspire to succeed in any aspect of life if they really want to.