Calling Women to Action

USF Women in Leadership & Philanthropy screens documentary “Miss Representation” and discusses challenges facing women.


By Barbara Melendez

USF News


TAMPA, Fla. (Feb. 4, 2013) – As the credits for the documentary film “Miss Representation” began to roll in Traditions Hall at the University of South Florida last Thursday evening, spontaneous applause erupted and the audience welcomed the opportunity to talk about what had just transpired before their eyes. 


The steady stream of alarming statistics, sobering facts and fascinating comments – from the famous and not so famous – painted a picture of a hidden-in-plain-sight crisis: the devastating impact of the media’s inaccurate portrayal of women.


In scene after scene, it became abundantly clear that at 51 percent of the population in the United States, women are confronted with challenges their majority status belies. The result is that women are not only under-represented in positions of power and influence, but victimized to a disturbing degree. 


The film’s writer/director/producer Jennifer Siebel Newsom was the keynote speaker at USF Women in Leadership & Philanthropy Symposium last October.  Her film was screened at the Tampa Theatre a few days prior and because not everyone had a chance to see it, this presentation offered another opportunity.


“It got a lot of us talking, so much so, we decided to have second showing,” WLP Chair Karen Dalton said as she welcomed guests.


The film, whose full title is, “We Can’t Be What We Don’t See,” unfolds through pervasive media imagery interlaced with commentary on what those images mean in the lives of girls and women as well as boys and men. It explains how the daily average exposure of teens to 10 hours and 45 minutes of all forms of such images along with its underlying ideology enriches and empowers the advertisers and others who use it.  


The people who move this message through the many aspects of women’s lives represent every political and cultural persuasion from Gloria Steinem to Condoleezza Rice to Rachel Maddow.  Men have their say as well. 


There’s also a call to action to fight back.

“Miss Representation,” which premiered at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, and aired on OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network is more than a film. It is a movement. and its latest campaign, #notbuyingit, are focused on combatting sexualized objectification of women through degrading images in advertising. There is also a curriculum for schools. 


Underscoring the film’s message, Dae Sheridan, an adjunct professor and WLP member, led the discussion noting “Once you see it (the film), you can’t unsee it.” She encouraged the audience to notice all the ways gender stereotypes are reinforced both consciously and unconsciously in daily life with adults and children.


She gave as an example something as seemingly innocent as Halloween costumes. As she explained, by dressing little girls in outfits resembling lingerie and little boys in bulked up muscle shirts, they are both given an unrealistic sense of what it means to be beautiful or handsome.


“We internalize these images and they’re like a slow-moving cancer eating away at our self-esteem,” Sheridan said.


Comments from the audience focused on the importance of women collaborating and working with each other instead of competing with each other and the harm of unkind self-criticism.


Picking up on a point in the film that addressed how negative stereotypes of women impact men, Jennifer Espinola, director of the USF Center for Leadership & Civic Engagement, encouraged the audience to seek out the book Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men and commented on the difficulty of pulling young men away from video games long enough to interest them in preparing for leadership roles in USF’s Emerging Leaders Institute. 

With women’s 86 percent purchasing power, Sheridan called on the audience to become media literate and learn “how to combat these contradictions as an everyday person” on a daily basis through what they buy and support. Otherwise, as she suggested, the price to be paid for not doing so is to prolong the growing epidemic of anxiety, depression, eating disorders and drug abuse.


Sheridan distributed a list of organizations, websites, books and individuals working for change. Among them are Women in Media and News, See Jane,,,, Hardy Girls Healthy Women,,, GirlsLeadershipInstitute, The Good Men Project, Adios Barbie, Stop Bullying, and many more. 


As the program drew to a close, WLP Executive Director India Waller Witte invited guests to join the organization, reminding everyone of its mission.

“Tonight exemplifies what our founding members had in mind when they committed their talent and treasure in forming this organization,” she said. “We are women promoting the positive value of and advancement of women through our support of scholarship , research and mentorship,  Women helping other women be all that they can be – that’s the essence of the USF Women in Leadership and philanthropy program.”

Click here for more information about Women in Leadership & Philanthropy.

Barbara Melendez can be reached at 813-974-4563.