The MissRepresentation movement is both a watchdog and information hub about how women are being portrayed in the media. Today, I saw their video reviewing Hollywood’s performance in 2012. According to MissRep, Hollywood failed, despite a number of powerful, and I think impactful, female protagonists from this year. Although some people tune into Honey Boo Boo, I am going to firmly hold out hope that more people went out and saw the incredible characterization of Katniss in the Hunger Games instead.
Regardless, the most interesting part of the video for me was actually the comments section. There was a quite a bit of discussion from Game of Thrones fans about the portrayal of women in the series. Although I have never seen the show, I’m currently two books into the books series, A Song of Fire and Ice so I was intrigued by how that show specifically was a point of contention. Some viewers made the claim that the story includes a varied portrayal of women, both strong and weak. Others said that the show still objectifies women through old tropes of a woman’s role as a mother and caretaker.
As I read the comments, I couldn’t help but wonder why no one was commenting directly about the books. And that made me go a step further – why did the video and comments ignore the portrayal of women in this year’s top books? Although we have grown to be a more visual culture, this doesn’t mean that men, women, boys, and girls aren’t still consuming thousands of words through news articles, non- fiction and fiction. How does the printed word measure up in their portrayal of women?
Personally, I’ve had the opportunity to read about a diverse array of female characters this year. From the Golden One, in Ayn Rand‘s Anthem, to an amazing protagonist named Vin in Brandon Sanderson‘s Mistborn Trilogy, to Aliena and Ellen from Ken Follett‘s Pillars of the Earth to Sophie Kinsella‘s latest hilarious lead character, Poppy from I’ve Got Your Number, I’ve encountered multitudes of stories of older and younger women. Although TV has definitely been a major part of my media consumption, it has not been the only way that I’ve engaged with women in the media. Whether the characters were incredibly complicated or just downright silly, these books offered a diverse range of portrayals. There was no thoughtless heavy-handed objectification. I would argue that my reading list for 2012, including one of the Game of Thrones series, passed muster.
Unfortunately, one can never generalize from personal experience. Looking at the top selling books in 2012, I’m not so sure this past year can be commended. The top selling book this past year both digitally and in print was EL James’s Fifty Shades of Grey. Although the book has had a tremendous impact on self-publishing, the book industry, and popular consumption itself, I’m not entirely sure what the verdict would be on its portrayal of women. I can’t and won’t judge a book I haven’t read, but maybe we should look beyond movies and reality TV and look at the books that mothers and fathers are passing on to their children. Even though Fifty Shades deservedly won this year’s Popular Fiction Book Award, maybe it also deserves a little scrutiny from an entity like MissRep. Maybe it’s time for people who care about women’s portrayals in the media to examine books at the top of the bestseller lists.
The MissRepresentation campaign does an amazing job of making us take note of what’s on our screens. I wonder who can or will make us take note of the words printed on the pages we hold? Should we even bother? Even though there may be some lingering ideas about the romance of an author spending hours alone, seemingly writing by candlelight to construct a perfect story, people who write for , direct, and produce television care just as much about the work of art they create. If there is a formal organization that takes note of their representation of women, should books have a similar watchdog/commentator? There may be cultural diversity in what appreciate and commend, but there might be a problem if that never fully translates to the bestseller lists. Media is an all enveloping word for the different ways people communicate and obtain information. Maybe it’s time for books, the oldest form of mass media, to join its digital brethren as part of the ongoing discourse on how both women and men are being represented.