More than a year ago, I saw the film Miss Representation. It was moving and inspiring and upsetting all at once, and even after months have passed I am still mulling its contents. One of the unexpected aftershocks comes in the form of a phrase that’s remained lodged in my brain. A political expert was explaining that the number of American women who show interest in pursuing political careers is dwindling. An oft-overlooked reason for this? There are relatively few women in politics right now. And – here comes the phrase – if you can’t see it, you can’t be it.
Gloria Steinem said this phrase in the film, and may even have originated it. I feel certain I’d heard it before, but for some reason, this was the first time it struck a chord. Because, clearly, it applies not just to politics but to business, athletics, science, and all typically male-dominated fields. Women don’t pursue those careers as often as men do because many view them as closed or hostile. They see so few other women working in those jobs, have so few role models fighting those dominant paradigms, that they assume they couldn’t possibly measure up. And so they don’t try.
Steinem points out, “We’re communal creatures. We’re very much influenced by what we see. As this documentary makes clear, if you can’t see it, you can’t be it.”
Of course, there are mold-breakers, pioneers, warriors, and standard-bearers. There are women who love business and science and athletics and politics SO HARD and are SO AMAZING at those things, that virtually nothing could stop them from chasing down their dreams. But there are also women who – consciously and subconsciously – look to their peers for cues and guidance. They watch their fellow women, note their choices and actions, and calculate accordingly. Examples are powerful influencers. When examples aren’t set, mustering the courage to go first can seem impossible.
The film also examined this concept in the light of beauty, bodies, and self-image. There are agreed-upon concepts of beauty that stem from social norms and are reinforced by media imagery. If you, as a person, look drastically different from the version of “beautiful” that is shoved at you by those media, you may never believe that what you are is also beautiful. You may never accept that beauty is a spectrum, not a trait. In my opinion, the same goes for concepts of “stylish.” There’s a huge, powerful marketing machine working to convince you that you need to buy and wear certain items from certain brands in order to be stylish. If you look drastically different from the version of “stylish” that is shoved at you by those companies, you may never believe that what you are is also stylish.
And this lights a fire under me. Because what I have here is a website, a place within the media (albeit a small one) from which I can show images of women who possess the spectrum of physical traits and attributes, span the decades, and dress as they see fit. I want you to see them, see their diversity, see their courage, see their gorgeous gamut of examples and witness yourself reflected back. Magazines, TV, books, and movies focus on a tiny subgroup of women and hold them up. It’s high time we start holding up a few more women and praising them, too.
Part of me rebels against, “If you can’t see it, you can’t be it.” I mean, there have been so many women throughout time who have plowed forward with ABSOLUTELY NO EXAMPLES AT ALL, and changed the face of history with their visionary bravery. And I struggle with the idea that we, as women, require others to go first before we can follow along. It’s not a concept that I love and embrace. But it’s one that I recognize as containing some important grains of truth. We are communal creatures, and we are influenced by what we see. So I intend to do a lot of showing. I intend to introduce you to women from everywhere doing everything and looking just like you’d expect and like nothing you’ve ever dreamed of in the hopes of hitting just a few chords inside just a few women. If I can show just one woman the example she needs to pick up and follow her dreams, believe in her beauty, register her worth, I will consider myself an unqualified success.
Originally posted 2012-11-08 06:09:38.