• Ilie Ruby
  • Countdown to Publication: Miss Representation and the most daring book of your life- 55 Days
Countdown to Publication: Miss Representation and the most daring book of your life- 55 Days
Written by
Ilie Ruby
July 2012
Written by
Ilie Ruby
July 2012

Dear She Writers,

I've been thinking a lot about what it means to write the most daring book of your life.

Betty Friedan, a teacher of mine, a journalist, and leader of the women's movement, led the way with her feminist manifesto The Feminine Mystique. I've no doubt she is part of the reason I felt empowered to tackle sensitive issues about female sexuality in my new novel, The Salt God's Daughter. And I am not alone. Recently I witnessed an incredible show of courage, brilliance and wisdom, which made the idea of going out there on a limb much less threatening. Enter Miss Representation, a documentary film about the objectification of women in the media.

This groundbreaking work by Jennifer Siebel Newsom premiered at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, and aired on OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network. My 11-year old daughter and I were absolutely riveted by it. My kid is from Africa—her perspective is imbued with multicultural insights and dashed with blind spots that keep me on my toes and make for enriching conversations about women, both nationally and globally. We talk about the fact that when she was 8 years old — having just arrived in this country after a life of poverty and near starvation — a boy at school made fun of her muscular thighs, telling her she was fat. 

One can't ignore the fact that while the current generation has been born with the silver spoon of feminism already in its hands, as the film suggests, this is a profoundly confusing time for girls and women."Self objectification has become a national problem...and those who self-objectify are less likely to ... have a voice." If the media is the message and the messenger then the role of women writers has never been more important than it is today. For example, Rachel Maddow, of The Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC, says that almost all the hate mail she receives is about what she looks like, her gender, and her sexuality. Katie Couric brings up that fact that whenever she and Diane Sawyer were pitted against each other on news programs the media made it seem as though they were gearing up for a mud wrestling competition—of course the implication is that there's no way women can work in concert or take part in healthy competition.


Miss Representation mentions several other things that bear repeating:

  • women make up 51% of the population
  • 65% of girls and women have eating disorders
  • 16% of protagonists in films are female
  • "There's a new genre in which women appear to be empowered but their empowerment is not really about their agency." 
  • in animated films for children, the female characters are wearing outfits as revealing as in R-rated movies
  • a woman who is ambitious or in power is still seen as negative or her desire for achievement is negative
  • women own 3% of clout in telecommunications and publishing
  • women make up 16% of all writers and producers in film
  • Geena Davis says Hollywood is run on the assumption that men will not watch stories about women but women will watch stories about men 
  • Catherine Hardwicke, director of Thirteen and Twilight, is still told she cannot direct a movie that should be directed by a man

Echoed throughout this documentary is the dire need for women to be writing their own stories. "You can't be what you can't see," says Marianne Wright Edelman. Suffice it to say that I want both my daughters to see me writing the most daring book of my life. My hope is that they'll know, without a doubt, that their truths, their ideas, and their innate creative instincts are the most valuable things they own.

You can find out more about the film here, complete with lesson plans for schools: http://www.missrepresentation.org.




Ilie Ruby is the author of The Salt God's Daughter (forthcoming from Counterpoint/Soft Skull 9-4-12) and The Language of Trees (HarperCollins 2010). She has written for the New York Times and CNN and teaches writing in Boston. You can connect with Ilie on Facebook and Twitter, or on her website: www.ilieruby.com.



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  • Margaret Wacker

    I think this is a very important issue. I think there is far too much objectification of women and glass ceilings in the workplace, something I have become far too familiar with.  My writing began as a way to take power over my life, since working in my professional career seems to have gone about as far as I can as a woman.  So while I can't yet afford to opt out of the rat race, I have emotionally separated from it.

  • I come out this from two angles -- high and low.  I think that until women are represented in bigger numbers in corporate boardrooms -- especially at media and high tech companies -- companies that own the means of distribution -- this objectification will not change.  On the other side of the equation, until women fight for the rights of all women of color to be treated with dignity and respect -- and fair living wages -- we will all be misrepresented.  This documentary sounds like a good start.  Truly, author of LIE   

  • Nadine Kijner

    Thanks Ilie! Very inspiring, fired me up to write my daring truths!

  • What a wonderful post. I've been itching to see Miss Representation since it came out, and now I'm going to get on it. These issues facing women and girls must be talked about, and not just as quick "empowerment pieces" in popular magazines (though those are important and have their uses)--but also talked about with and to men, young men, so that these issues become a thing of the past.

  • Sarah Pinneo

    What a cool post! 3% ownership of media? Ugh!

  • Lisette Brodey

    Really interesting and thought-provoking piece. I learned a lot. :-)

  • Grace Peterson

    I love that the central message seems to be that women need to be writing their own stories. I think my memoir is pretty daring too and the idea of "the world" seeing it is kind of scary. But the empowerment outweighs the fear. :) Great post and congrats on your upcoming publication, Ilie. (I love that name.) 

  • Nissi Mutale

    Thank you for posting this Ilie! I had never heard of the missrepresentation project and am glad you brought it to my attention. It will be interesting to see how some of the young women I work with take to the documentary.