Introducing Miss Representation

Jennifer Siebel NewsomI'm still in shock over the recent November election. What was supposed to be another 'year of the woman' ended in a step backwards for women and for the U.S.

This year was the first time in 30 years U.S. women failed to gain seats in the House and Senate. Our already dismally low 17% of Congress did not budge. Whatever your politics are, I find it discouraging to see the first woman Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, step down from her historic post.

The same week as the elections, we completed edits on the Miss Representation documentary feature film. And just last week we found out our film was selected from thousands of entries to premiere in the documentary film competition at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival! After two years of production, the film is finally close to making its public debut! Yet it all feels bittersweet. With celebration comes the sinking realization that our work is needed now more than ever. If we are to continue making progress as women and as a democracy, we need to address what has become a crisis of representation.

For exactly this reason, the film has developed into much more than a film. We are building a full-fledged movement! Miss Representation takes to task the media for its limited and often disparaging portrayals of women. It draws the important connection between the ways women are mistreated in the media and the low numbers of U.S. women in positions of power and influence. As the most pervasive and persuasive form of communication in our culture, the media is educating yet another generation of young women and men that a woman's primary value lies in her youth, beauty and sexuality--not in her leadership capacity.

Regina Kulik Scully & Gloria SteinemMiss Representation came about during another election cycle when the hopes for women also soared. In 2008, Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin were all over the headlines. But again to our dismay, their fresh ideas were hardly even reported. It was their hair, boobs, pantsuits, heels and ‘hotness factor’--or lack thereof--that occupied far too much of the airtime. It was in this climate that Miss Representation was born during a conversation with a dear friend, Regina Kulik Scully, who would later become the film's Executive Producer.

Both Regina and I had long been involved in media. Regina has spent more than 20 years in communications before dedicating her life to education reform and women's rights. I became an actor in Hollywood after completing my MBA at Stanford and founded a production company called Girls' Club Entertainment to develop and produce independent films focused on empowering women. Our years behind the scenes helped us understand the ways mainstream media contributes to the contemporary backlash against women. We knew we could not stay silent.

We began interviewing other media professionals, experts, and women leaders to hear their incredible insider perspectives. We talked to inspiring youth immersed in media and hosted a Young Women's Summit for bright new leaders. And we recruited several hundred individual donors--most of them women--to fund the project.

In the middle of production, my husband, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, now Lieutenant Governor-elect of California, and I became pregnant with our first child! When I gave birth to our daughter, Montana, I felt the stakes rising. I was frightened for her to grow up in a world that was so limiting for girls and women. If something wasn't done to change this culture, my daughter would be having the same struggles and frustrating conversations with friends 30 years into the future.

Our acceptance to the Sundance documentary film competition is a huge honor and validation of our hard work. We've taken the powerful medium of film and put it to work for women's rights. And people are ready to listen! The film may be almost complete, but our work to create lasting change for women and girls is just beginning!!

We hope you will join the movement to advance women's rights for ourselves, our daughters, our sons, and our collective progress. Log on to www.missrepresentation.org to find out how you can support our movement.

Recent Posts by Jennifer Siebel Newsom

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