“If you can see it you can be it” ~Jennifer Siebel Newsom
When I met Jennifer Siebel Newsom in San Francisco she was captivating the attention of hundreds of girls with the trailer of her new film Miss Representation. She was the host of the Professional Business Women of California’s Young Women's Summit and generously offered her time for an interview in between mentorship sessions. Jennifer had gathered some of her powerful female friends together to share their insight and wisdom with the young attendees. To my one side was Kristi Yamaguchi, on the other side was a film producer and next to her a prominent lawyer. The mentors had about 10 minutes per session to share their personal stories and answer questions from the dozen or so teen girls who sat at their table.
According to Ms. Newsom, the Young Women's summit provides opportunities for a healthier image of what one can be in the world. It was the ideal event to screen the highlights of her film Miss Representation (at the time the film had not yet been completed). One look at the film trailer along with the enthusiasm of her audience and it was apparent that Jennifer's passion to empower women in the media was about to take off.
Jennifer is no stranger to the media industry. Following her graduation at Stanford University and working overseas, she starred in an array of films and television programs. She was also the First Lady of San Francisco and most recently her husband Gavin Newsom was elected as California’s Lieutenant Governor. It's safe to assume that she knows a thing or two about the influence of media and power in America.
Miss Representation is a powerful film that features extraordinary change-makers in the industry including: Gloria Steinem, Jane Fonda, Geena Davis, Rachel Maddow, Condoleezza Rice, Nancy Pelosi, Katie Couric and more. As the writer and director of the film Newsom does an incredible job of breaking down where media industry leaders went wrong. The film exposes how mainstream media contributes to the under-representation of women in positions of power and influence in America.
During our interview Jennifer Siebel Newsom shared her personal passion, her message to women around the world, the impact she hopes her film will have for women and girls and whether or not she would consider running for office. When I conducted this interview Jennifer was currently the First Lady of San Francisco.
What is the overall intention of your film?
The motto of my film, Miss Representation is “if you can see it you can be it”. We’re providing the girls with alternate messages and role models from the ones they just get from the media.
Where does your own passion around this topic stem from?
I think when I was younger I didn’t know who I could be when I grew up. I was an athlete so I was always on that track. But there weren’t really any women I was exposed to via the media who inspired me...they're out there but you just have to find them. The inspiration for this film is really the lack of gender equity in our culture and the lack of women who are represented in some of the highest, most powerful and influential industries. Also, I’m the mother of a daughter and being a new mom I’m petrified of the world that she’s growing up in. I’m concerned for all young women. I want them to have healthy role models, to be inspired and to know that they can attain whatever it is that they desire.
What do you think about the power we have as women and girls and how do you think we are going to use that power to change the world for the better and reach the tipping point?
I think we have incredible power. There is power within us that we don’t even recognize we have. In terms of achieving the tipping point (30% representation) I believe there is a movement right now, a sisterhood around the globe that we will achieve and attain this (30 %) but I think it’s going to require a hard look at institutional sexism that stems historically on how America was founded. If the United States, known as a great leader in the global economy, is disrespecting women, degrading and demeaning women in the media then what message is that giving to the rest of the world on how we should treat women?
I think that we need to start here. We need to not just accept the status quo but actively work towards affecting change. We need to bring men of consciousness into the discussion, educate our young boys and show them that men are not more important or have more value than women.
In your film Miss Representation you feature several politicians including The White House Project that is training women to take the lead and run for office. Would you ever consider running for office?
I’m not sure. I never really thought about it. I’m inspired by all of these incredible women and think they are doing a great job. Right now I want to focus on the film and hopefully create a social impact and be the best mom I can be.
What is your message to women around the world?
My message is to know your power, your purpose and your passion in life, to be the change that you wish to see in the world. Make championing girls and women’s rights and empowerment first and foremost on your agenda.
What was the biggest surprise in creating your film Miss Representation?
The biggest surprise was recognizing and learning that a lot of us have this internal sexism that is deep in our self conscience that we haven’t yet addressed. The other surprise was the acceptance of the status quo and complacency with the inequities in our society.
As your husband continues in his own political career how do you think he might help support the advancement and empowerment of women in taking on leadership roles?
He’s done a lot already and works continuously on behalf of women. I think there is a lot of pillow talk and there is a lot of educating, communicating and conversations we have about this with each other. Being the father of a daughter and by making this documentary he is well aware of the inequities. He was raised by his mother and his sisters and respects and values women. I feel like we’re both on that same line of focus. If he continues in politics I think we will see some change.
What do you hope is the biggest takeaway for all of the girls who participate in the Young Women’s Summit and see your film?
I hope they realize that they can be anything that their heart desires and that they won’t feel limited by the messages that the media is portraying and communicating to them.
For more information about Miss Representation and to join the campaign to empower women in the media go to www.missrepresentation.org.
A special screening of Miss Representation hosted by the Friendship Club is showing at the Nevada Theatre in Nevada City, CA Monday November 28th at 6:00 PM.
Click here to listen to Elisa Parker’s interview with Jennifer Siebel Newsom.