"It limits women...from aspiring to be great things."
- Jennifer Siebel Newsom
As Americans, we like to think of ourselves as advanced and sophisticated as a society. Yet, when it comes to issues of gender equality the numbers don't lie -- there's no escaping the fact that we're pretty damn backwards.
Women make up 51% of the US population, yet hold just 16.6% of the seats in Congress and 17% of those in the Senate. Indeed, we rank 90th in the world in terms of the proportion of women in national parliaments, below Afghanistan, Cuba, China, Ethiopia, Iraq, and the Sudan!
Furthermore, in America, just 3% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women. Similarly only 3% of positions of clout in the telecommunications, entertainment, publishing, and advertising industries are held by the fairer sex (pun intended). And this may be part of the problem, since those that are ultimately responsible for the aspirational messages we receive on a daily basis are predominantly male.
That's not to say that the innate sexism that's partly responsible for this power imbalance is necessarily malevolent or even intentional; the root of much of it is simply a lack of consciousness on all our parts. And to an extent, the state of play appears to be self-perpetuating, since a mere 16% of those responsible for Hollywood's mass market dream machine (writers, directors, producers, cinematographers, and editors) are women, which in turn perhaps explains a similar lack of female protagonists/role models in feature films.
A much talked about new documentary, Miss Representation, which recently debuted on the OWN Network, does a very comprehensive job of exploring the underlying reasons for this vast leadership gender gap. The film features many prominent leading ladies including Nancy Pelosi, Condoleezza Rice, Dianne Feinstein, Gloria Steinem, Jane Fonda, Geena Davis, Rachel Maddow, Lisa Ling, and Katie Couric, whose powerful voices add strength to the message -- which is that a woman's value is more than just the sum of her youth and beauty (as the mainstream media might have you believe).
SuicideGirls spoke with the driving force behind Miss Representation, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, who wrote, directed, and produced the exceptional cinematic gender essay. As a Stanford graduate, environmental and gender activist, actress, and mother -- who also happens to be the wife of the former Mayor of San Francisco, and current Lieutenant Governor of California, Gavin Newsom -- she's had a front row seat watching what happens to women in power and how the media treats them, so perhaps has a greater understanding of the issues they face than most.
Read my exclusive interview with Jennifer Siebel Newsom on SuicideGirls.com.