When Jennifer Siebel Newsom’s daughter, Montana, was born, she received pink gifts and compliments on her appearance. When her second daughter, Brooklyn, was born, she, too, received pink gifts. But when her son Hunter was born, he not only received blue gifts but also letters from the president and vice president and bibs and onesies with the White House insignia on it. He was also given a blue t-shirt with the words “Future President” on it, Newsom said. She wondered why her daughters did not receive gifts that suggested their limitless future options, she said.
When Newsom asked the audience how many people were unsurprised by this story, a majority of people raised their hands.
“For those of you who raised your hand, perhaps it’s because you understand the historical symbolism of the presidency as the embodiment of national manhood-the whole symbolic architecture of masculine dominating culture,” she said.
Newsom spoke on April 1 in a talk titled “Recasting Women: Challenging Media Distortions That Curb Women’s Power and Influence.” She discussed media influences that limit leadership positions to women and how everyone needs to have more conversations about this issue. Newsom is the writer, producer, and director of Miss Representation, a documentary that explores the media’s portrayal of women as it relates to women in leadership.
A lot of sexist marketing is directed toward young people, whose brains are still not fully developed. She noted that it’s troubling that these young people, who are being fed violence, sex, and gender stereotypes, absorb the media’s message so readily.
“In other words, they don’t truly comprehend that Kim Kardashian’s reality show is not reality, and that just because she’s on TV does not make her a healthy role model,” Newsom said.
These marketing companies are more interested in the bottom line than they are in the common good, she said-their priority is profits. This country should have a moral imperative to set higher standards for our culture because so much of it goes overseas, she said. Things are changing in other countries: for example, excessive Photoshop is regulated in advertisements in the United Kingdom, but not in the U.S. As one of the most diverse and innovative countries in the world, the U.S. should be a better cultural ambassador, she said.
“Simply put, it’s because we have so few brave leaders of consciousness at the helms of media and merchandise companies,” she said. “In fact, we have leadership that has disconnected their hearts from their heads, that has bifurcated their professional lives and making money from their personal lives of communal responsibility and contribution to making the world a better place.”
Women are vastly underrepresented in these leadership roles. Just five percent of the main decision -makers in the media are women, she said.
“Ninety-five percent of what you watch, read, and hear comes from a limited masculine perspective,” she said.
Newsom went on to say that she does not blame men: she recognizes that men in this society are often taught that their gender is superior, and that they must repress their emotions and devalue their relationships. She showed a trailer for her new documentary, The Mask You Live In, which focuses on how men face an idea of masculinity that downplays emotions and emphasizes power and strength, which results in many boys acting out aggressively because they cannot express their emotions.
“To be a man is to be independent, stoic, and in control,” she said. “Leadership to many of them becomes a zero-sum game, and those who challenge the status quo are ridiculed and threatened into silence.”
Newsom discussed young women who convinced editors of major youth magazines to decrease Photoshopping, a public school teacher who helped his student start a social media campaign against sexist advertising, like Carl Jr.’s, and a father who brought Miss Representation into his finance firm’s HR office when he noticed that everyone who was being let go was a mother.
“Let’s demand a culture and society that uplifts us all; that revolutionizes the gender debate and ensures equal opportunity; that inspires my daughter, and all of you women, to be CEOs and presidents of organizations and inspires my son, and all of you men, to be empathic, nurturing partners,” she said. “Imagine what the world could look like if we had more courageous men and women actively working to leave the world a better place than we found it.”