The Representation Project

Founder and filmmaker, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, on envisioning a world free of limiting stereotypes and social injustices. 

As part of Harry’s on-going social mission, we’re shining a light on some of the charitable organizations we’ve partnered with to share stories from their founders on the importance of progress, and how they’re working to effect change in our communities every day.

A thought: If the House of Representatives truly represented the demographics of We the People, we would have just 213 Congressmen and 222 Congresswomen. (Not to mention 58 black representatives, 25 Asian-American representatives, and 78 representatives who identify as Hispanic or Latino.)

Want to know how many women are actually in the House? 84. Now guess how many of those 84 women hold one of the five leadership positions? One: Nancy Pelosi, the House minority leader. She is, in fact, the only woman to ever hold such a position in the history of the country. This underrepresentation is a peculiar American problem: The United States ranks just 33rd out of the 49 highest-income countries when it comes to women in the national legislature.

Images courtesy of The Representation Project
Jennifer NewsomImages courtesy of The Representation Project

That challenge is at the core of Miss Representation, the pioneering 2011 documentary from Jennifer Siebel Newsom, which just happens to feature Representative Pelosi (alongside Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin and more). The film’s success—more than seven years after its debut, it still shows in theaters a few times a month—led to the creation of The Representation Project, a nonprofit organization dedicated to fostering gender equality, and transforming how our culture perceives gender norms and stereotypes, particularly in film and media. And while these topics have always been relevant, our #metoo moment has recently made them especially so.

“Men have the unique…power…to reach a hand out and pull women up with them.”

Which is why it made sense for The Representation Project and Harry’s to partner up, combining efforts to help combat gender inequality, a problem that cannot be solved by women alone. “Men are critical given their leadership position across industries,” Newsom says. “Men have the unique platform, power, and privilege to advance women, to reach a hand out and pull women up with them. And in order to do so, men have to do the inner work to recognize and realize how, from an early age, they’ve been socialized to disconnect from the emotional parts of themselves and the feminine parts of themselves. [Because of that,] it’s no surprise that they suppress, subconsciously or consciously, or deny the elevation of women.”

This partnership aims to help tackle exactly that, and Newsom’s second documentary, 2015’s The Mask You Live In, is a useful reference point. A companion piece to Miss Representation, it takes on gender issues from the male perspective, questioning how and why men are compelled to perform certain masculinities (plural), rather than connecting with their whole selves, including traits some might consider feminine. It’s a powerful topic, and one that has become even more timely since the film’s release.

Images courtesy of The Representation Project
Jennifer NewsomImages courtesy of The Representation Project

“Obviously there’s a lot of synergy with our work and Harry’s work,” Newsom says. “Shattering stereotypes and inspiring young men to reject norms that don’t work for them. Expanding what it means to be a man.”

Toward that end, The Representation Project has led the way with educational materials (including film screenings) for students from kindergarten through adulthood. But perhaps nothing has gained notice like the organization’s social media campaigns. Those have included #Notbuyingit, a campaign that called out companies using sexist advertising, or advertising on far-right websites. (“GoDaddy read 7,500 of our #notbuyingit tweets about four years ago, and completely revamped their whole PR and marketing strategy,” Newsom notes.)

Another successful campaign was #Askhermore, a response to the tendency of red carpet reporters to ask women what (or who) they’re wearing, rather than about the more substantive issues raised by their films (and rather than the often more substantive questions directed at men).

“We want to give men the tools…to use their voice for change and equality for all.”

Which brings us to the organization’s newest campaign, debuting at the upcoming Oscar ceremony: #Askmoreofhim, prompted by a glaring omission at an earlier awards ceremony. “You’ll notice at the Golden Globes that the male recipients of awards said nothing about #MeToo and #TimesUp,” Newsom says. “And that’s no longer acceptable. So we want to give men the tools and language and support to be advocates on behalf of women, and to use their voice for change and equality for all. We’re really excited about continuing to support women in being the powerful beings that they are, both in front of and behind the camera.”

Speaking of women in power, the most important campaign for The Representation Project might be #representher, a push to get more women elected to office. It certainly captures the zeitgeist: This year, a record number of women are running for office at all levels of government, a change that resulted from both the 2016 election of an openly sexist President and the increasing awareness of (and focus on) pervasive sexism and sexual harassment both in and out of the workplace. And while these twin reckonings are far from pleasant, Newsom sees reason for hope.

“I am made so hopeful by our work, that we’re still here and in demand,” she says. “So many strangers stop us and tell us that our work has been so transformative. And I’m also hopeful because all of the good men in the world are starting to stand up and speak out if they haven’t done so already. I think we’re gonna continue to see an uphill trajectory of women in power and people of color in power, and redefining what it is to be human, and redefining what success looks like, and redefining what it is to be an American. And that is extremely exciting because it is a win-win model for everyone.”

It’s too early to know how this year’s elections will go, and what the lasting impact of the #metoo moment will be. But perhaps, at long last, a change is gonna come.

Learn more about The Representation Project.