“A few weeks ago, I was at the doctor’s office. My doctor asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I told him that I wanted to be the governor of Mississippi. He chuckled like this was not possible.”
Unfortunately, this is the reality of many ambitious women in the South. Last night at a screening of the must-see documentary, Miss Representation, this particular young woman stood and told her story. She is a 16-year-old, African-American, athletic, smart, passionate person who is going to change this state and this world; she will fly in the face of those who would chuckle at this prospect. This young woman was among a dozen attending the documentary from the Nollie Jenkins Family Center, which is doing incredible work to empower young people in Mississippi.
This screening, organized by the Women’s Fund of Mississippi, brought 300 leaders from all over Jackson to see this film about women how they are portrayed in the media. Here are some stats from the film:
- Women hold only 3% of clout positions in the mainstream media (telecommunications, entertainment, publishing and advertising).
- The United States is 90th in the world in terms of women in national legislatures.
- Women hold 17% of the seats in the House of Representatives (the equivalent body in Rwanda is 56.3% female).
- Women are merely 3% of Fortune 500 CEOs.
Women are 51% of this country and at this rate of progress we won’t achieve parity for 500 years.
Watching this documentary made me think about how media has effected me… Although my parents filled my consciousness with examples of powerful, independent women as a child, the effects of media’s obsession with the domestication and sexualization of women has left a lasting impression. In thinking up big dreams, I often catch myself worrying about the backlash I might face as a woman who wants to lead. Questions like, “Am I pretty enough, thin enough, or stylish enough to run for public office?” are questions that do not belong in the dreaming and doing of passionate women, but unfortunately, they are questions our media pressure me to answer. Women who have worked to hold public office have been lampooned in the press, sometimes for their policies, but most often for their style of dress or their hair. I am thankful to have female role models like Madeline Albright, Condoleezza Rice, and Hillary Clinton who have pioneered leadership in government and who have made more dreams seem possible for girls and women everywhere, but it is painful and shameful to see how they have been treated by mainstream media.
There needs to be a different reality for women who want to make change.
At the end of the evening, a tall woman with wild, curly hair stood: “I am Alyce Clarke, and I was the first woman ever elected to the Mississippi House of Representatives.” Then, speaking directly to the young women in the front said, “And ladies, you can do anything. We need more women in Mississippi in public office. We need you.” This strong, beautiful, intelligent, successful woman personified the possibility and probability of women’s success. Young women like the one’s pictured below embody the change they want to see in the media and world by confidently claiming their power without apology. Yeah, we got this.
“The media can be an instrument of change: it can maintain the status quo and reflect the views of the society or it can, hopefully, awaken people and change minds. I think it depends on who’s piloting the plane.”- Katie Couric