Faculty and parents wait for the screening of "Miss Representation" to begin. (Photo by Arikta Trivedi)

Second Country Day Conversation features First Partner, filmmaker Jennifer Siebel Newsom

On Jan. 30, the second installment of the speaker series Country Day Conversations featured filmmaker and first partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom. Parents, faculty and students attended the special viewing of “Miss Representation,” a documentary directed by Siebel Newsom. After the screening, a 30-minute Q&A engaged the crowd, which was larger than that of the previous Country Day Conversation, according to director of advancement Rachelle Doyle.

A production of Girls Club Entertainment, the 2011 movie has been played millions of times in schools and workplaces, according to head of school Lee Thomsen. It’s available on several platforms, including Netflix, iTunes and Amazon Prime Video.

“Miss Representation” focuses on the media and its portrayal of women. According to the documentary, the media gives unrealistic standards that influence American culture: The way women act in ads, TV shows and movies changes how women are treated and how they feel they should be. Misrepresentation creates sexism in the law, the workplace and day-to-day life, the documentary asserts.

“Today’s media is sending a very dangerous message to young people in particular that women’s value lies in their youth, beauty and sexuality, and not in their capacity as leaders,” Siebel Newsom has said.

“Today’s media is sending a very dangerous message to young people in particular that women’s value lies in their youth, beauty and sexuality, and not in their capacity as leaders.”

—Jennifer Siebel Newsom

Throughout the screening, audience members reacted instinctively, giggling and murmuring at dirty jokes and sexist remarks.

Sophomores, who had watched “Miss Representation” in their English classes, submitted questions — covering Newsom’s personal experience, the process of making a documentary, the relevance and accuracy of current issues and how men can become allies — that were read by third grade teacher Kristi Mathisen during the Q&A.

Moderated by Doyle, the event also served to spread awareness of gender equity problems as part of SCDS’ strategic plan.

“(The strategic plan has) three different big pillars,” Doyle said. “One of the pillars is to position Country Day as a valued thought leader. As a part of positioning Country Day as that, we decided to put these presentations on.”

Doyle said of misrepresentation and inclusive projects: “As a society, we’re starting to realize that there are differences for different people. We’ve got LGBTQ+ people that are being (shown) in the media, and they’re not given lots of opportunities to play major roles, for example.

“We can take this opportunity to talk about bringing everyone to the table and letting them have an opportunity to be represented in a healthy way.”

Physical education department chair Michelle Myers said that, in many ways, the documentary hit close to home.

“One, being a woman who doesn’t have a small stature, but also being a female in an occupation where it had been male-dominated for so long —  a lot of it resonated with me,” she said.

Overall, Myers said she enjoyed the documentary and left feeling encouraged. 

“It was very well put together and made me feel hopeful that the next generation is more aware,” Myers said. “Even though it’s taken a long time to get women into the workplace and politics, it made me feel really good to watch.”

Art teacher Andy Cunningham, who also attended the screening, stressed the issue’s relevance and its importance to him as an “educator of young women.”

“I see it in the art room — lots of people drawing things like beautiful women,” Cunningham said. “It shows me that it’s permeated the culture into middle school so much that, if that’s what they’re drawing, it’s obviously something in their heads.”

Siebel Newsom also directed the 2015 documentary “The Mask You Live In,” which “explores how our culture’s narrow definition of masculinity is harming our boys, men and society at large and unveils what we can do about it,” according to IMDb.

—By Sicily Schroeder

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