Org Spotlight: The Representation Project

Jennifer Siebel Newsom, founder of The Representation Project, is the focus of this month’s NAMLE Organizational Member Spotlight.

When did your organization launch and why?

Jennifer Siebel Newsom founded The Representation Project (a 501c3) in 2011 in response to the overwhelming public demand for ongoing education and social action in support of her first film, Miss Representation, which looks at the ways in which mainstream media contributes to the under-representation of women in positions of power and influence in America.

Newsom’s second film, The Mask You Live In, premiered at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival and explores how America’s narrow definition of masculinity is harming our boys, men, and society at large. With the release of this second film (and more to come), The Representation Project steps into a bolder agenda. One that requires all of us working together to ensure equality and justice.

What does your organization do? What are its main goals? Main projects?

Using film, education, communications and partnership as catalysts for cultural transformation, The Representation Project inspires individuals and communities to challenge and overcome limiting stereotypes so that everyone, regardless of gender, race, class, age, sexual orientation or circumstance can fulfill their human potential. A brief description of each of these strategies follows.

A. Film: Miss Representation (2011) and The Mask You Live In (2015)

B. Communications

Through communications, The Representation Project regularly inspires millions to challenge and overcome limiting stereotypes. We do so with the following tactics:

  • Events and Keynote Speakers: Our CEO regularly travels the world spreading our inspiring message of cultural transformation. Notable events include the UN, The World Bank, TEDxWomen, Google, Deutsche Bank, Charles Schwab, Fortune’s Most Powerful Women’s Summit, Soroptimist International of the Americas Conference, Harvard University, MIT, Stanford University, The California Senate, and The National Coalition of Girls Schools.
  • Social Media: On any given week, we regularly reach 2.5 million people worldwide with our messages online and 10% of them engage with that content, an astonishing rate since the industry average is less than 1%. These messages demonstrate The Representation Project’s thought leadership on trending discussions, hone and grow our audience around the world, and push us as a society closer to a world free of gender stereotypes and social injustices.
  • Take “The Pledge:” Nearly 150,000 people have taken and continue to pledge to use their voice to challenge society’s limiting representations of gender. We inspire this small army with weekly emails, giving them simple and specific ways to create change. They have lead victories large and small, ranging from the removal of sexists ads to increasing individual girls’ self-esteem.
  • Social Action Campaigns: We ignite our worldwide grassroots network to rally around timely causes, creating a groundswell of support that leads to real progress. Our #AskHerMore initiative at awards ceremonies and #NotBuyingIt / #MediaWeLike campaign around sexist media and advertisements have led to changes everywhere from the red carpet to the Super Bowl.

C. Education

The Representation Project amplifies and elevates the impact of our films by bringing them to classrooms and youth-serving organizations across the country. Our comprehensive educational curricula feature age appropriate video modules, interactive discussions and thought-provoking activities. With content for kindergarten through post-secondary, our curricula are the go-to resource for developing media literacy and critically examining the representation of gender.

D. Partnerships

Organizations, companies, and leaders of conscience are working with us to champion the messages of our films, foster adoption of policies that promote more balanced and equitable workplaces, and ensure healthier representation for all. Together, we have ensured that more than eight million people have seen Miss Representation and continue to grow the gender-equality movement.
To launch Miss Representation, we formed strategic partnerships with Common Sense Media, Girl Scouts, Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, Girls for a Change, Girls Inc., Step Up, Women’s Media Center, and The White House Project.

To launch crucial campaigns related to healthy mentorship, role modeling, and helping young people stay connected to their whole selves, we are building partnerships with leading organization such as Coach for America, ESPN, The Project for the Advancement of our Common Humanity (PACH), Maria Shriver’s “The Shriver Report,” Boy Scouts of America, and Futures Without Violence.

What makes your organization stand out? What would you say is the most unique thing about your org?

The Representation Project envisions a world free of gender stereotypes and social injustices. Measuring our progress toward this type of cultural change can be challenging but we endeavor to do so by capturing both our reach and impact.
We have distributed more than 6,000 copies of our media literacy curriculum, which takes our films and robust curricula to classrooms and community groups across the world. Through communications, we regularly reach 2.5 million people per week, engaging them with messages of cultural transformation. Our social action campaigns such as #MediaWeLike and #NotBuyingIt reach tens of millions more, inspiring as many as 20% of viewers to take action.

What are recent projects or new resources that your organization would like to share with other NAMLE members?

Our most recent project called “Youth: Pattern Interrupt” addresses media’s use of limiting stereotypes and their impact in preventing youth from reaching their full potential. Using education, communications, and partnerships, we will provide youth participants with tools to critique current media, create and share new media with their peers; and online platforms that amplify their voices that tackles social injustices. Over 12 months, our project will directly engage 10,000 youth; 75% of those surveyed will report enhanced gender media literacy, confidence to resist stereotypes, and social emotional well-being benefits. Additionally, the media and advertising landscape will change with whole-being representations of youth. We offer an array of free resources for educators, parents, and students to access on our website including quizzes, conversation starters, curricula overview and infographics.

Why is media literacy important to you?

Media shapes and reflects our cultural norms, beliefs, and values. American teens consume 11 hours+ of media per day (Kaiser Family Foundation, 2010) with direct impact on their self-perception: the more media a girl consumes, the less secure she is and the fewer options she thinks she has in life. The more a boy consumes, the more sexist and violent his views and behavior become. Media messages impact young people’s mental and physical health, shaping their cultural norms and values. Girls learn that their value lies in their youth, beauty, and sexuality. Meanwhile, the rate of depression among girls has doubled since 2005 . Boys feel pressured to be dominant, aggressive, and in control. And every day, three or more boys commit suicide. For youth with intersectional identities (e.g. sexual orientation, race, class), the media’s limited or absent portrayal creates further obstacles in valuing their unique talents, identities, and contributions.

The Miss Representation curriculum helps students from kindergarten through university develop media literacy and critically examine representations of gender. To date, we have distributed more than 5,000 copies worldwide. The curriculum features film content and lessons tailored for K-2nd, 3-5th, 6-8th, high school, and university audiences. Additionally, secondary and post-secondary educators can incorporate the entire documentary into courses such as English, health, political science, sociology, communications, or gender studies.

The Mask You Live In curriculum helps students from kindergarten through university develop social and emotional learning (SEL) and critically examine gender roles. To date, we have distributed more than 1,000 copies worldwide. The curriculum features film content and lessons tailored for K-2nd, 3-5th, 6-8th, high school, and university audiences. Additionally, secondary and post-secondary educators can incorporate the entire documentary into courses such as English, health, political science, sociology, communications, or gender studies.

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Jennifer Siebel Newsom (Founder, CEO, Filmmaker) wrote, directed, and produced the 2011 award-winning documentary, Miss Representation , and this year’s The Mask You Live In. A Stanford MBA, former first lady of San Francisco, and proud wife/mom, Newsom founded The Representation Project, which has since become well known for our social action campaigns, including #AskHerMore and #NotBuyingIt.

Dr. Aaminah Norris (Director of Education) received her doctorate from UC Berkeley, where she researched relationships between gendered and racialized identity processes in urban learning environments and digital and social media. She is a former English teacher and administrator in urban schools and not-for-profits organizations.

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