Filmmaker Jennifer Siebel Newsom on why gender bias hurts girls—and boys

Jennifer Siebel Newsom is a social justice filmmaker, CEO and Founder of The Representation Project, which inspires individuals and communities to challenge and overcome limiting gender stereotypes. Newson is an advocate for women and children, and a proud mother of three. This interview is part of the #MotherlyMakers series, featuring the women remaking our world.

Motherly: Was there a moment when you realized that you needed to start The Representation Project? What clicked for you?

I founded The Representation Project in 2011 in response to the overwhelming public demand for social action and ongoing education in support of Miss Representation, my first film, which exposes the under-representation of women in positions of power and influence. People were hungry to use their voice to speak up and out challenging toxic cultural norms, and I wanted to foster that community with The Representation Project.


Motherly: How have gender norms changed in America over the past few decades?

Gender norms have almost gotten worse over the past few decades, though I’ve noticed some real momentum towards change over the past few years. I am seeing many more people take on the issue of gender inequality, and I think a large part is due to more people having mainstream conversations around equality and gender stereotypes. People like a father I met a few years back, who marched Miss Representation into his finance firm’s HR office when he noticed that all of the people being let go were working moms. Or, the advertising executives who took responsibility for their own admonitions and pledged to be a part of the gender equality solution. These everyday examples of people taking on the issue of gender equality makes a huge difference, particularly when men join the conversation as well.

Motherly: Why do you think the issue of stereotyping matters so much for girls and boys?

Gender stereotypes most certainly affect both girls and boys. My latest film, The Mask You Live In, takes a look at the effect of gender stereotypes on young men, and the resulting “boy crisis” in our country. Compared to girls, research shows that boys in the U.S. are more likely to be diagnosed with a behavior disorder, prescribed stimulant medications, fail out of school, binge drink, commit a violent crime, and/or take their own lives. Those are some pretty startling statistics that aren’t going to be solved by telling young men to “man up.” We need to have a serious conversation about what healthy masculinity looks like and model it for our boys, just as we need to reinforce in our young women the understanding that their value does not lie solely in their youth, beauty, or sexuality.

Motherly: What's the best piece of advice you've ever been given?

A piece of advice my father gave me years ago has been particularly useful throughout my career: it’s better to be respected than liked. I carry his words with me when I’m publicly advocating about issues or sharing facts that challenge the status quo and sometimes make people uncomfortable.

Motherly: How has motherhood transformed your career? What’s your secret to integrating work and family?

Motherhood has been both difficult to balance with my career, but also extraordinarily educational. It’s taught me how to prioritize and build a team I can trust - it certainly takes a village to do it all. It’s also helped me learn to laugh at my shortcomings more and to build a sense of flexibility (ie some days, I need to work outside of the 9-5 framework in order to balance work and family). I’ve also had to learn to prioritize my boundaries and myself (particularly not over-scheduling myself, and making an effort to get a good night’s sleep on a regular basis.)

Motherly: What keeps you inspired and excited every day?

I’m inspired by the millions of people who engage with The Representation Project on social media every week – our community of active and conscientious people who know we need to change our culture. I am also incredibly inspired by the folks who come up to me after speeches or screenings, and tell me the ways Miss Representation and The Mask You Live In have positively impacted their lives. Those conversations are incredibly meaningful and it’s always nice to hear the real world impact our work has on individuals’ lives.

Motherly: What are your words of wisdom for other mothers wanting to turn their passion into a professional project?

Learn to trust your gut and surround yourself with others who believe in you and have similar values. That supportive community helps turn that dream into a reality, and nurtures it along the way. Further, there’s always a way to achieve your dreams. It’s never perfect, nor, perhaps, what you envisioned, but at some point, it’s worth diving in.

Motherly: What are your big dreams for The Representation Project?

My big dream for The Representation Project is that it doesn’t need to exist in 20 years! I hope we can engage enough people on these issues, so as to achieve gender equality, and transform culture for the better.

Motherly: What does “Motherly” mean to you?

You have a line on the Motherly homepage that says “Motherly goes beyond the debate over how to ‘have it all,’ to help women have whatever it is that they want and need.” I couldn’t agree with that sentiment more: mothers are doing it all, so let’s figure out how to give parents the tools they need to raise happy and healthy kids, and also to do it in a way that nurtures themselves, as individuals, members of a community, parents and working families.

When it comes to registering for baby products, there's one word we love: convertible.

In contrast to items you use for a short period of time, convertible (or multi-use) products are made to grow with your baby… and trust us, that makes them worth their weight in gold.

Convertible items allow you to reap the benefits of your baby registry for years to come—and that's just savvy shopping, mama. Also savvy shopping? Creating your baby registry with Target and enjoying their Year of Benefits registry program for expectant parents. Just by starting your registry, you will get a welcome kit with more than $100 in coupons and samples, two 15% off coupons to complete your registry, and a full year of returns. And Target's newest registry perk, the Year of Exclusive Deals, gives you discounts on essentials for your baby's whole first year when you sign up for Target Circle as well.

If you prioritize value and longevity when creating your registry, here are 10 items you'll love from day one through day 1,000… and beyond!

A crib that can grow through childhood + beyond

Simmons Kids Slumbertime Monterey 4-in-1 Convertible Crib

A crib is a necessity as you plan for life with your baby—you know that already. But what about in a couple of years when they need a toddler bed? Or a few years beyond that when they graduate to a bigger bed? Well, you're in luck: With the right attachments, this bed can be the only one they need until college.


A cozy blanket for snuggles + security

Plush Velboa Baby Blanket I Love You - Cloud Island\u2122 White/Black

Blankets have earned their spot on millions upon millions of registries for good reason: They function as stroller covers or play mats during the early days, then become beloved security items in the toddler years.


A comfy spot for feeding + stories

Baby Relax Addison Swivel Gliding Recliner

During your first months of motherhood, a comfortable gliding chair will be your second home as you spend time feeding and bonding. As your child grows (and mobility makes those snuggles harder to catch), you'll discover a new love for this cozy spot for stories and bedtime snuggles.


Sealy Cozy Rest Extra Firm Crib and Toddler Mattress

Fun fact: A standard crib and toddler bed actually use the same size mattress. That's why it's smart to get a quality crib mattress right out of the gate: One less thing to change up in a few years!


A changing table that doubles as a dresser

Simmons\u00ae Kids Monterey 4 Drawer Dresser with change top

If space is at a premium in your baby's nursery, look for a combination changing table and dresser. That way, you can keep using the dresser long after your little one is potty trained.


A car seat that converts to a booster

Safety 1st Grow and Go 3-in-1 Convertible Car Seat

The safest place for your child is in the backseat of your car, in either a car seat or (later) booster. But instead of buying a new seat for each phase, you can check off multiple boxes at once by adding a convertible car seat to your registry.


A stroller that accommodates big kids, too

Graco FastAction Jogger LX Stroller

The need for a good stroller doesn't end when your little one learns to walk, so look for a stroller that can accommodate bigger kids, too. We recommend a jogging stroller that allows you to attach an infant car seat and is still perfectly spacious for toddlers.


A place to dine for years to come

Ingenuity SmartClean Trio Elite 3-in-1 High Chair - Slate

From first bites to family dinners around the table, one single high chair can be the solution you need. That is, if you look for a version that adapts into a booster seat when your child is ready for a plate at the table.


A white noise machine + alarm clock in one

Hatch Rest Sound Machine, Night Light & Time-to-Rise

After spending months listening to ambient noise in the womb, white noise remains incredibly comforting for your child. It's nice to have a sound machine that can transition to a time-to-rise clock down the line. By cueing with sounds and colors, these clocks reinforce healthy sleep habits.


A baby carrier that can haul a toddler, too

Infantino Flip 4-in-1 Convertible Carrier

A carrier is a major help when your baby loves being held, but you need use of your hands. But even months or years down the line, you can still get use out of that carrier. To maximize longevity, look for one that can be used with your child facing outward or even carried on your back as they grow.


Enjoy building your registry with Target, mama! The Year of Benefits is calling your name with a Year of Exclusive Deals available via Target Circle, two 15% off coupons, a year of hassle-free returns, a free welcome kit and more! 😉

This article was sponsored by Target. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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