Hollie and I were sat in the front row of The Queen Elizabeth Hall at The Southbank Centre. Prior to this outing, I had only met Hollie a handful of times, but we’d communicated through email and social networking and it was clear that we had common interests. That’s why I felt comfortable inviting her to the screening of the documentary Miss Representation on Monday night. Originally released in 2011 and written, directed and produced by Jennifer Siebel Newsom; the film explores the under-representation of women in the media, particularly American women who are in positions of power.
Hollie and I were the only two people in our row. Just before the performance began, an usher approached us and informed us that although we were sat in the correct row, we were sat in the wrong seat numbers. We apologised for the mistake and shifted to the end of the row. As we did so, Hollie suddenly noticed who was taking the other seat: Cherie Blair. We both pulled a wide-eyed ‘OMG WE’RE TWO SEATS AWAY FROM CHERIE BLAIR’ face to each other before composing ourselves (I then internally forgave myself for booking front row seats in the first place). There’s nothing like the shared viewing of a famous face to cement a new friendship.
The lights dimmed and Tania Bryer, the evening’s host, took to the stage to deliver words of welcome and thanks to everyone for attending the first event of the 2014 Women of the World Festival at the Southbank Centre. She proceeded to ask these questions:
‘Who was invited here tonight by a friend or colleague?’
Hollie raised her hand along with several other audience members.
‘Who was invited here tonight by their school or college?’
The teenage members of the audience put up their hands.
‘Who heard about this event through an email?
I raised my hand.
Tania used these questions to show the sheer power of networking, and how effectively networks can be used to bring together women and girls of all ages who share the common desire to achieve equality. She introduced Jennifer Siebel Newsom to the audience, and Jennifer introduced her documentary. The lights dimmed again.
Miss Representation covers so much diverse and interesting material that it is impossible for me to recount it all here. Jennifer’s personal experience of sexism in both her personal and professional life, had driven her to document the gender inequality that is still rife within the American media. Through a mix of statistics, interviews and news footage, she demonstrated the crushing way in which women are either under-represented, or misrepresented. I urge everyone to watch the film. I believe you can do so by visiting The Representation Project’s website.
The documentary was followed by a panel discussion, and Q&A session led by Tania. The women sitting on the panel were Jude Kelly (Artistic Director of The Southbank Centre), Jennifer Siebel Newsom (The director of the documentary), Cherie Blair (Human rights lawyer and wife of former Prime Minister Tony Blair) and Robin Saunders (Finance expert and experienced corporate banker). I identified most with Jude Kelly’s comments, but I found each woman’s perspective fascinating, informative and focused. I wish the debate could’ve gone on longer, but they had already broken the curfew and many of the school groups had to leave prematurely (not before Tania Bryer personally thanked and applauded them all for attending). The intelligence, resilience and compassion of these women is something I truly marvel at.
Hollie & I left the evening feeling inspired. We walked across the bridge to the tube station discussing moments in our lives when we had felt intimidated or discriminated against because of our gender. We seemed to have had similar experiences, and it was suprisingly easy to admit that to each other. We went our separate ways, but I knew I’d gained a friend and an ally.
Jennifer Siebel Newsom is currently working on a new documentary entitled The Mask You Live In, which explores the way boys are brought up in Western culture. It’s due to be released later this year, and I look forward to another compelling watch.