A Revolution, Stalled

Big Ideas

Leading thinkers and activists share game-changing ideas about motherhood and improving maternal health and women's rights.

Jennifer Siebel Newsom
United States
A Revolution, Stalled
Without Support from Families, Businesses, and the Government, Mothers in the U.S. Cannot Become Leaders.
“It’s clear we are still amidst a 'stalled gender revolution' in this country.The lack of proper respect and assistance for working mothers is a major factor in the lack of equality for women across the board.”

The political debates of the last few months in the U.S. have revealed just how much we undervalue women in this country, and subsequently the work of women both inside and outside of the home. Not only are we underpaying and under-supporting women everywhere, we are especially failing our mothers in the workforce. 

The feminists before me fought for my right to vote, to work and to have more choices than they had. Yet we are all still strapped with an extremely heavy and unfair burden.  Because despite all of the progress we have made, women are still expected to be the primary caretakers of the young and old, while continuing to manage the home and their careers.  And you don’t want to get me started on the expectations for how women are supposed to look!  It’s unhealthy to idolize the “Wonder Woman” phenomena – the mythic woman who can do it all to perfection.  She does not exist and never will.  And, it’s extremely dangerous that we think we can be her.

Moreover, it’s hypocritical that we tell our daughters that they can be whatever they want to be when they grow up, knowing that being a mother and having a full fledged career is not a real option for most women.

It’s clear we are still amidst a “stalled gender revolution” in this country.

The lack of proper respect and assistance for working mothers is a major factor in the lack of equality for women across the board.   The pay gap still exists, with white women earning 77 cents on the man’s dollar, African American women earning 63 cents and Latina women earning just 57 cents.  Furthermore, even though studies have shown that working mothers pose fewer burdens for employers than their co-workers, the stereotype persists, and women with children make 7% to 14% less than their childless female peers.  It’s ironic when one considers that if we paid stay at home moms, they’d make over $117,000 a year.

On top of the pay gap, we have no national family leave, flex-time, or child care policies. The United States is the only industrialized country in the world without paid family leave, putting us decades behind the rest of the world.  While it’s true that some women are helped by corporate maternity leave policies, spouse’s income, and personal savings, the majority of working mothers suffer.  Single mothers—especially those in low-income communitieswho don’t work at women-friendly companies and who struggle to pay the bills—often end up losing their jobs or quitting because of the lack of assistance during the first few years of their children's lives. It's not physically, emotionally, or intellectually possible to do it all.  Trust me—I am trying, and often feel like I am failing across the board.  And I have help!

As a result, most mothers must still choose between career and family, leaving us with fewer women leaders shaping our world outside of the home. Consequently, our entire society is deprived of what could be the most innovative, creative, strategic, and moving ideas of our time. We are missing the voice of motherhood at the tables of leadership because we continue to limit the choices of working women.

So we must do more for women in our culture—at work and at home.

Certainly times are changing, but they are not changing fast enough.  Yes, there are some incredible father figures in our society who push the envelope of what is possible for fatherhood as they take on a larger role in parenting and the home.

But at the end of the day, the majority of women aren't married to men who share equally in parenting and household management.  The majority of heterosexual women are married to men whose careers are deemed more important and more valuable than their own—even if the woman makes more money. 

Fathers out there, remember that your hopes and aspirations for your daughters are connected to whether or not you are demonstrating to them a man’s ability to play an equal role in parenting and household management.  She is learning her role and a man’s role in society by watching you.  And mothers, if you have daughters who are juggling family and work, please be careful every time you hold them to unreal expectations of household, maternal and even personal perfection. The worst thing we can do as a society is judge each other as women.  What we must do for our collective future is support each other in our life’s decisions and champion each other’s successes. 

Overall, we are not only harming ourselves but the collective female population by staying small, not believing in ourselves, and not demanding the support we want and need to succeed.   If we are going to change the landscape for women and girls during our lifetimes, we all need to take action now - because each and everyone of us has a sister, a colleague, a neighbor, or a daughter who needs us to fight for her equality in the workplace as well as at home. 

So join us in challenging the status quo when it comes to women and girls.  It is up to us as individuals, families, communities, businesses, and government entities to act now and champion a society and culture that encourages and enables all women and girls to fulfill their potential.  Organizations like IMOW and MissRepresentation.org, which I founded after making Miss Representation, are great places to begin. Together we will succeed.

About the Author 

Jennifer Siebel Newsom is a filmmaker, speaker, actress, and advocate for women, girls, and their families. Newsom wrote, directed, and produced the 2011 Sundance documentary Miss Representation, which explores how the media’s misrepresentations of women contribute to the under-representation of women in positions of power and influence. Newsom launched MissRepresentation.org, a call-to-action campaign that gives women and girls the tools to realize their full potential. Newsom is an Executive Producer of the 2012 Sundance Award-winning documentary The Invisible War and is currently in pre-production on her next film. Newsom is also the founder and CEO of Girls Club Entertainment, LLC, which develops and produces independent films that empower women. As an actress, Newsom appeared in films and television shows including In the Valley of Elah, Something’s Gotta Give, NBC’s Life, and Mad Men. Newsom currently serves as a board member of KQED; a member of the Girl Scouts’ Healthy MEdia: Commission for Positive Images of Women and Girls; an advisory board member of Emerge America; and an honorary board member of the International Museum of Women. Newsom graduated with honors both from Stanford University and Stanford’s Graduate School of Business. Newsom resides in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband, California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, and their two young children.