Last week on a trip to the west coast, I was lucky enough to meet with newly minted She Writes member (welcome her!) JENNIFER SIEBEL NEWSOM, creator of the documentary film Miss Representation, which created a stir at Sundance and will be having its New York premier this Saturday at the Athena Film Festival. (Organized and curated by SW member Melissa Silverstein, in partnership with Barnard, Athena's catalog is the ideal guide for populating a Netflix queue.) Jennifer is a passionate, driven woman on a mission that aligns perfectly with the mission of She Writes: empowering women to tell their stories, their way.
The stakes are high. What happens when women don't tell their own stories? Their stories are told for them -- or more often, about them -- and the narratives that result are partial at best, and demeaning, damaging or downright dangerous at worst. Something else happens as well: real women, the three-dimensional women we know, disappear. I can name a lot of invisible women. Women I know in life who don't appear in the media. Female characters (fictional or non-fictional) about whom I don't get to read.
The tagline for Miss Representation is "You Can't Be What You Can't See." So my question is: do you know an invisible woman, or do you have one in mind when you write? Is there a character in your work, or in your life (or even in yourself), who is, in most literature and media, invisible?
When I taught memoir writing, I came up with this exercise for my students when we were discussing character: Imagine you are a theater director, and you are auditioning actors to play the character you have in mind. What lines of direction would you give him/her to convey a quick, thumbnail sketch of who he/she is?
In this case, let it be a she -- and tell us how to play her.