GATHER FOR HER
During this global transition, the need for leaders who can operate within a different framework and capabilities is clear. An up-level of perspective with a responsive skillset and a clear process to make decisions is required for this new terrain. These are our wisdom gathering conversations following our PowHERhouse FireCircle model of group listening for HER.
Welcome to Gather for Her
ARTISTRY OF IMPACT #2 | A Gather for HER Conversation with Naomi McDougall Jones
The Artistry of Truth Telling
Gather for Her welcomed Naomi McDougall Jones, an award-winning filmmaker, actress, author, speaker, and women in film activist as our second guest within our Artistry of Impact Series of conversations.
Naomi wrote, produced, and starred in the 2014 indie feature film, Imagine I'm Beautiful, which took home 12 awards on the film festival circuit. Her second feature film, Bite Me won Best Feature Film at VTXIFF and enjoyed a 40 city and 51-screening tour release.
Naomi's first book, The Wrong Kind of Women: Inside Our Revolution to Dismantle the Gods of Hollywood takes a look at the reality of being female in Tinseltown. It has been featured in The Atlantic, The Washington Post, NPR, BBC, Playboy, Ms. Magazine, Salon.com, among many other national and international media outlets.
Naomi’s TEDTalk: "What it's Like to be a Woman in Hollywood, has been viewed over a million times and she has teamed up with former CFO of the City of Chicago, Lois Scott, to found The 51 Fund, a VC investment fund to finance films written, directed, and produced by women.
Our moderator Christina Benty is a Systems Engineer and Strategist, retired politician, facilitator, governance coach, athlete and jazz singer. Christina’s focus is human systems within governance and organizational systems.
Our host Charlene SanJenko is the founder of PowHERhouse. She is a mobilizer of brave, whole, healthy leaders who are ready to make a world-class Impact both Locally + Globally.
Our story tracker is core-communication specialist Tina Overbury. Tina works in story, guiding individuals and organizations to bring their authentic narrative to the surface for human connection.
Our graphic recorder is Sharon Marshall, an Indigenous entrepreneur of Cree and European ancestry, Skills Development Trainer and Facilitator, and the founder of DEVA Training & Staffing Solutions.
This is our Conversation:
CSJ Charlene SanJenko:
Good morning, everyone. I'm Charlene San jenko and welcome to another edition of Gather for Her. I am super excited about today's conversation. I would like to acknowledge my home in gratitude here on the Sunshine Coast, on the traditional lands of the Squamish First Nations. I ask that you reflect for a moment on the land which you reside.
Good morning, Tina.
TO Tina Overbury: Good morning. I want to mention Brenda’s comment in the chat. There is a beautiful bald eagle circling outside of her window. I want to welcome that in our space right now.
CSJ: Beautiful. I want to welcome Naomi McDougal Jones to Gather for her. Naomi is an award -winning filmmaker. She's an actress, an author, a speaker, and honestly at the top of the list for me. She's an advocate for women in the film industry and has put together an incredible model for change and that's part of the conversation we'll dig into today. Good morning, Naomi.
NMJ Naomi McDougall Jones: Good Morning and thank you so much for having me.
CSJ: Our theme this month for Gather is the Artistry of Impact. I'm wondering if you would mind discussing the impact you're looking to make as a woman and a leader, and the vehicle that you're using which is film and creativity. Can you tell us a little bit about you and your journey?
NMJ: If you've seen the TED Talk What It’s Like to be a Woman in Hollywood, you've already heard me speak about the situation that women in film and media are in.
In the US, in the general population:
- White men are about 30% of the population, and if you squeezed it down to white, straight, able bodied men, it's less than that. The rest of us are the remaining 70%.
- 95% of films are directed by men, overwhelmingly white men.
- 80-90% of all of the leading characters on screen are men and usually white men.
- 55% of the time you've seen a woman on screen, she was naked or scantily clad.
Hold those two data points for a second and then think about what stories do. Humans have the ability to make up imaginary stories and tell them to each other. In the broader Animal Kingdom, this doesn’t happen. There has never been a human culture or society that existed without stories. Whether it's in the form of myths, storytelling, religion or just sitting around the campfire, stories are foundational to being human. I think this is why consciousness is really hard. As soon as you recognize you are conscious, there's a terrifying set of questions that arrive like: Who am I? Why am I alive? Why am I thinking, What am I thinking? Who are you? Why are you alive? A dizzying array of questions open up and I think stories are a way we organize ourselves. Through stories, we share and pass down information about who's good, who's bad, who's important, who's not important, what is important, what are the rules and values we share.
Stories are foundational to being human - Naomi McDougall Jones
There's a raft of scientific evidence suggesting the stories we consume shape everything from our hobbies, to our career choices, to our relationship status, to our views about ourselves, to our views about other people, and literally to our neural pathways. If you hold that set of facts with the other set of facts I just gave you, it's pretty dizzying to think about.
The stories we consume in the form of film and television come almost exclusively from the white male perspective. This is not a bad nor invalid perspective. It is 100% valid 30% of the time. There's a whole other 70% of our human experience literally missing from our cultural storytelling.
What does that do to a society? We are so trapped in the matrix of the white male gaze that we don't even notice that it is only a perspective. It is so normal to us we're at a point where we can't see ourselves except through a white man's eyes. The damage that that does to the 70% of us and the 30% who are trapped in the monolith is impossible to overstate or ignore.
70% of our human experience is literally missing from our cultural storytelling - Naomi McDougall Jones
This is why I spend my energy trying to fix that specifically. I think if you shift the stories being told, you shift society. I am trying to tackle this issue from as many different angles as possible and with as many different vehicles as possible.
I make my own work as a filmmaker and a writer, and I try to claim my own voice and my own experience as an artist. I seek to educate other people about this situation. One of my main jobs is flicking on the light switch of these statistics and perspective in people's brains. Once you start seeing it you can't stop seeing it. It's everywhere, but it is only one version of the game and all the rules are made up. The most powerful thing is to wake people up inside of themselves and give them tools, yet money is still a very specific and effective lever of power.
One of the things I've done is co-founded The 51 Fund, which is a private equity fund to finance films made by female directors.
CSJ: Tina, do you want to get us started?
TO (Story Tracker): Absolutely! Thank you Naomi. Christina and I are like a tag team and I always come from the lens of the core, from the inside. I'm sure Christina will speak to the externals and structural pieces. What I'm picking up on, is the current state we’re in. Waking up, as you said, in this human experience is dizzying. This idea that we’re conscious so now what? I want to name that first, because having an experience of being dizzy is a physical reaction to psychological change. Dizzy happens when we’re no longer stuck but the system has changed, and we are fumbling around in the dark trying things. Christina, what are you hearing?
CB (Systems and Structures): Well, I'll tell you one thing, I'm really glad this is recorded because I have every intention of listening to it a couple times. I work with politicians, and I keep repeating: If you shift the stories being told, you shift society. From a political lens, the dominant perspective as well is the same 30% you speak of. It simply isn’t a whole and true reflection of us. This is why waking up to a greater level of consciousness is so important. In light of all that is happening in the world today, you are right, the light switch has been flipped on and we need to pay attention to what is happening.
TO: We can't see ourselves except through a white man's eyes - and the damage that that does. That statement really hit me. It made me think about PowHERhouse as an organization rooted in Indigenous story and culture and that story is even less than 30%. In fact, it’s almost missing entirely. I want to make sure that is recognized in our conversation this morning.
CSJ: I'd like to ask a structural question about your media platform. You’ve initiated The 51 Fund as a sustainable funding model and you continue to plant seeds with filmmakers and other screenwriters, but I wondered if you could talk for a minute about your journey within this model?
NMJ: I'm going to speak about Hollywood because that's my sphere. But I think a lot of what I'm saying applies in other places. We're talking about a situation where a very small number of people control all of the power, resources, money, fame and prestige. It’s like they have all of the toys which benefit them and do not benefit the vast majority of the rest. Since we are trapped in their lens, a lot of us are still playing by their rules, investing in their value system, and playing their game.
When you have that kind of power imbalance, historically there has only ever been two ways power changes:
- One, is a majority of people get angry enough and get woken up enough that they rise up, and through some kind of violent or forcible means they take the power back for themselves.
- Two, this same sizable group of people choose to walk away from that game and build a different game and a different system that ultimately makes the unbalanced system irrelevant.
The problem is that the group in power doesn’t suddenly grow a conscience and think: Oh, you're right, this isn't really fair. Here you go. You can have some of this power too and I feel like a lot of the problem right now in movements, is that we somehow believe with enough facts and proof they will.
We tell ourselves:
If we just explain it to them in the right way
or we just give them enough data
or we just write enough articles
or give enough speeches
...they will see this truly massively unfair system.
The reality is, they like having all the toys, and they don't want to share them.
I'm of the opinion that we should pursue all fronts simultaneously because this is so dire, and has been so immovable, and entrenched for so long. We may as well try everything. I'm not advocating for some kind of forcible French Revolution style take-over of Hollywood, as that kind of violent takeover tends to result in rebuilding the same structures just with somebody else on top. That is a lateral move. I'm investing my energy in figuring out how to build something else.
There's a fabulous video by Martha Beck about the pyramid and the pool where she explains a theory of change. She uses a pyramid of sugar cubes to show what hierarchical power looks like and then she suggests that when the people on the ‘bottom’ wake-up and artists lead by speaking and sharing and creating, the power structure melts away from the bottom up. The last sugar cubes to melt are the ones at the top. That is the change model I am operating from. If we can get enough people to behave differently, to choose a different set of values to, to start enacting the future from a conscious place, power can shift.
For all of the incredible pain, uncertainty and destruction that COVID-19 is wreaking, it is also exposing and melting power structures. We are ripe for the building of new systems right now.
Violent takeovers tends to result in rebuilding the same structures just with somebody else on top. That’s a lateral move. - Naomi McDougall Jones
CSJ: I couldn't agree more. As someone who has dedicated 20 years to creating systemic change, what gets me excited in an extremely uncertain time is the notion that all we need is a tipping point. Christina, I want to pitch this to you because it’s all about systems and the infrastructure needed for change. What's percolating right now?
CB: I love the pyramid and the pool by Martha Beck. One of the things she says that I have used many times is: In a capitalist society, people exploit people; and in a socialist society, it’s just the other way around.
I love the notion of building a new system which makes the other one irrelevant. When I put the political lens on it, what I think is going to be key moving forward is we are going to see a shift in communities. They will rebuild with a level of agency and with less power dependence federally. We can rebuild our economy and communities in a healthy way that shares resources because small towns and communities recognize their well-being is tied up with one another and how they conduct themselves. They live with an acceptance of impact and interconnectedness.
The illusion of individualism has been smashed and so from the lens of community, economic development, social development and politics, all of this is necessary to the balance of power. We are creating a new system, not recreating an old system that continues the same story line.
TO: I want to track this. This conversation has moved out of act one where we established where we are: dizzying consciousness. Now we’ve been in act two which was: the new model. So our next piece to dive into is act three: the new known, and so my question is connected to what Christina is talking about. I'm wondering if her community model of agency and accepted interconnectedness is the direction you're going and if so, what does that look like in terms of implementation?
We are creating a new system, not recreating an old system - Christina Benty
NMJ: I'm so glad you asked because I wanted to jump in and speak to this. Yes, it's exactly the same thing. It's the diffusion of power down to the masses. Again, I'm going to speak specifically to fixing the film industry, but again, it’s a metaphor for everything else.
The way films have been greenlit in the past is scripts are sent to a series of gatekeepers who again have been predominantly white men, and they decide whether or not they think an audience would like to see that content. If they decide yes, then resources are allocated, and the film or series gets made. The inherent problem with that system is the gatekeeper is only guessing, and they are always going to guess through their own unconscious bias lens. Anybody, even me or you would have the same problem.
The Internet has alleviated the actual need for gatekeepers. We no longer need to guess what audiences want to see.
We can just ask: How many views did the trailer get? What did the polls say? What are people saying in chat rooms? Which Facebook ad was clicked through? There's an infinite number of pretty cheap ways to find out what people actually want to see.
I’m looking at models for content creation where the only thing that decides whether or not a film or television show gets made is whether there's an audience who wants to see it. We don't need everybody to want to see our content, we just need some kind of critical core mass who want to, in order to make it work economically. It’s not about what everyone on earth wants to see, it’s about what this specific group wants. As long as you have some critical mass of people who want to see your work, there is no gatekeeper.
TO: Change takes time, and fundamental foundational change is incrementalism at it’s finest as we wait for the world to catch up as we take brave steps forward. The question I'm sitting with is:
Is the next frontier independent?
Is it collective?
Is it all of the above?
NMJ: To your point, right now we're just throwing stuff at the wall. We're experimenting. Last summer I moved into an RV for three months with my husband, and we tried a radical experiment to see if we could release a film completely outside of the system by taking it directly to audiences. It was incredibly successful on one front and incredibly not successful on another, but we're trying. My best guess is that the future is independent in the sense of being not dependent on the system, but collective in the sense of art, artists and community. I think artists and audience members may form different collectives that make the economic model more viable.
CB: When I apply a system lens to this conversation, I think the farther the top is from the bottom, the more abuse of power. The more you flatten the distance between the top and bottom within the system, the less abuse there is.
NMJ: Well, we're in a moment where the top of the system that you're talking about has never been farther away from the bottom. The top is at a dizzying height from people it is allegedly serving.
CSJ: I want to shift gears a little bit. Since the TED Talk and all that came with it, you started your own meditation journey. You’ve had a couple of very big things happen in your own life. Some of them have put you in an extreme pressure cooker with whole new challenges. You have all that is in front of you which is a really big thing. In your own experience and journey with self-awareness, self discovery, and meditation, how have things shifted for you?
NMJ: It is and continues to be a tremendous honor to have had the privilege to give a TED Talk, write my book, and use my voice. I’m good with all of that; and, it has not been easy for me on a human level, being an agent of change.
It’s sort of like attaching yourself to the front of the ship as it cuts through the water. When my TED Talk went viral, which was actually a year after I gave it, a million people watched it in three months. When that happens, it's like drinking from a firehose, and you get it on all sides. Someone asked me if it was hard dealing with the attacks I received after talking about feminism on the internet. I hadn't really thought about it consciously before, because a lot of those attacks are just the trolls out there and you know, whatever. But the other thing that happens when you break away from a powerful system, there are those who are still suffering at the hands of that same system, and they get very scared when you start to change it. The most difficult piece of this has been other women who aggressively try to shame me back into my lane, or control my message. Sometimes those who feel the stakes of what I'm fighting against try to control or give unsolicited input and direction as what I need to do to be ‘correct’. That’s a lot to take. I anticipated with the trolls, I didn’t anticipate the backlash from within.
The more you close the distance between the top and bottom, the less abuse of power there is - Christina Benty
Those were some of the darkest days of my life. I also didn't want to blow it for everybody. We’ve been fighting for this for so long. There are decades and centuries of women behind me, beside me, women who've been fighting much longer than I have. When you're the person who for whatever reason gets handed the microphone, which also has to do with my whiteness and my youth, there's a lot bound up in that. I didn’t want to blow it. If this is our shot, I don't want to drop the ball.
At that moment, the universe brought me a meditation teacher. I've been taking meditation lessons weekly for the last two and a half years plus meditating every day on my own. I think the combination of meditation, yoga and dance has saved me and allowed me to continue the work. And it's still hard. I'm still constantly flirting with burnout. I don't think that ever goes away. That said, I am very aware about what happens when you get so burned out you become too jaded and angry to actually move forward. My commitment to myself is to try really hard to avoid that. If I ever get there, I'm going to get out of the way. Because that's the other problem, there are women ahead of me who have gotten to that point and they're sort of like, you don't know anything, we do feminism better than you do, and they sort of try to smack you down constantly, which is also not helpful.
Self-care is so important, but can often feel selfish in this work because you’re spending time away from actively working to fix a situation. Particularly with questions of privilege, it can feel like being caught in a trap for so long that anything I do for me might be wrong, bad or selfish. But if I don't carve out self-care and mental care time within this then I will become an ineffective person. You can only operate from a place of true generosity if you take care of your own needs first, and not in a money-grabbing way but in a basic human okay-ness way.
CSJ: This is so important. I commend you, and I know that pressure cooker. When our own personal hierarchy of needs isn't taken care of, it's hard to be altruistic.
CB: I want to thank Naomi for your candor. Thank you for your message about being vigilant with your self-care. Did everyone hear that? You can't do your work in the world you are called to do unless you are healthy. Your consciousness is useless if you don't look after yourself.
CSJ: So my last question is about what we call The Braid. It's a concept Christina, Tina and I use and it’s the dance between individual and collective interconnectedness as women. The biggest, most powerful happening for me in the past year is the formation of this braid and it just sort of happened. We talked about it a week ago during an online conference with a whole bunch of women and it's almost as important to me now as the model PowHERhouse is building. In essence, we are a braid of three and what I’m wondering about is if you have that. Do you have two wingers? Two women who are so close to you, it almost feels like a braid. These two women that you're meeting today are literally my left and right brain. I am so brave with them walking beside me, way more brave than on my own.
Your consciousness is useless if you don't look after yourself - Christina Benty
CSJ: It happened one day where I made a decision, like you would with your husband, where you make a decision, and you just make it and it's for both of you. It started to happen where I was making decisions for us, the three of us, like it wasn't a decision for just Charlene anymore. I think I may have been on the verge of burnout when this happened. I'm curious, if you have a couple of women that are so intertwined with what you do that they help with the next leg of the journey.
NMJ: That's a beautiful idea. I have to jump back to what you were first saying about the difficult balance between individual and collective, because I think two things are true.
One is that I'm certain the best form of power is shared community power with a much more collaborative and shared power structure than what we've had.
And two, the problem is women have also been trained to mute themselves in service of everybody else, and so figuring out how to come into owning your own space and take care of yourself while not losing the part of you who naturally lends itself to collaboration and community. I think that it's an interesting tension of this transitional time.
Back to the braid, I have one woman who has been my best friend since I was thirteen, and she's the person who comes to mind. I have so many different projects in different areas of my life I suspect I have collections of braid women around each.CS
CSJ: It is a concept I've really been playing with.
Graphic recording by Sharon Marshall
Closing Circle Offerings
From Charlene SanJenko - CEO/Founder of PowHERhouse:
I’ve dedicated 20 years to creating systemic change and all we need is a tipping point. Media can do that. The PowHERhouse model is about creating impact without taking on the physical, spiritual and psychological impact of burnout. The braid to me now is almost as important as the media platform we are building. I am healthier and braver with these women beside me, so much more than when on my own.
From Christina Benty - Host and Moderator: I think that's really important to acknowledge when you've reached another level of consciousness and your capacity for love, joy and rich creative experience expands. As it does, so will your capacity for pain and discomfort expand. It doesn't go away. As the capacity becomes larger so does our ability to feel and that’s why we often choose to stay numbed out, but it’s not the way to move forward.
From TinaO - Story Tracker: Stories take us to places that open us up. It’s what Naomi called dizzying. I’ve been listening for the story calling to us at this moment. I want to suggest the word dizzying acknowledges our current state of being as we challenge the system. Remember to move at the rate of your well-being through these dizzying times toward the unknown. There was so much presented here and as Naomi said, we’re trying things. We’re throwing things at the wall to see what works. So as reality melts, for our safety, for our interconnected collective, and our independence within that collective, stay grounded in your well-being.
From Sharon Marshall - Grandmother Spider & Indigenous Wisdom: Thank you Naomi. Wow. You're truly an inspiration. I'm just so honored to be here listening to your story. It touched me and probably everybody on this call.
What captured my interest is the connection between the independent and the collective which I believe is the global community. And that means the system you are fighting is the same system Indigenous people have been fighting for 500 years. I just couldn't help but think that what you're fighting for is so important because it is the voice. It is our voice. Storytelling is foundational to the human condition, but for indigenous peoples it is also our way of passing down our history for millennia. This is important work you are doing. Thank you.
Chi-Miigwech (Big Thank You)
To watch the forty-five minute interview in its entirety click here.
Gather for Her is a series of wisdom gathering conversations with women who lead. Each recorded session follows PowHERhouse’s FireCircle model of group listening, witnessing and harvesting to support the leaders of today through the fire of our time.
Today’s conversation was moderated by Christina Benty, Owner of Strategic Leadership Solutions, story tracked by Core Story Specialist Tina Overbury, graphic recorded and Indigenous informed by Sharon Marshall of DEVA, and hosted by PowHERhouse CEO and founder, Charlene SanJenko.