Spend a day watching YouTube videos, TV shows, and the “news” and you’ll be as stunned as I am at dichotomy between what we are saying is possible for women today (that they can ascend to leadership, launch their own successful businesses, and sit at the board table equally with men, rather than being relegated to only 16% of corporate leadership), vs. how women are actually being depicted in the media. From my view, popular media focuses much more heavily on a whole host of negative or limiting aspects of women, including an intense scrutiny of and emphasis on their looks (think about the obsession we have with Hillary Clinton’s hair), and a keen focus on how they’re struggling so hard to balance life and work, how catty and demeaning they can be to each other, or how they’ll throw each other under the bus in order to rise to the top.
I was intrigued then to learn of a new film that seeks to address that media gap, called The Empowerment Project: Ordinary Women Doing Extraordinary Things. Directed by Sarah Moshman and produced by Dana Michelle Cook, The Empowerment Project depicts a compelling journey of five female filmmakers driving across America to encourage, empower, and inspire the next generation of strong women to go after their highest career ambitions.
Here’s a peek:
Driving over 7,000 miles from Los Angeles to New York over the course of 30 days, the documentarians spotlight 17 positive and powerful women leaders across a variety of lifestyles and industries. Along the way, the filmmakers reveal their candid insights on how these women define their success, what it takes to be a woman in their position, and valuable advice on how to improve the female role in the workplace. In celebration of the all-female focus in front of and behind the camera, the filmmakers turned the cameras on themselves, capturing their transformational journey, and asking the questions, “What would it look and feel like to live in a women’s world? And what would it be like to live in a world where we hear every day from incredible, inspiring women about what women can do?”
Created for women by women, the film celebrates women for their intelligence, strength and bravery instead of their looks.
I caught up with Sarah and Dana to hear the backstory of this project, and learn more about their mission to offer a media portrayal of women that will help, not hurt, the progress of young women who have big dreams.
Kathy Caprino: Why did you both feel drawn to produce a film depicting what a “women’s world” looks and feels like? What’s missing today in the media, arts and film in terms of how women are depicted that you wish to be revised and corrected?
Sarah Moshman: Working in the television and film industry you can’t help but notice the way that women are being portrayed and represented in the media today. There’s a really interesting juxtaposition going on in America where we have more women than ever in positions of power making huge strides and yet the images, characters and depictions of women in the media do not reflect that. How are young girls growing up today supposed to feel about being a leader or being strong, when they don’t have much to look up to in this constant negative media barrage?
Dana Michelle Cook: I had been working in reality television for years as a field producer, and was coming to the realization that the majority of the content I was creating centered around programming in which women were pitted against each other. I was seeing firsthand that the Hollywood machine, and the messages we were putting out into the world, were failing women in front of and behind the camera. Our media landscape was lacking real world examples of strong, independent women, and I knew we needed to showcase these stories if the future generations would have a chance at becoming the successful, strong leaders they were destined to be.
Around the same time, I met Sarah, and we very quickly realized we shared that mutual interest in creating content that inspires and empowers women. We knew if we put our talents and passions to good use and be part of a shift in creating positive content portrayed in the media. We stand firmly by the phrase, “you can’t be what you can’t see” and as media makers, we wanted to take on that responsibility of creating something beautiful and inspirational…something that we wanted to watch.
Caprino: What have you learned about women that you truly didn’t know before embarking on this project?
Cook: By living in this beautiful female world for 30 days on the road, we learned how much we can grow and learn from each other if we share our stories, and how powerful and amazing we can be when we come together as women. We came to the understanding that our stories are universal in many ways, and that oftentimes, as women we tend to undervalue our experiences and stand in our own way. But if we can recognize all of the passion and the power is already inside of us, embrace our vulnerability, and show up as ourselves, we can accomplish anything we set our minds to.
Caprino: You hit your Kickstarter goal – that’s a big accomplishment. How did you do it, what do you think women and the world want to see from this film project?
Moshman: Kickstarter was an incredibly difficult mountain to climb for us. We set a goal of $25,000 in 60 days and we learned very quickly that you have to extend your network and appeal to people through a cause. Our project has always been bigger than us, it has always been about empowering the next generation of female leaders to pursue their dreams despite the media messaging, and I think people were drawn to that concept. We had 404 incredible people back our project who’ve been our fans from the beginning and are now some of the proud audience members at our screenings. We ended up raising $28,590, which was so empowering and propelled us to complete the film because we wanted to make all of them proud!
Caprino: What’s your ultimate goal for this film?
Moshman: We want to give young men and women across the country and across the world the feeling they can do and be and achieve anything they want. We also want to change the way the media portrays women. There are extraordinary women all around us, and it’s time to tell more of their stories.
We have the tremendous privilege to see the empowerment firsthand when we visit schools, groups, offices and organizations all around the U.S. when we screen the film and facilitate conversations afterwards that encourage people to ask themselves: “What would you do if you weren’t afraid to fail?” It’s such a joy to meet our audience and challenge them to talk about these themes in their lives. The film is a jumping off point for a larger conversation, one that we want to continue for years to come.
Cook: The Empowerment Project is a way for us to show girls – at any age – that there are so many amazing female role models out there, and the film is simply a way for us to share these stories with audiences all across America so they can be inspired to see possibility in these women’s realities. We want our next generation of strong women to believe there is no dream too big, no idea too grandiose, and that it’s our own unique journey of following a dream that makes us who we are and gives us purpose in our lives. On our personal journey of this film, we learned to say and live our dreams out loud, and there’s nothing more rewarding than that.
(To build a happier, more rewarding career, take Kathy’s 6-day Amazing Career Challenge.)
Kathy Caprino, M.A. is a nationally-recognized career success coach, writer, trainer and speaker dedicated to the advancement of women in business. She is the author of Breakdown, Breakthrough:The Professional Woman’s Guide to Claiming a Life of Passion, Power and Purpose, and Founder/President of Ellia Communications, Inc. and the Amazing Career Project, focused on helping professional women build successful, rewarding careers of significance. A Forbes, Huffington Post and LinkedIn contributor and top media source on women’s career and workplace issues, she has appeared in over 100 leading newspapers and magazines and on national radio and television. For more information, visit www.kathycaprino.com and connect with Kathy on: Twitter, FB, LinkedIn.
This article originally appeared in Forbes.