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Frances Perkins's Favorite Film

Monday, January 9, 2012

On December 7th 2011, promptly thirty minutes before the screening of the documentary “Miss Representation” in the Gamble Auditorium at Mount Holyoke College, I watched students eagerly take brochures and disperse to their seats. Among the flood of students were also professors and panelists, including Elizabeth Cardona, director of Massachusetts Governor Patrick’s office in Springfield. It was an exciting night for the Mount Holyoke College Chapter of the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network, considering the months of dedication its members put into ensuring the screening’s success.
“Miss Representation”, directed by Jennifer Siebel, shows how the media influence women's positions of power and role in the United States. Through staggering statistics and interviews with journalists, (i.e. Katie Couric and Rachel Maddow) and politicians, (i.e. Condoleezza Rice and Nancy Pelosi) the film reveals the reality of the media’s limited portrayal of women. The Roosevelt Institute at Mount Holyoke immediately wanted to bring the film to campus after watching its provoking eight-minute trailer. Trailer found here. The documentary sent vividly positive messages of women empowerment, which are embodied in the Mount Holyoke spirit.
Spearheaded by Executive Director Lydia Bowers, we brought the film to campus, knowing that it would be beneficial to both the school and our chapter. The documentary not only exposed misogyny within society but also offered a solution: to have more women of political power. By having more women represented through political office, the more policies can be enforced about issues, which affect women, such as sex trafficking and workplace flexibility. This profound message affects every member of the Roosevelt Institute at Mount Holyoke, as eager women, working to promote more equitable financial and social standards to society. There is a long history of women at Mount Holyoke College, promoting and solving women’s issues. Frances Perkins, a graduate of Mount Holyoke, became active in women’s affairs and the political realm when she lobbied the state legislature with Florence Kelley for a bill limiting the workweek for women and children to 54 hours.
Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed Perkins as Secretary of Labor, becoming the first female member of the Presidential cabinet. After personally viewing the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, she was motivated to reform working conditions. She helped initiate the U.S. adoption of social security, unemployment insurance, federal laws regulating child labor, and adoption of the federal minimum wage. She made it possible for women to voice their ideas instead of being confined to traditional roles. 
We not only screened the film, but also had a panel discussion through which audience members could pick the brains of panelists, Elizabeth Cardona, Professor Mellis, who specializes in film, and Professor Townsley, who specializes in sociology, and anthropology. Outside of the auditorium, seating 300 people, we collected $70 of donations for Safe Passage, a women’s shelter located in Northampton, Massachusetts. Members of a feminist collective, called “The F-Word,” gathered students to participate in a mentorship program with girls from a local community.
Having finished my first semester at college as well as at Roosevelt Institute at Mount Holyoke, I found “Miss Representation” to be a memorable event. Everyone left feeling more socially aware and wanting to challenge patriarchal boundaries. This vital energy will drive people to confront issues head-on and start to make changes.
A pivotal moment of the evening was when a student stood up and announced that she was not only a non-traditional student at MHC but also a mother. She told us that once the movie ended, one of her children, most likely in elementary school, passed her a note from her phone that she was happy to have seen the film and that she felt more empowered. With the education “Miss Representation” brings, the Millennial generation can work toward more equal political, economic, and social rights for women.
 Photo credit: Claire Frilot, class of 2013
Jessica Morris is a first-year at Mount Holyoke College and works for the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network in the New York headquarters as an intern. 

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