Kiley Lane Parker didn’t know why she immediately rejected the idea of running for elected office when someone asked her about it in 2010.
It was an instinctual reaction, the 33-year-old filmmaker said, but it got her thinking about why she and other women haven’t considered themselves good political candidates.
For the next three years, Parker decided to explore what made her – and women in general – less likely than men to dive into politics. She interviewed between 30 and 40 people, including schoolgirls and neuroscientists, to find out why women make up 51 percent of the U.S. population, but only 18.3 percent of Congress.
The resulting project, a documentary called “Raising Ms. President,” will be shown twice at the Grand Cinema in Tacoma on Tuesday, followed by panel discussions with local female political leaders.
Pierce County Auditor Julie Anderson, who will be part of the evening panel, said she hopes the event will help more women think of themselves as potential political leaders.
“One easy solution is to talk about it – for women who are elected to present themselves as role models to assure women and girls that it is within reach,” Anderson said.
In a phone interview last week, Parker – who lives in Louisville, Ky., and just gave birth to daughter Charlie on Oct. 8 – said she wants her film to serve as an educational tool in schools and communities throughout the country.
Question: What did you set out to achieve with this documentary?
Answer: The focus really changed kind of in the middle of the film. You discover that “aha” moment, and for us, it was when we were out in Oakland, Calif., and we were interviewing a lot of young ladies with the program Ignite. A lot of them are leaders in their schools, and we started asking them if they would run for office, and a lot of them said no.
I realized, if they’re saying they don’t want to run for the same reason older women don’t want to run, we have a serious problem. We’re not going to have more young women run for office if we don’t create more ambition to begin with.
Q: What did you discover along the way?
A: I pinpointed the main external factor that was really holding women back, and it was partly the work-family balance. But ultimately the reason women don’t have political ambition is because of themselves – they don’t believe in themselves. That’s what we heard across the board.
The other aspect was family obligations. What statistics are showing is women still want to be married. They still want to have families, and the work-family balance is a big issue. There’s a sense that we still haven’t figured out how to make it all work.
Q: Are there consequences to fewer women than men being involved in politics? What are they?
A: Currently, having an unequal balance means the voices and experiences and opinions of over half our population are not being represented properly. It would be the same if men were 51 percent of the population, but only 20 percent of Congress. There are a few strong female voices, but they’re not enough, so they have to work that much harder to be heard to represent the female population.
Q: What can be done?
A: We interviewed two neuroscientists out in California. Both neuroscientists said if we raised our girls the same as we raised our boys, I bet you’d find just as many of them would aspire to be leaders or board chairs or CEOs.
Boys are taught to explore. They’re taught to go out and not have as many things to worry about as young women do.
I can really speak (from) my personal experience having an older brother. I always asked why he could do things I couldn’t, and I was told it was because I was a girl.
Q: Are things getting better?
A: I think it is far better than it was even 15 years ago. A lot of the things prior to the 2000s that kept women from running for office – lack of party leadership, not being asked to run, financial independence – those kind of factors have been stripped away.
Today young women are not growing up with that attitude of, “No, you can’t do that because you’re a girl.” And if someone says that, there’s backlash.
And men are struggling with work-family balance issues as well, saying they want to spend more time with their families. I think those are positive shifts.
Melissa Santos: 360-357-0209
“RAISING MS. PRESIDENT”
What: Screenings of “Raising Ms. President,” a documentary exploring why more women don’t enter politics.
When: 2:30 and 6:45 p.m. Tuesday. Afternoon showing costs $7; evening screening is free.
Where: The Grand Cinema, 606 S. Fawcett Ave., Tacoma; 253-593-4474
After the 2:30 p.m. screening, a panel discussion will be led by Pierce County Councilwoman Connie Ladenburg, D-Tacoma; former State Sen. Debbie Regala, D-Tacoma; Catherine Ushka, a Tacoma School Board member; and Meadow Johnson, district director for U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor.
After the 6:45 p.m. screening, a panel discussion will be led by Pierce County Auditor Julie Anderson; state Sen. Jeannie Darneille, D-Tacoma; state Rep. Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma; and Tacoma City Councilwoman Victoria Woodards.
Free evening screening is sponsored by Annie Wright Schools.