Here is Elena’s account of why she started the project No Country for Young Women.
In the fall of 2009 I spent three memorable weeks in the United States, attending women’s conferences and networking with social entrepreneurs in Boston and New York City. The highlight of my stay was the Women & Power conference organized by the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, NY. During the three day retreat, I heard galvanizing talks by iconic women: feminist leader Gloria Steinem, White House reporter Helen Thomas, novelist Isabel Allende, former PBS chief Pat Mitchell, and the Feministing team, amongst others. The conference, attended by hundreds of women who had come from the four corners of the globe, allowed me to become acquainted with inspiring activists, authors, and architects of social change.
Fast-forward to three weeks later. A few days after my return to my current home – Paris, France – I purchased a leading French business magazine; flipping through its pages I could not find a single photo of a woman. Only a succession of older, white French men in dark business suits, page after page. Having just spent a few weeks in the melting pot that is New York City, the lack of diversity in French media seemed shockingly conspicuous. I kept flipping through the magazine’s pages, searching for a photo of a woman. Finally, there she was, midway through the issue: a scantly dressed young model in an ad for a car.
I registered the domain name www.nocountryforyoungwomen.com the same day, determined to start a project in response to the lack of visibility of professional women in our mass media and popular culture. Instead of feeling frustrated and impotent, I could channel my grievances into something positive, bringing visibility to – and celebrating – the lives and careers of professional women.
The title “No Country for Young Women” came to me a full year and a half before I created the multimedia project by the same name. It was during the 2008 Oscar season, when the two most highly acclaimed films – No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood – hardly had any female characters at all. Despite a combined running time of 280 minutes and an endless list of characters and extras. These two films were basically painting a worldview devoid of women: and it was an issue that barely anyone noticed. Imagine the opposite: could we ever have two highly acclaimed films with a 90% female cast nominated the same year for a grand total of 16 Oscars? I doubt it. So the tagline “No Country for Young Women” stuck with me since then and I imagined that one day I would do a project about gender diversity using that title.
The title is not meant to limit the project to younger generations: I am perfectly aware that in 2010 older women are also – and possibly even more – discriminated against. Recent studies from the U.K. and the U.S. have shown that women excel in school, usually outperforming men from grade school through university. Yet, a clear pay gap is evident as early as a year after graduation. The project’s title focuses on young women’s experiences because there is something that clearly happens at the beginning of their professional lives, but the stories we tell are those of women of all ages, generations, races, and socio-economic backgrounds.
The ultimate goal of the site is to become a wide-ranging archive of women’s stories about their lives and careers, so that we can provide real role models, and inspire readers to pursue their goals and fulfill their potential.