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Interview with Kiley Lane Parker, Director of Raising Ms. President

Courtesy of Kiley Lane Parker - Raising Ms. President

At the wake of former secretary Hillary Clinton announcing her candidacy for presidency, a documentary film about women running for public office emerges as a symbol for women's equality. Raising Ms. President is a study of why too few women choose to run for public office. The film director, Kiley Lane Parker embarks on this exploration after she was asked whether she would even run. She determined that she would not but wasn't quite sure why.  She realized she wasn't alone. Women across the country are reluctant to consider political careers.

Jut like Kiley, there are many women fit for leadership, ambitious, taking on competitive roles, yet skipping over the possibility of occupying a political seat. Why has this been women's story? 

Not only does Raising Ms. President explores the question, "Why women don’t run for public office?", it has a mission to encourage young women and girls to envision themselves in this type of leadership so they will consider not only running for a local office, but aim for the highest office of the land.

Women For Action: Let’s start with telling Women For Action a little about you, your background and how did you come to making the film Raising Ms. President?

Kiley Lane Parker: I currently reside in my home state of Kentucky. I went out west for college, attending the University of Colorado at Boulder and stayed out there for a number of years working in television, radio, and writing, but in 2008, when I was studying Spanish in Argentina, I realized that I wanted to be home and closer to family. Shortly after returning to Kentucky, I met my now husband and in 2010, we started a production company together. It wasn’t long after that I started to think about my next “big” project. I’ve always been interested in politics and women’s global issues, approaching these topics with a background in media and journalism. So in 2010/2011, I started to wonder if the United States would be different if more women were in charge of our government? Perhaps it was because I was a little shocked when Hillary Clinton didn’t win her party’s nomination in 2008. I was also extremely intrigued by the rise of conservative figures like Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann, and of course during this time, the economy and the world weren’t doing very well. Needless to say, I really wanted to know the answer to my question. However, I discovered that this question could not be answered because it has never happened. The tables have never been turned in favor of women when it comes to politics, thus, Raising Ms. President was born. Basically, I realized I had to find out why women weren’t running for office in order to try to get more women to run in the future; then maybe we can understand if things would be different and better for us all.

Women For Action: What do you hope to achieve with this film?

Kiley Lane Parker: I hoped to achieve a film that was a conversation starter and I think I did that. The film is only about 60 minutes long, so it’s easy to use in the classroom, in organizational meetings and in an event setting. We provide a lot of information for the audience to later dissect and debate after the film is over. I couldn’t be more pleased with the feedback. 

Women For Action: What’s the significance of the title?

Kiley Lane Parker: Well, originally the film was called the Politics of Women and I planned on focusing on the reasons why women don’t run for office when they’re older, family and policy, but when I discovered that the reasons women don’t run for office were actually happening early on, I knew that I needed to shift focus to younger women. Therefore, Raising Ms. President is about the need to raise our daughters to believe in themselves as leaders, to not be afraid to fail, to take risks, to value confidence and to not second guess themselves. We need young women to see politics as a place where they can and ought to be. We need to end double standards that tell young women that they can’t do something simply because they’re a girl, and as a society, we also need to accept and support women as leaders at the highest levels.

Women For Action: What do you feel needs to be done to get more women inspired about running for public office?

Kiley Lane Parker: I think we need to focus on families, education, and society. As parents, we need to think about the messaging we are giving our children. If we see leadership as a quality in our daughters then how do we encourage it rather than discourage it? As teachers and educational institutions, what are we teaching our children about civic leadership and democracy? This change is not just about running for office, it’s also about participating in politics and elections. I feel that all children should be exposed to thinking about issues that affect them and that a curriculum should be developed where classmates run and debate in a classroom setting. This is different than school elections, which can often be based on a popularity contest. What I’m talking about is where candidates are picked out of a hat, they debate, learn about democracy, passing bills, networking, finance, ethics, voting, winning, and losing. These real world situations are highly effective not just for politics, but for business, career development, and civic engagement as well, and they are teacher-driven. As for society, when women run they do pretty well, but we need to be asking more women to run and supporting them when they choose to do it.

Women For Action: The synopsis of this film makes an interesting statement. “Studies show that women lack political ambition by the time they leave college.” What do you think is happening to young women? Do you think they start off being resilient, optimistic teens who leave college as young women with less ambition and confidence?

Kiley Lane Parker: Richard L. Fox (who is featured in the film) and Jennifer Lawless state this in their book, It takes a Candidate, Why Women Don’t Run For Office, and what I believe is that this lack of political ambition is happening way before college, which is why our target audience is 9 to 23-year-olds. The 2014 Always campaign, #LikeAGirl, demonstrates this perfectly. Up until puberty, boys and girls are pretty much the same. They look similar in body structure, they play together, run around, scrape their knees, have sleepovers, and then one day they start to look different, and more importantly, they are told that they are different. Not because they can no longer run, or jump or play, or do math, or read, or for anything intellectual, it’s because girls have suddenly become sexualized in the eyes of society. Puberty creates changes that are internal yes, but they are far more extreme externally. Suddenly boys, teachers, and adults look at girls different simply because they’ve grown breasts and pubic hair. This can have devastating effects on self-esteem; society helps perpetuate these differences instead of embracing and celebrating them. This is what I believe. So a young girl who was interested in leadership at a young age now gets to high school and she worries about her appearance as much, or more so, than her ambition. Dating and social circles become an issue and are often times dominant at this time period during a young woman’s life. Leadership and being outspoken in boys is celebrated while discounted in girls. “Bossy” girls aren’t as popular. This doesn’t happen in all schools, but it happens in most. This is why by the time boys and girls leave for college, young women aren’t thinking about politics or running for office. This is why on most college campuses the student governments are run by men.

Women For Action: How do you feel this film will aid in closing the gap between genders in political leadership? 
Kiley Lane Parker: Raising Ms. President was always to be used as a tool. I created the film to have a message of inspiration and to spark dialogue about these issues and statistics. The more people who watch the film and take the messages back to their Girl Scout troops, classrooms, or home, the closer we can come to gender parity in politics.   

Women For Action: What sort of feedback have you been receiving for Raising Ms. President?

Kiley Lane Parker: The feedback about the film and the discussions that are happening afterward has been amazing. We’ve had girls and women say they are going to run for office. We’ve had teachers show the film in their classrooms and put it into their own curriculum, and we’ve had fathers say they think differently about how they speak to their daughters. This is all wonderful.

Women For Action: What sort of challenges were you faced with while making this film?

Kiley Lane Parker: My husband and I completely self - financed the production of this project. Finding the money is probably the hardest thing about making a documentary, or any film, and now that I have a daughter, I really can’t afford to do that in the future. It seems that a lot of grants for documentary projects are drying up. Also, unless you have a big name attached to your project or your topic is extremely controversial, it’s hard to get distribution, so we decided to self distribute. I felt the story was strong enough to stand on its own and I turned out to be correct.  Also, we did have a successful Kickstarter that garnered us a lot of attention, so we had a lot of pre-orders of the film back in 2013, which of course helped our distribution model.

Women For Action: Was there anything new that you learned while producing this project that seemed valuable to you today?

Kiley Lane Parker:  I have learned so much about not only fundraising and distribution, but about myself, what I’m passionate about, and what I want for the future. Particularly, this documentary crosses party lines and that was extremely important to me, even though it has probably hurt sales in some cases, but helped in others. I want to move us away from partisanship in this country. Honestly, I think it’s doing more harm than good, so I wouldn’t change the format of the film in order to fit one group or another. I’m so proud of my work and the response it has gotten from all side of the aisle. I just want to continue to make great projects that inspire action and spark dialogue.

Women For Action: Too often, women find it difficult to locate funding and resources for their independent projects and documentaries, or even run for public office. Was it easy to garner funding for this project? If you do not mind sharing with the Women For Action audience, what steps did you take to successfully complete this film?

Kiley Lane Parker: I finished Raising Ms. President through pure determination and perseverance. It was not easy to find funding although we did have a Kickstarter campaign in order to get us to the end. I was pregnant with my daughter at the time and I knew that if I didn’t get the film done before she arrived that I would never finish it. It had already taken three years and a lot of time and effort. I was self-financing the project through other productions, so I couldn’t work just on the film, and then at the end of  2012, I was offered a full - time job in state government, which meant that I was now working on the film nights and weekends. I don’t sleep much, but if I do make another documentary, I will definitely look for funding first, before starting on production, and I hope that it will be easier the second time around.

Women For Action: What are the next steps for Raising Ms. President?

Kiley Lane Parker: I look at 2015 and 2016 as really great years for Raising Ms. President, so I hope to build a strong following and to have it in the hands of every middle and high school, and Girl Scout troop in the country. Wouldn’t that be amazing!

Women For Action: Finally, you and your husband founded Kentucky Educational Television (KET) and the web TV station, How is this project going and can you briefly tell us about the project’s mission?

Kiley Lane Parker: Kentucky Educational Television is actually a PBS affiliate in Kentucky, we did not found that. They have been amazing supporters of my work since I was 25 and I continue to work with them. In the past, we had programming from our web station, airing on KET, which was a labor of love when George and I first met. really is its own entity now. It sits on YouTube and features about 300 videos that we made back in 2010 before internet TV was even a thing. It was a start up that got us a lot of recognition and accolades, and the topics were and are something we are very passionate about.

Women For Action: Kiley, what’s next for you?

Kiley Lane Parker: Currently, I’m shifting gears back to narrative work, especially comedy. I want to be a great writer/director and to be able to do this from Louisville, Kentucky. I think there is great potential here for short and long form narrative productions and I’m working on building my portfolio. I continue to connect with teachers, community leaders, and individuals across the country about Raising Ms. President and I love speaking to young audiences about their hopes, dreams and fears about running for office and really, just about life in general. Empowering and educating girls and women is something I’m extremely passionate about and I hope to continue this work and to speak to audiences across the country and right here in my home state of Kentucky.

Women For Action: What piece of advice would you like to leave with a young woman or girl reading this interview?

Kiley Lane Parker: Things are better for women today than they were fifty years ago, but we still have the same fears about growing up, failure, relationships, and life; this has not changed. The number one thing that stands in a person’s way when they want something that is meaningful is themselves. Women tend to question their own abilities to lead more than men. We feel that we can’t, more than we can. We worry about motherhood and how that relates to work and we worry about how we will be able to “do it all”. These are the concerns and questions I get when I speak to audiences and this is what I say in return: "Why not start early? Waiting for anything means it might not happen and there is no perfect time. The more women we have in office at all levels means that perhaps policies and procedures will change that will benefit both men and women. Both genders should be held responsible for the care of children and the elderly. This builds better homes and communities. Men can stay at home, and more are doing so. Also, the more women we see in office, the more young women will start to believe that politics is a place for them. They will strive to be city council women, senators and yes, even president of the United States. Politics is a profession, so why not start early? Gain experience, knowledge, and support, and everything else will fall into place."

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Julene Allen