In its 217-year history, the U.S. Senate has been a home to 1,875 members. Only 35 of these have been women. Last year, there were just 14 female members of the 100-person body; two more were added after November 2006's elections. This elite group provides the subject of Mary Lambert's new documentary, "14 Women," which details the struggles and successes that lady senators enjoy on Capitol Hill and at home. The film premiered Thursday night at the American Film Institute's annual documentary film festival, SilverDocs, in Silver Spring, Md., before a notably co-ed crowd.
In her opening speech, Jean Picker-Furstenberg, president of the American Film Institute, asked the crowd how many women they wanted to see in the Senate. "Fifty!" the crowd shouted in unison. "What we see in these women is how our government can work across party lines," she continued. "And that's why I think we need 50 women senators in 2010."
Hear, hear. Lambert, who is well-known for directing Madonna's music videos ("Borderline," "Like a Virgin," "Material Girl"), set out to make a film that would speak to young women who might think twice before entering what is still considered the most powerful of boys clubs. It is not a film about women acting like men but, rather, a film for the next generation of young girls who embrace their femininity even as they enter traditionally male workplaces.
Lambert keeps the film equally feminine and forceful. She films the senators cooking dinner and counseling children with sick stomachs. She captures them remarking on one another's outfits and jewelry in between meetings. She shows them speaking on the Senate floor and touring New Orleans in hardhats. The most senior female senator, Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., says in the film, "Just because you get tackled, doesn't mean you get out of the game ... You brush yourself off, put that lipstick on."
Mikulski's advice was well heeded. At the after-party, Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., surrounded by reporters and clingers-on, stole a moment for herself in an empty corner of the room to reapply her lipstick before going on camera.
At the same party, I asked Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., whether she thought the United States was ready to elect a female president. "Of course. You've seen the evidence right here," she said. But what about the challenges faced by Hillary Clinton? "I think there is 15 percent on each side -- 15 who would absolutely vote for a woman, and 15 percent who won't," she said. "Everyone in the middle is up for grabs."
Let's hope "14 Women" will reach a big enough audience to influence the undecided. To see a trailer of the film, click here.