Tag Archives: madame mars

Don’t Get Hurt By That Glass Ceiling

Some events cannot be explained away as cosmic coincidence.


Hours before yesterday’s votes were counted, I sat discussing with my producers Soumyaa and Robert how best to present the feminist voice in our movie, Madame Mars: Women and the Quest for Worlds Beyond. Soumyaa suggested we employ the “oppressed gaze,” a well-worn trope used in film/literature theory to represent the idea that there is intrinsic power awarded to the person who gets to do the looking. In traditional novels and movies, the “male gaze” dominates. As spectators, we share that gaze with the camera, director and leading men. The primary recipient of the gaze, the objectified female, has no reciprocal “gazing” power.

We talked about the fact that women were not allowed to look through major telescopes until the 1960s. That American women were not allowed to view the Earth from space until the 1980s. That no matter how capable, how prepared, how passionate or how hard they work, there have been dreams that women could not achieve, just because they were women.

We never thought to discuss that a woman could not become our president in 2016. That came later, last night.

When the space age began, both Hillary Clinton and I (along with many other girls of our era) expressed our desire to become astronauts, but were told we could not. This was more than an escapist fantasy, I think, but rather a desire to enter and explore uncharted territories: deep space, the oval office.

How is space exploration different from the U.S. presidency when, historically, both have been denied to women? How is any quest to achieve a long cherished goal any different when nonsensical barriers like glass ceilings are placed in the way?

To reach a goal, some one must first be able to look at it. Gazing at the proverbial glass ceiling is next to impossible. The glass is transparent, not restricting the view of the dreams that lie beyond it, but preventing progress toward the goal nonetheless. It’s a profoundly false view.

My own brand of feminism, emanating from the same generation as Hillary Clinton’s, fights the oppressed gaze because it makes us angry. The inability to look at whatever we want, whenever we choose, should not be gender-dependent.

The post-election detail that upset me most this morning was reading that Clinton had planned to celebrate with her supporters beneath a glass ceiling that would symbolically shatter. Instead I think workers carefully removed the elaborate prop and stored it away. The glass ceiling remains intact.

Glass ceilings are always there and always will be, whether represented by the lens of the telescope, the window of a spaceship, or the view looking out into the White House Rose Garden.

If the barrier can’t be shattered, then it’s the dream that’s in danger of being shattered to pieces. But there’s another way to look at it: the glass, whether in the ceiling or in the sky, can also be used to focus the view more clearly.

Our awareness of such a barrier – even if we are not able to break it – is painful but necessary. We have to take a long, hard look to see what the barrier reveals, then refocus our gaze toward finding ways to explore what lies beyond.

By Jan Millsapps, Director of Madame Mars: Women and The Quest for Worlds Beyond.

Presenting Madame Mars, A DocFilm Production

The DocFilm Institute is thrilled to announce our expanded partnership with Cinema Professor Emeritus Jan Millsapps on her upcoming feature documentary, Madame Mars: Women and the Quest for Worlds Beyond.  This film emerged amid the growing public enthusiasm about the multiple missions in the works to send humans to Mars.   The project intends to inspire and motivate young women who have the talent and skills to work in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM).  The film will also excite, enthrall and educate every audience member about the impact women have already had on space science, specifically the contributions they have made to our knowledge of the red planet.

Watch the Madame Mars trailer here!

womenprotestNU (1)Did you know that women were forbidden from looking through the world’s major telescopes until the middle of the twentieth century?  This and other eyebrow raising facts are uncovered and explored in this film.

The Madame Mars team has interviewed women working as planetary scientists, astronauts, engineers, space doctors, astrobiologists, Mars climatologists, and a “planetary protector” working to keep Mars safe from Earthly contamination – and vice versa. The team has found young women preparing for careers in space science and the accomplished female scientists who mentor and inspire them.   They have followed a diverse, international group of women competing for a one-way ticket to Mars as part of the Mars One project to colonize this new world for humans.  The film also dives into the mythical aspects of the planet, exploring science fiction and folklore from a decidedly feminist angle.

womenonISSNUOne issue that is not mythical in any way is how many young women and girls are discouraged from entering the STEM fields.  Several studies including the 2011, “Why So Few?  Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math” have collected data that demonstrates there is a huge drop off in interest from young women around the middle school age.  This can be attributed to the stereotypical gender roles that are obviously and subconsciously placed on females in this age group.  As they grow older these ideas persist and young women often feel left out, discriminated against and generally influenced not to take part in these types of careers.  Women who do rise up and take on the challenges of a STEM career report major successes but do not describe their paths as easy, or one that was buoyed by their fellow STEM peers.  However, a recent study by Cornell University suggests that the tides are changing for women in STEM.  Their findings in a 2015 study say that Universities who hire professors in these fields report a new leaning towards the hiring of women in STEM positions.

Now in post-production, Madame Mars is set for completion in 2016.  DocFilm has brought on a team of interns to start sorting through the footage that has been collected.  A big thank you to these Cinema Grads and Undergrads: Sookyong Kwok, Sam Gershwin and Bryan Petrass.  Once complete, the project will also traverse beyond the big screen onto smaller ones in classrooms, nonprofits and individual’s homes with transmedia games, apps and will feature a robust educational curriculum designed to activate girls who have an interest in STEM to thrive in those fields.  Stay tuned for more news on this project as it takes its final shape and prepares for take-off.

Filmmaker Info:


Jan Millsapps, Ph.D., is a veteran filmmaker and pioneering figure in the new media movement. She has produced digital and interactive cinema on subjects ranging from domestic violence to global terrorism. A versatile and accomplished writer, she has written two space-themed novels and is a featured blogger on the Huffington Post. She is Professor Emeritus of Cinema at San Francisco State University, where she taught courses in digital cinema, interactive cinema, web cinema and short format screenwriting. She earned her B.A. with honors in Creative Arts at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte; her M.A. in English at Winthrop University; and her Ph.D. in Rhetoric and Composition at the University of South Carolina. She also holds an academic certificate in cosmology from the University of Central Lancashire in England.