Whose Country Is It, Anyway?

by Mikki Halpin

I’ve been following No Country for Young Women on Twitter for a while—the account is a great source of news about women with a career focus—information about things like wage gap research, sexual harassment law, and other feministy work issues. The other day I finally decided to check out their website, which turned out to be a multimedia art project of women telling their stories and how they are negotiating the competing demands of their lives. Wanting to know more, I sent off a few questions to Elena Rossini, the founder.


What inspired you to start No Country for Young Women? Where does the name come from?
The title “No Country for Young Women” came to me 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. These films had 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, each with a 90% female cast, both nominated the same year for a grand total of 16 Oscars? I don’t think so. The tagline “No Country for Young Women” stuck with me and I imagined that one day I would do a project about gender using that title.

What’s your background?

I’m a filmmaker and a digital media producer–when there is an issue that concerns or worries me, I tend to turn it into a project. That way I have some control over it, instead of feeling frustrated and powerless, and it also makes me feel good to do something that might improve the situation in question little bit. That’s what motivated me to start working on my documentary The Illusionists , about the marketing of unattainable beauty, and on No Country for Young Women.

Isn’t it sad that most teenagers and young adults could immediately identify Paris Hilton, but have no clue about who Dr. Mae Jemison is? (N.B.: she was the first African American woman to travel in space). So far I have lived in four different countries – Italy, the United Kingdom, the United States, and France – and I have witnessed the same phenomenon everywhere: a saturation of stories in our media about so-called starlets, socialites, actresses and singers – mostly under the age of 35 – and very few stories that celebrate professional women and their accomplishments. With No Country for Young Women I set out to provide a platform for women – of all ages, professions, nationalities, and backgrounds – to share stories about their lives and careers, so that they could inspire others.

How do you find the women to profile?
At first, I asked friends if they were willing to be interviewed. Then acquaintances, followed by friends-of-friends, and people that I knew of through Twitter. And sure enough, the project has quickly blossomed, reaching a wider audience – to the point that now I’m receiving regular emails from readers who recommend their friends and colleagues. It heartens me to observe the sheer goodwill around No Country for Young Women – a lot of people are helping us in the most generous ways. Responding to a tweet that mentioned his magazine, Riccardo Luna – the editor in chief of Wired Italy – offered to put me in touch with trailblazing Italian women working in high tech. Most recently, 85 Broads’ Janet Hanson and Kelly Hoey have made me connect with phenomenal women who belong to their network. I’m truly humbled by all these acts of kindness.

Just recently, we started arranging profiles of women by profession: running a weekly series on women working in high tech, followed by entrepreneurs, then writers. I’m really looking forward to early September: I’m putting together a series on women in film (directors, screenwriters, festival directors…) that will run at the same time as the Venice Film Festival.

There are, of course, many women who don’t have “careers”–because of a disability, or because they work inside their homes, for example–are these women left out of the conversation?

The promotion of diversity is our most important goal and the issue closest to our hearts. I say “we” because the project (started in October 2009) has three amazing contributors helping me out with the profiles: Haley, Jessica and Eve – all based in the U.S., while I work from Paris, France. We often talk about this very issue: striving to diversify our profiles.

As for women who work inside their homes, yes, we have and we will continue to feature them as well. Many of the writers we interviewed are actually stay-at-home mothers, working from home. Speaking of women with disabilities, at the top of my wish list for future Q&As is actually a series on Paralympic athletes: I couldn’t think of a better example of excellence, courage and resilience.

Our objective these days is to expand the project to include older women – over the age of 60 – as well as women from literally the four corners of the world. Upcoming profiles will include entrepreneurs from Africa, India, the Middle East, and Latin America.

That said, No Country for Young Women’s goal has always been to “connect women across generations and nationalities on the topic of their careers” so we will continue to do so.

So is it “No Country for Young Women,” or “No Country for Young and Old Women?” The site says the latter, but you tend to use the former. 

The title “No Country for Young (and Old) Women” is the original one – it has been this way since day 1. I wanted to be as inclusive as possible and send the clear message that we would be covering the lives and stories of women of all ages.

I registered the domain name www.nocountryforyoungwomen.com for practical
reasons: the URL www.nocountryforyoungandoldwomen.com would have been too
long and convoluted

I love that you ask about mentors–what kind of answers have you been getting for that?

In American culture there is a strong belief – and fascination towards – the idea of self-made men (and women). What No Country for Young Women has taught me so far is the paramount importance of teachers, mentors and trusted advisers. This is something that comes up in virtually every profile.

What is the connection between the Twitter feed and the site? They kind of feel like two different things–the feed is so topical and political, while the blog is more thoughtful and descriptive.

The main purpose of the website is to offer a clean, simple, streamlined experience: to browse through profiles of women by their age, country of origin, profession, or type of post (video or text). On the other hand, through the project’s Twitter feed, I am able to interact with like-minded individuals and to post links to stories about women and their careers. The Twitter feed may feel more politicized because these days there’s a lot of talk about the wage gap and the need to close it. Since the passing of the Equal Pay Act in 1963, women are still making just 80 cents for each dollar a man makes. This occurs in most other countries around the world. I think it’s important to remind people that we still have a long way to go.

What’s your vision for the project – will it become some kind of community platform, or an art piece, or….?
I have ambitious plans for the project. I am currently planning to raise funds to go film a series of interviews in Sweden (the country consistently at the top of gender equality rankings, year after year) and in the United Arab Emirates (where I know many young professional women doing incredible work).

This is very much an ongoing project that I envision carrying on long-term. It gives me immeasurable satisfaction, day after day, as it connects me with inspiring women from all over the world and it allows me to share their stories with a wider public.

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