California’s First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom says she sees the title of First Partner as a more inclusive alternative to the traditional title of “First Lady” and as a means to recognize a traditionally overlooked role that has historically been held by women.
“Partnership is everything. It makes the world go round,” Siebel Newsom said in an extensive interview with Inside California Politics. “I’m [Gov. Gavin Newsom’s] partner at home. When I say I’m his partner at work — I’m the last person he talks to at night and the first thing in the morning.”
Siebel Newsom also said her husband takes a hands-off approach regarding her work and initiatives. “He just is really hands-off with me…every once in a while he’ll say, ‘That’s not really helpful that you said that,’ and I’m like, ‘I know, I’m sorry,’ but it’s the truth and I’m always going to speak the truth, and I’m always a momma and I always care about not just my children, but California’s children, and I’m always going to advocate for women.”
“We’ve rendered the partner invisible forever,” Siebel Newsom said. “It’s more recognizing that the partnership enables that person in leadership to thrive, to excel.”
Siebel Newsom, a documentarian and former actress, released her fourth film, “Fair Play,” last year, which touched on a similar theme of making the “invisible care work historically held by women visible.”
“That, to me, is what I was trying to signal,” Siebel Newsom said about choosing to be called First Partner. “That these First Ladies are not just sitting back, baking cookies and inviting people over for tea, but they’re behind whoever has been in leadership, historically speaking.”
Her husband is widely thought to have presidential aspirations but has denied he will run for the nation’s highest office in the 2024 election. The filmmaker said that even if her husband were to make it to the White House, she’s not sure she would take the First Partner title with her.
“I don’t know if our country is ready for ‘First Partner’, sadly,” Siebel Newsom said. “… I’m going to work really, really, really hard for people to see what has been rendered invisible and devalued in our society and to go, ‘Oh that’s actually important’.”
“Jill Biden, Michelle Obama, and Hillary Clinton have demonstrated what’s possible when you give a really strong, smart and powerful woman freedom to be herself,” Siebel Newsom said. “I’m not saying that [they] had that much freedom because I know there are a lot of constraints on women generally in leadership, but especially a First Lady.”
“But it is exciting to see the partnership and the respect between two individuals who bring something unique and different and are demonstrating to the world the value of the feminine and the value of the woman next to the man having a voice and having a platform where she can help people.”
Siebel Newsom also touched on other aspects of her time as First Partner including the state’s farm-to-school initiative that’s most special to her.
“[The farm-to-school project] is a trifecta approach to addressing climate change, making sure that our children are healthy and bolstering local economies,” Siebel Newsom said. “… We’re reaching a third of public school kids, ensuring that every… breakfast and lunch at school is fresh, nutritious, delicious and locally sourced.”
Siebel Newsom said she is working on a new documentary, a follow-up to her 2011 film, “Miss Representation”, about how media contributes to the underrepresentation of women in positions of power.
“Social media rose in 2012, right after “Miss Representation” had come out and is another backlash against women’s progress, agency and leadership potential,” Siebel Newsom said. “I’m really excited to unearth that given that we know from the CDC and the Surgeon General sharing that 60% of girls in our country have experienced sadness and hopelessness like never before, one in three have seriously considered committing suicide, and 69% of LGBTQ+ youth are also experiencing sadness and hopelessness.”
“For me, this is a crisis — I mean it is,” Siebel Newsom said. “The Surgeon General said this is the public health crisis of our time and we have not done enough about it.”
As her final two years as California’s First Partner approach, Siebel Newsom said she knows what it is she is aiming for.
“Success for me is really institutionalizing our values of centering women, women’s lived experiences and making sure that we close the gaps necessary for working women in particular, but all women, mothers especially, to not just survive but to thrive in California,” Siebel Newsom said.