Any one bullet point on documentary filmmaker Mary Mazzio’s resume could be one (extremely exceptional) person’s lifetime achievement. She has at times simultaneously managed being an Olympian rower and a lawyer (two occupations that might easily consume any one individual’s entire existence) and is now CEO of 50 Eggs Productions, an award-winning filmmaker, and a mother. Though she is busy developing a new project concept featuring female entrepreneurs, she was kind enough to take the time to speak with me about her career.
After ten years as a lawyer, Mazzio suddenly left a steady legal career behind to go to film school. Impressed by her confidence, especially the chutzpah it must have taken to leave the steady legal profession for film school, I asked her how she came to believe in herself and take such a risk. She answered without a beat: “I played sports as a kid.”
Professional women often attribute their success to playing sports as children. Few of these women continue to take to the soccer field with their friends or pick up a baseball bat as they did when they were younger, but they continue to reap the benefits of childhood athletic participation. For example, Mazzio thinks her confidence came from the fact that “as an athlete, you see the results of getting up after getting bat down”.
Mazzio’s years at Mount Holyoke College gave her another kind of confidence: the confidence to speak up. She said that one of the biggest lessons she took away from her time at the all-women’s college is “how gender impacts ability to hear a voice”. She explained that if you are a female student in such an educational environment, you become accustomed to hearing your own voice, which she believes enables you to “trust your voice”. She compares this to her experience at the co-ed Georgetown Law, where few female students would speak up in class, relative to their male classmates.
It was in part gender imbalances in areas like classroom participation and film roles that inspired Mazzio to pursue a film career. She wanted to write screenplays in which she could create female characters that were like the “irritatingly smart” and “opinionated” women that she knew, but could not find on the silver screen.
However, her admiration and documentation of one historic feminist event inspired her to stay in documentary filmmaking. Towards the end of her film studies at Boston University, she made A Hero for Daisy, a documentary that chronicles a 1976 protest by Chris Ernst (a rowing Olympian like Mazzio) and her teammates on the Yale crew team to campaign for women’s locker room facilities. In a shocking display at the Yale athletic director’s office, they stripped off their clothes to reveal a simple message written on their bodies: “Title IX”. Since its release in 1999, the documentary has enjoyed a sustained presence at educational institutions of all levels and has been aired nationally on networks like ESPN Classics and Oxygen.
Not only has Mazzio’s work in film been a link to feminism’s past, but it is also her vehicle for ensuring feminism’s future, which is, in part, her daughter’s future. She says that, through her work, she wants to provide her daughter with an alternative to the photo-shopped, blond, skinny image of female beauty that dominates the media. As Mazzio knows well from her athletic career, “It’s ugly to be pushing your limits,” Mazzio says. But she wants her daughter to know that to do so is not only okay, but is an essential means for personal growth.
As much as she might work for her daughter’s benefit, Mazzio warns that when it comes to parenting and working, “You can have it all – just not at the same time.” She concedes that this is true even for working mothers like her who run their own businesses and thus might enjoy more personal control over their professional schedules. Unfortunately, as many mothers know, guilt often accompanies every missed soccer game or dance recital. She said that she communicates with her children to deal with the guilt. Instead of trying to be the supermom who bakes cupcakes for each classmate’s birthday and attends every P.T.A. meeting, she asks her children which events matter to them. That way, she can be there if one of her kids searches the stands expectantly for her face after scoring a goal at a hockey game, but does not have to feel bad for missing every other event that she cannot attend.
When she added that she checks in with her children to see how she’s doing as a mother, I said, “Wow! Not many mothers would be brave enough to ask their teenager that question.” But, considering the confidence that Mazzio has displayed just like Ernst and many feminists before her, I shouldn’t have been surprised.