MARYANN MANELSKI is a writer, producer and campaign guru. She is best known for her feature documentary, Running in High Heels, which followed the story of a new kind of political aspirant akin to Sarah Palin, four years before Palin herself exploded onto the national stage. The film explored the behaviors and biases women use in judging other women and how they affect women’s current political and economic state. Running in High Heels premiered in 2006 and quickly became part of the curricula in over 300 Political Science departments at colleges and universities across all 50 states. Manelski’s 2010 book, American Catfight: Political Wisdom for Women & Other Thoughts Towards Feminine Statecraft for the 21st Century, continued the discussion.
Manelski began her career at the Bottom Line nightclub in New York City while earning a BFA in Film and Television at Tisch School of the Arts at New York University and interning at places like MTV. She went on to work at the William Morris Agency (now WME) and produce for various video divisions at Atlantic Records, Time Warner and BMG Entertainment. She also served as the head of DVD production at Fox Lobber/Winstar/Wellspring (which had her cross paths with one Stephen K. Bannon when he purchased the company before flipping it the now-notorious Weinstein Company.)
More recently, Manelski took a hiatus from the subject of politics and produced “the Secret Maps Projects“, a series of documentaries about grief and bereavement including the feature films “the Grief Monomyth” and “the Secret Map of Surviving Loss.” The work was in large part driven by her experience as a caregiver during the last illnesses of her father and sister. “The caregiving bond is a deep one for those who have undertaken it,” says Manelski. “And even though I did not put political content into my films on grief, I learned along the way that 66% of end-of-life caregivers are women. I also learned that the unpaid care we provide is estimated to be of a value of about 170 billion dollars a year. And I learned that women involved in caregiving give up 7 years of career time on average either by scaling back on their current jobs, switching jobs or having to take leave altogether which, of course, hits you financially in your own later years because those years you were caregiving, you weren’t paying into social security or your I.R.A.. There are national politics and issues like Family and Medical Leave Policy at play even in caregiving.”
Following the drama of the 2016 elections, Manelski relaunched 52 Women in order to help women get elected to office.
“I’ve seen so many brilliant women run for office,” says Manelski. “They show up exceptional, usually accomplished in business, education, or science. They were great athletes or the class valedictorian or the popular kid. Some have even had policy wonkish jobs in local or federal government and really know the details of every issue they are talking about. But all of the sudden when they announce their candidacy, they have to be the center of the media show and learn how to direct it at the same time. On top of that, women still face harsh judgments about their persons in ways that male candidates don’t.
“The entire process is a whole different beast than what they’re used to and it can be challenging even for the smartest woman. There’s a difference between what we respond to, what we think a voting constituency should respond to, and what they actually do respond to. My job is to take these very brilliant, accomplished, talented women and share my expertise with them so they can comfortably master the performance and media side every day that they are campaigning. And when they are in office, too!”
Manelski was born and raised on Long Island. She grew up watching her grandmother march for good causes and her father run for local office which, to her frustration, they did on opposite sides of the political aisle. She currently splits her time between Long Island and New York City.