Sally Fields, honoree Marlo Thomas and Gloria Steinem.
“I didn’t realize how short this dress was,” Amy Schumer said when she took the stage to kick off the Women’s Media Awards, November 5th, at Capitale in New York City. She looked down at a photographer in the front row, “You’re basically taking a picture of my clitoris right now,” she said.
She also said, “Magazines are supposed to be empowering women. But they’re not. They publish articles like, ‘How to get your pussy to smell like a Christmas ornament.’ I’m like, ‘Can my pussy maybe just smell like a pussy?’ Media is powerful and we need to hold everyone accountable for the way we’re showing women.” And thus began a night of inspiring, hilarious, important talks about pussies, politics, and publishing.
The event, attended by Rosario Dawson, Diane Lane, Sally Field, Phil Donahue, and other luminaries and supporters of the cause, celebrated the tenth birthday of the Women’s Media Center, founded by Gloria Steinem, Robin Morgan, and Jane Fonda. The center trains women to be media leaders, curates original content from women writers, and monitors and publishes reports on media sexism. The awards ceremony honored six female media all-stars who, if you’re not currently following, you definitely should.
An Egyptian American writer and journalist, Eltahawy is a survivor of Egyptian police brutality and sexual assault, and author of the book, Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution. She is a regular contributor to the New York Times, The Guardian, Globe and Mail, CNN, the BBC, Al Jazeera English and many other publications, who writes and speaks internationally about Arab and Muslim issues and feminism.
When I asked her what her advice would be to young women writing about sexuality and reproductive politics who get nasty comments and threats because of their work, she answered with great passion, “Understand that that nastiness comes because men cannot stand the idea of a sexually liberated woman. They can’t stand the idea of a woman in control of her body because they still believe, in 2015, that they’re entitled to our bodies and are entitled to do with our bodies what they want. So I say, stay angry, angry women are free. Fuck nice and polite, nice and polite never achieved anything.”
In 2013, Cosmopolitan awarded Bates the Ultimate New Feminist Award; in 2014, she was named one of Britain’s 10 most influential women - at 27 years old, she was the youngest on the list. Author of the book Everyday Sexism, and regular contributor to The Guardian, The Independent, and The Huffington Post, Bates founded the Everyday Sexism Project, a collection of more than 80,000 women's daily experiences of gender inequality that has about 229,000 twitter followers. Receiving her award, she advised other women writers, “Reach out to other women. I don’t think I would still be doing what I’m doing if it wasn’t for the support of the feminist community, particularly the Women’s Media Center, who helped me when I was first starting out when the death threats and the rape threats came in. There’s an incredible solidarity that we can all draw on.”
Gwen Ifill – (@gwenifill)
Perhaps you recognize her from moderating the 2008 vice presidential debates between Joe Biden and Sarah Palin, or the debates in 2004 between Dick Cheney and John Edwards. You might know her as author of the best-seller, The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama, or from Washington Week, where she moderates (and serves as managing editor for) weekly roundtable discussions with journalists analyzing news from the nation’s capital. Now in its 47th year, Washington Week is the longest-running prime-time news and public affairs program on television. Most likely, you know Ifill from her role as co-anchor and managing editor of PBS’ NewsHour. She has covered seven Presidential campaigns, served as chief congressional and political correspondent for NBC News, and as White House correspondent for The New York Times, and a local and national political reporter for The Washington Post.
Broadcast journalist Judy Woodruff co-anchors of the PBS’ NewsHour with Gwen Ifill and serves as its managing editor. She has covered politics and other news for more than three decades at CNN, NBC and PBS, and is International Women's Media Foundation founding co-chairperson and board member. Woodruff serves on the board of trustees and holds membership at numerous other organizations, such as the Council on Foreign Relations, the Freedom Forum and the Reporters' Committee for Freedom of the Press. At the podium at the Awards, Woodruff urged women in media to “Learn to speak up when you are the only woman in the room and know that your viewpoint is essential, and learn to say thank you when people tell you that you’re good at what you do.” Ifill, who accepted the award alongside her colleague, added, “We need to know that we are paving a way for the Judys and the Gwens who we hope any minute now will be taking our place. It’s not about us, it’s about what’s next.”
In 2014 Forbes, listed her as the 71st most powerful woman in the world (this year she’s 84th). Motorola and Cisco's former chief technology officer (CTO), Warrior mentors women in the tech industry, especially focusing on women of color, and fights for gender equality in senior management positions. She urged award attendees, “If you’re doing something well you should interrupt yourself and do something even more impactful.”
Gloria Steinem introduced Thomas as the first woman ever allowed to be single and adventurous on television, referring to her starring role in the sitcom That Girl which ran from 1966–1971. “And she’s been transforming the media and our lives from the 1960s until this very moment,” Steinem said. Thomas wrote the iconic, Free to Be... You and Me, and has appeared in dozens of television shows and movies. She has received four Emmys, a Grammy, a Golden Globe, a Peabody, and has been inducted into the Broadcasting and Cable Hall of Fame. Thomas currently hosts Mondays with Marlo at the Huffiington Post, and serves as National Outreach Director for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, a cancer hospital founded by her father, Danny Thomas. Speaking about the impact women can have when they pool their resources, Thomas said, “Pre-Gloria, I thought if you raised your voice really loud, you could go it alone and change the world. But after working with Gloria, I came up with a new mantra about raising your voice. And that is: One is a pest, two is a team, three is a coalition.”
And a roomful of women and allies rose in applause. A coalition indeed.
Images courtesy Women's Media Center and Twitter
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Gila Lyons' work has appeared in Salon, Cosmopolitan, Vox, GOOD Magazine, BUST Magazine, The Rumpus, The Millions, The Morning News, Ploughshares, Brevity, Tablet, Fusion, and other publications. She holds an MFA in literary nonfiction from Columbia University, teaches college writing and literature, and is at work on a memoir about seeking a natural cure for anxiety and panic disorder but falling prey to the underbelly of the alternative health movement. Links to published work can be found at www.gilalyons.com. Follow her on Twitter at @gilalyons.