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Category: Art and Entertainment, Media, WMC

Celebrating Women’s Media Successes

| June 19, 2009

Salon's Rebecca Traister receives WMC Media Award

WMC’s first awards event honored the best work by women in news and entertainment. The recipients, however, cautioned those assembled to pay tribute: many barriers remain.

Anyone who works on feminist issues in the media spends a lot of time raising awareness of what's wrong, what's sexist and what needs to be fixed. The work is vital and at times exhausting, so it's wonderful to take an evening to celebrate what's right with the media. Wednesday night the Women's Media Center (the folks who bring you this site) took a moment to highlight the good news and accomplishments of some great women professionals at its first—and one hopes annual—Media Awards.

Understandably, several of the women honored couldn't make the event because they were out in the field working. Honoree Christiane Amanpour from CNN for example was doing what she does best—reporting from the field in Iran. But other recipients joined friends and supporters and media advocates at the Arthur M. Sackler Foundation in New York City for the celebration.

The honorees included Candy Crowley of CNN, whose coverage of the 2008 election was exemplary. She was a sea of calm in the midst of the constant hyperbole that dominated TV commentary. Crowley is a veteran of many election cycles. Even while celebrating, she and her fellow awardees were also frank about the issues that still need work. "I think it would make me happy to know that women could have their career as long as men can have a career. That would make me happy."

For 18 years, fellow broadcast veteran Bonnie Erbe has been hosting PBS’s To the Contrary in order to showcase women’s issues. She thought that she would be out of business long ago, but her work is still sorely needed. "I have to tell you honesty when this started I really thought there was no way in hell we were gonna still be necessary ten years down the road. And if anything, I think that the last election showed that the country made tremendous strides on racism”—marking more progress in that area, she said, than in “eradicating sexism, which is still perfectly acceptable in large parts of the country. And it stinks!"

Being a web 2.0 organization, the WMC took the opportunity to honor some extraordinary voices from the on-line community. Rebecca Traister’s pieces at Salon occasioned almost as much discussion during the long primary and election season as did the candidates themselves. Her beat allows her to look at the world through a gender lens, and as a thirty-something feminist, she is able to bridge a sometimes large generation gap on feminist issues.

Pam Spaulding, whose site Pam's House Blend is a political home for LGBT issues, has spent the last couple of days berating the Obama Administration for its policies towards the LGBT community. She agitates and advocates like so many bloggers and she manages to do all of this in her spare time, given her day-job as the IT Manager at Duke University Press. Pam is able to get the conversation out of the NY/DC corridor. As she says: "I’m black, I’m a lesbian and I live in the South, and those are perspectives you don’t see normally in political blogging."

The awards also included the arts, and this year the stories of women in Africa figured prominently. Director Gini Reticker and producer Abigail Disney were recognized for their award-winning documentary Pray the Devil Back to Hell, which brought to light the women's peace movement in Liberia. The story of these women who literally changed their country was dismissed and overlooked because, as journalists told Reticker, "when they saw the women demonstrating they said they looked so pathetic that they didn’t cover them; they were more interested in covering ten-year-old boys with guns who were high on drugs."

Brooklyn’s Lynn Nottage was honored for her play Ruined, which also won her the Pulitzer Prize for drama. The play about rape in the Congo has been extended nine times at the Manhattan Theatre Club, yet the play did not make its way to Broadway—a common progression for her male Pulitzer winning peers. This is just more evidence of why the Women's Media Center and these awards are vital to our media landscape. As Nottage said: “I really do believe that if this were a play written by a white male that it would be on Broadway…so I don’t quite understand why we haven’t transferred this, other than the unconscious bias."

Most of the time the Women's Media Center's job is to unearth and air these unconscious biases and show how they are unacceptable to our culture—and a bit of the event’s agenda was devoted to bad behavior. For most of the evening, the time-out to acknowledge women's media successes was an awesome celebration—one that also helped illuminate how much work there still is to do.