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Rachel Maddow: A Woman Making History

March 22, 2010

In recognition of the 30th anniversary of Women’s History Month, Women’s Media Center is profiling 30 extraordinary women making history. Our goal is to raise $10,000 to support WMC Exclusives — every dollar raised will go directly toward hiring women writers to comment on major news stories and report topics often neglected by the mainstream media. Will you contribute $30? Click here to donate: or text WOMEN to 50555 to make a $10 donation. Rachel Maddow: A Woman Making History by Becca Stanger Last week, ABC announced that journalist Christiane Amanpour would begin hosting national news show “This Week” in August. Amanpour, however, is not the first of her kind; over the past decade, anchor Rachel Maddow has been breaking down gendered stereotypes in national news with gusto and grit. Maddow is a hard-hitting policy expert who speaks with conviction and insight. After graduating from Stanford University with a degree in public policy, she went on to Oxford University with a Rhodes scholarship to study HIV/AIDS health care reform in prisons. Maddow then ventured into radio to discover a passion for the news profession. After moving up the professional ladder rungs, Maddow’s intellect and candor caught the attention of anchor Keith Olbermann. In April 2008, he invited her to substitute host his program during his vacation. Maddow’s substitute run generated impressively high ratings and prompted MSNBC in August 2008 to invite Maddow to host her own news program. Since its inception, Maddow’s program has been met with immense public support. Everyone seems to love the brilliant, gutsy woman. But Maddow’s accomplishment is even more inspirational in light of the gender and sexuality stereotypes she overcame along the way. As a self-proclaimed “butch dyke” news anchor, Maddow defies the odds. Before The Rachel Maddow Show, an openly gay anchor had never before hosted a prime-time news program in the United States. And while some women had already broken into national news, none had Maddow’s image. As Maddow puts it: “I’m not a TV anchor babe. I’m a big lesbian who looks like a man.” Over the years, she’s been forced to make small concessions (like wearing “lady clothes” and lipstick) in face of “TV anchor babe” expectations. But she still insists on wearing her sneakers out of camera view under her desk. And when the tape stops rolling, Maddow promptly dons her t-shirts and chunky glasses. For her triumph in overcoming the odds and redefining stereotypes, Maddow has been honored by Out Magazine, the AfterEllen program, the American Women in Radio and Television, GLAAD, the California State Senate, and The Advocate. In face of resistance, Rachel Maddow launched her way to the top of national news. As Maddow explained: “The only reason I get these opportunities is because of my sensibility. I'm not being invited to do these things because of my looks or my facility with language.” Maddow’s success inspires me to make my way in the world as a woman with “sensibility.” She reminds me to resist the urge to acquiesce to cultural expectations and stay true to my stereotype-defying, feminist self. With disciplined intellect and inspirational courage, Maddow is making history by defying the conforming stereotypes we all face. For more on Maddow’s inspiring commitment to “sensibility,” be sure to read about her visit to the high school classroom of Progressive Women’s Voices alumna Ileana Jiménez.