Spotlight on Change Makers at the Women’s Media Awards
| October 5, 2016
At this year’s Women’s Media Awards, sisterhood, the importance of women’s voices and influence in the world, and the critical role of media were all in focus. With the backdrop of an election season featuring the historic milestone of our first female presidential nominee—which has exposed the sexism women continue to face in media and in our culture—the stakes were heightened, spotlighting both challenges and opportunities. As event host Sally Field put it in her inspiring opening remarks, “If media is a mirror to the world, we need to make sure it’s reflecting an accurate picture.”
The awards ceremony, which paid tribute to the pioneering work of media trailblazers, also raised crucial funds to support the important work and programs of the Women's Media Center. WMC, which was founded in 2005 by Jane Fonda, Robin Morgan, and Gloria Steinem to make women more powerful and visible in the media, provides resources such as its annual WMC Status of Women in the U.S. Media report; WMC SheSource, an online database of women experts; and the WMC Progressive Women’s Voices media and leadership training program. It also showcases a diversity of women’s issues and voices through the nationally syndicated radio program and podcast Women's Media Center Live with Robin Morgan, WMC Features, WMC FBomb, the WMC Speech Project, and WMC Women Under Siege.
While the Women's Media Awards honored media game changers, the honorees in return offered gratitude and acknowledgment for the work of WMC—and to the many other influential change makers present in the room. While receiving the Women’s Media Center History Making Award, Samantha Bee, the first woman to host a late-night satirical news show, TBS’ Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, said, “I thank everyone here for the work you are doing. Thank you all for paving the way for me to be here tonight. Without your tireless work, I feel like a TV show like mine could have never existed, would never be accepted, would have been patronizingly chuckled out of the room.”
On the red carpet at the event, I had the opportunity to ask both honorees and WMC's co-founders to reflect on why the work of WMC is important, particularly right now, and how they gauge the status of women’s media today.
CBS This Morning co-anchor Gayle King, who opened the awards, said she felt the Women’s Media Awards offers a much-needed reinforcing and energizing purpose for those doing this work. “I think it’s always good to be validated, and that’s what the Women’s Media Center does. Everybody—I don’t care who you are—wants to be validated, and that’s what they do. It shows you you’re on the right track and we are doing good things. You can never hear that message too much.”
WMC co-founder Robin Morgan, who hosts Women's Media Center Live and delivered rousing closing remarks highlighting the urgency of what is at stake in this year’s election, said she felt this election season has absolutely underscored the essential nature of the work of WMC: "Never more so than this year. We’ve seen sexism in the reporting, we’ve seen false equivalence. … Never have we been more necessary than now, never."
WMC co-founder Jane Fonda—unable to be present ceremony since she’s on location shooting a film with Robert Redford—opened the awards by video and also joined Gloria Steinem in helping present the Women’s Media Center Sisterhood Is Global Award to award-winning actress, director, producer, and activist Salma Hayek, who founded Chime for Change, an organization devoted to improving the education and welfare of women and girls. Hayek shared how moved she was to be receiving the award, which has personal significance for her. “It means a lot to me. For me, Jane Fonda is a mentor; I admire her so much. And now this organization that she started is giving me an award, and I feel it’s very special, it’s very personal.”
Hayek, who in her speech asked the audience to imagine what the world would be like if it were influenced mainly by women, said she felt the work that WMC does is especially important because “we need to empower women’s voices.”
Pat Mitchell, the first woman president of PBS, presented the WMC Pat Mitchell Lifetime Achievement Award to five-time Emmy-winning and two-time Academy Award-nominated producer and philanthropist Regina K. Scully. Mitchell, who was founding co-chair and serves as current chair of the WMC board, said: "There is probably nothing more relevant in our lives today than the way in which media is portraying women, representing our lives, talking about us, or not talking about us. It’s all come into such focus around the presidential campaign—the difference is in the reports that go out on the first woman candidate for president, as the party’s nominee, and it’s just astonishing. It reminds us of how far we’ve come in many ways, and yet have much we have left to do.”
Regina K. Scully, who has helped produce more than 100 groundbreaking documentary films (including The Invisible War and The Hunting Ground) and supported countless other transformative projects through her Artemis Rising Foundation, said it was one of the “greatest compliments of her life” not only to receive the award from “a body of women who are iconic to the women’s movement and to empowerment for women and to media in general,” but also to see all the cheering tables of people whom she had worked with or supported who came out to see her body of work being honored. “For me it’s so uplifting to have the shared experience, the shared pride, the mutual admiration, and the mutual respect for the community of goals,” she said. “There’s a collective community of goals here to shift our culture in a positive way. You have a collective consciousness—it’s really a heart consciousness—that we can really transform our culture.”
Feminist Frequency creator Anita Sarkeesian, who was presented with the WMC Digital Media Award by WMC President Julie Burton, also acknowledged the importance of the work of WMC. “Having more women’s voices, more women’s representation in the media in a fair, honest way is going to change the world. If we don’t have half of the population represented and represented well in the media, we will continue to perpetuate patriarchy and all of the inequities that keep women down. So I think representation in media is one of the really important factors in creating a more just world.”
Joy Reid, political analyst for MSNBC and host of AM Joy, who received the Women’s Media Center Carol Jenkins Visible and Powerful Media Award from former WMC President Carol Jenkins, exuded, “This is such a huge honor. This selection of women who are powerful, who are in control, who are fabulous in every sense of that word, are so important to the next generation of us that are trying to get into this media game. I think it’s so important that we pass the baton and that we encourage the next generation of women to have the strength to be themselves in this media world.”
Reid offered, “I’m encouraged because there are many more women in media than there were before, but we still have a ways to go. … The team that I work with is mostly young women, and it brings a different dynamic to our show. And diversity is not something that’s done for the diverse, it’s something that’s done for all of us. How would you explain this campaign without women reporters? How would you possibly explain this madcap campaign without women there to do it? So it’s important that we’re in the room.”
WMC co-founder Gloria Steinem (who presented the WMC Making History Award to Samantha Bee) spoke to the broader significance of why we need women’s voices in the media. “A whole set of possibilities, problems, dreams, realities are just not present unless we are equally represented in the media. And that means we don’t see solutions to problems, we don’t see connections among solutions. It deprives everybody.”
While women in media still have far to go to reach parity, the ultimate message of the evening was one of celebration for the undeniable progress that has been made and the individuals who are leading the way. As Pat Mitchell told me when I asked her whether she feels encouraged or discouraged by the state of women’s media today, “I do always feel good on this night because look at what we are representing here tonight. Regina Scully has over 100 films that she’s made possible, and they’re all about women’s issues. They are all about the things we care about, the challenges we face, so that’s progress that they can get done. But why aren’t there 100 more funded by a whole variety of individuals? And then, of course, Samantha, whose voice is so important, Salma, who’s done such groundbreaking work. So when you are here on an evening like this, you always feel here is the progress, there is reason to celebrate.”
The views expressed in this commentary are those of the author alone and do not represent WMC. WMC is a 501(c)(3) organization and does not endorse candidates.
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