A night at the Women's Media Awards: Leading the way for women after an oppressive year
An air of exhaustion permeates 2017, and it is palpable for all kinds of people—but for women particularly, that feeling has recently reached a new, deeper level. Americans are reminded that the man leading our country considers women and girls to be second-class citizens on a near daily basis. A rash of quietly known but finally exposed patterns of sexual harassment and assault occurring across industries has swept the news, as women bravely step forward and say, “Me too.”
Yet a confluence of normalized misogyny and devaluing of women made Thursday’s Women’s Media Awards all the more uplifting, emphasizing the power of sisterhood, the voices of women in media, and telling the stories of women and girls that fly under the radar—highlighting the strength of women leaders in male-dominated fields who never stop fighting against all odds.
The stage was graced by a series of astounding, fearless women—and only women. There was an overwhelming sense of urgency throughout their speeches. All made clear that there is no time to waste.
“We are, my friends, in the midst of an all-out assault on truth,” former Secretary of State and presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton told an audience that erupted in applause. Clinton, who celebrated her 70th birthday the day of the awards, was honored with the first and only WMC Wonder Woman Award.
Speaking truth to power has always been a task for the fourth estate. In an age in which our government habitually presents falsehoods as reality and brushes aside empirical research in favor of subjective gestures toward morality, the task of journalists, and the Women’s Media Center, has never been clearer. That dogged pursuit of truth shone brightly in each of the evening’s honorees.
“For years,” Clinton said, “The Women’s Media Center has been helping to shine a light on subjects that were once swept under the rug.”
Veteran White House correspondent April Ryan received the She Persisted Award for her tremendous coverage of every president since Bill Clinton. In the face of belittling, bigoted comments from President Trump and the current and former press secretary, Ryan persevered. In her powerful acceptance speech, she acknowledged that she considered stepping out of her job as a correspondent—but ultimately stayed, and continues to fiercely report from an unmistakably hostile White House.
Maria Hinojosa, pioneering Latina journalist and recipient of the Carol Jenkins Award, delivered a candid and passionate acceptance speech, dedicating her award to Rosa Maria Hernandez, a 10-year-old girl with cerebral palsy who is facing deportation after an emergency surgery in South Texas.
“As a journalist, as an immigrant, as a woman, as an American, I will not be silent,” said Hinojosa.
WMC co-founder Gloria Steinem next introduced activist, actress, and WMC Speech Project chair Ashley Judd, recipient of the Speaking Truth to Power award. Judd was one of the first women to recently come forward to share their experiences of sexual assault and harassment by Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. Steinem noted that Judd “has bravely called out both powerful public figures like Harvey Weinstein, and anonymous online cowards who also prey on women.”
As an advertising and marketing executive at Unilever, Gail Tifford has pushed her industry to better reflect the full diversity and promise of women and girls. Tifford leads the #SeeHer campaign, which works to increase the percentage of accurate portrayals of women and girls in advertising and media. Tifford attributed the inspiration for her work to reading the WMC report “Status of Women in the U.S. Media,” as well as to a gender equality report from the World Economic Forum that anticipated a waiting period of 118 years before true gender parity is reached.
“As I speak to you all tonight, I ask all of you not to wait 118 years either,” said Tifford. “If you are doing something already, do more. If you are doing nothing, do something.”
The Lifetime Achievement Award went to Maria Elena Salinas, co-anchor of Univision Network News, who has reported on and elevated the stories of the Latino community for more than three decades. Salinas playfully reminded the audience that in spite of the lifetime award, she was just getting started. The gender pay gap, Salinas told a rapt audience, is most pronounced for Latinas and African-American women—a product of “a macho society and a corporate culture that allows it to happen and does not recognize the contributions of women to the workplace.”
Salinas emphasized the importance of helping other women on the long road through a male-dominated industry that discriminates and devalues women: “We leave today thanking those who got us here, and vowing to empower those who are coming behind us.”
The evening closed with a toast to WMC co-founder Jane Fonda who—like Clinton—is celebrating her birthday—her 80th. Fonda revisited the revelations of Weinstein’s sexual harassment and assault in her speech, noting that the issue had finally earned public attention because women who are famous and white stepped forward—even though women of color have endured such treatment for years without garnering the same attention.
Fonda’s choice to emphasize the under-reported experiences of women of color reflected a night that honored not just women, but particularly women of color who are pioneers in their field, paving the way for girls who might otherwise not dream of reaching such heights.
As Steinem put it: “Media tells us who we are, and who we can be.”
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