Amy Schumer joins WMC founders at decade celebration
Amy Schumer opened WMC’s 2015 Women's Media Awards this year with a feminist, personal speech that received loud applause when she boldly stated, "Nobody told me I couldn’t do something; I just did it. I really do think it’s good to lead by example. Women can do anything they want to do.” She went on to express what an essential role the Women’s Media Center has played in transforming the landscape of media and increasing the representation of women: "Women’s media is powerful, and we need more women. The WMC is guiding a generation of women into being media leaders. It’s about helping girls figure out how to become more confident in who they are so they can tell their own stories.”
This year's Women's Media Awards was a particularly special event—in addition to honoring media trailblazers, it also celebrated the milestone of the organization's 10-year anniversary. Women's Media Center, which was founded in 2005 by Jane Fonda, Robin Morgan, and Gloria Steinem to make women more powerful and visible in the media, has achieved many notable accomplishments over the course of the past decade, including its annual Women’s Media Center Status of Women in the U.S. Media report, WMC SheSource, which has greatly increased the numbers of women experts in the media, and the WMC Progressive Women’s Voices media and leadership training program. This is in addition to spotlighting a diversity of women's voices and stories on WMC's nationally syndicated radio program and podcast Women's Media Center Live With Robin Morgan, and through WMC Features, WMC FBomb, the WMC Speech Project, and WMC Women Under Siege.
On the red carpet at the event, I had the opportunity to ask both honorees and WMC's co-founders to reflect on the achievements of WMC over the past ten years, why they think WMC's work is important, and their perspective on the progress of women in the media.
WMC co-founder Robin Morgan, who presented the WMC Speaking Truth to Power Award to international prize-winning journalist Mona Eltahawy, and who hosts Women's Media Center Live, said, "It's better than Jane and I and Gloria ever dreamed of. Ever imagined. The annual Status Report has become the go-to research on women and media. WMC SheSource is the biggest database of women experts in every field from Aardvark to Zebra in the world!” On her assessment of the progress we have achieved in the past ten years, Morgan states flatly, "Not enough, as usual. And in fact, deplorably not enough—but we've made a dent. There's a consciousness about it now."
WMC co-founder Gloria Steinem (who presented the WMC Breakthrough Media Award to her longtime friend, award-winning actor, producer, and activist Marlo Thomas) was also proud of WMC's accomplishments, especially "all the women who feel comfortable in the media when they might not have without Women's Media Center training, and all the experts, who the world knows now to be experts, who might not have been introduced to the world of television and radio without it.” She added, "In a way, it's become an alternate source for all kinds of media, both traditional heritage media and online media. I'm not sure there are too many other organizations that bridge those two things completely."
As to her evaluation on our progress, Steinem said, “Information about women, news about women, is still put into a silo and not understood to be part of foreign policy, part of economic policy. You really can't write a story of any breadth without including all those issues. So we have to get women out of the silo and into all the major topics."
Carol Jenkins, who was WMC's founding and former president, presented the WMC Carol Jenkins Visible and Powerful Media Award to Padmasree Warrior, former chief technology & strategy officer of Cisco Systems. Jenkins said, "I think our most powerful moments have come from a ‘just the facts, Ma’am' attitude—the documentation of the rampant discrimination, and sometimes misogyny, expressed in the media. The 2008 presidential election was a real breakthrough for WMC. We and our partners were the leaders in demonstrating to the public how Hillary Clinton, as a woman candidate, was often the subject of blatantly sexist remarks. It was interesting to see news executives squirming when we showed them the tapes of their show hosts and contributors crossing the line."
Regarding our progress over the past ten years, Jenkins observed, "In that decade, we got, for example, two women anchors of the network news: Katie Couric at CBS and Diane Sawyer at ABC. Historic. Today those anchor chairs have reverted to men… so holding on to progress is our next round of challenge. "
Pat Mitchell, the first female president of PBS, presented the WMC Pat Mitchell Lifetime Achievement Award to PBS NewsHour co-anchors Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff. Mitchell, who was founding co-chair and serves as current chair of the Women's Media Center, said this about the important work that WMC does: "What I most value is the idea that we had all those many years ago, that how we're represented or under-represented in media is not only the message but is the messenger, and in both ways it's impacting everything about the progress we make or the lack of it. If you look at every sector in society from the increasing amount of violence against women, to the fact that women are still the face of poverty, to the fact that we have a huge gender gap in leadership—all of those trends—for worse or even for better, they can all be traced to the paradigms that we are seeing about power, about leadership, about the role of women, about the place of women in culture. That all comes from media. So it's incredibly important, absolutely essential in my mind, that media starts to reflect the reality of women's lives, or we're not going to change the reality of women's lives.”
Reflecting on the state of women's media today, Mitchell observed, "What encourages me is that everyone is taking it seriously. What's discouraging is that the numbers aren't any better. As a matter of fact, when you look at the women behind the camera in film, the number of directors, the number of roles—that has not gotten better; it's actually gotten worse. We have a long way to go, and that's why the Women's Media Center is necessary, and I actually would love to see Women's Media Centers all over the world. This problem of the way in which women are portrayed, and the roles that women play on screen and behind the cameras and in executive offices, is a global issue that matters."
Gwen Ifill said the work of WMC is especially important "because we take ourselves for granted after awhile. We get these jobs, we succeed, and then we don't get a chance to actually pass it on to the next generation. If we don't do it, there's nobody else to do it."
Her partner on the NewsHour, Judy Woodruff, observed, "It's important we have women's voices in journalism as we cover the news because we should reflect the country we're covering. Women are more than half the population; they're more than half the electorate in the United States, and we can't cover what's happening in this country—whether it has to do with the economy, education, health care, and business—unless we bring in women's voices. We need to be making a point every day to bring women into that conversation. And if we're not, then we're not fairly reflecting what the country looks like."
Julie Burton, WMC president, who presented WMC's Digital Media Award to Laura Bates, founder of the Everyday Sexism project, said, “We’re launching the next decade with a commitment to expanding the impact and reach of all our projects, especially our WMC Reports—they really are the road map for the industry, consumers, and activists that tell us where we are and where we need to go.”
As an example, Burton said, “We recently released a ten-year review of gender and Emmy nominations that underscored the importance one person can have in changing an industry—Amy Schumer’s show actually increased the numbers of women writers nominated for Outstanding Writing for a Variety Series. We know that you cannot get nominated if you cannot get through the door in the first place. You cannot share your experiences as a woman or as a person of color if you cannot get through the door. And you cannot enjoy the job opportunities that come with recognition of your excellence if you cannot get hired. We know the talent pool of women that reflects more than half our country is eager to tell our stories, and research shows that when women are placed in decision-making roles, they hire more women. … This decade celebration is just the beginning. Over the next decade, the Women’s Media Center will continue to hold media accountable for an equal voice and equal participation—and to lead many crucial conversations on gender, diversity, justice, and media.
Overall, the tone of the evening was one of celebration for the significant impact WMC has made in the last ten years, continued vigilance in making sure women are represented and treated fairly in all sectors of media, and inspiration for future generations of trailblazers in this field. As Michelle Obama wrote in the event’s program, “I am so proud of the work [the Women’s Media Center] does each and every day to champion higher standards, more accountability, and better representation of women in the media. With your advocacy and educational programs, you are opening doors of opportunity and serving as shining examples—especially for your girls—that strong, bold women can affect significant change for future generations.”