Women's Media Center recognizes inspirational game changers
Over the past year, many intrepid women have leveraged the media not only to make their voices heard, and to offer more diverse voices in an industry that has historically been dominated by limited perspectives, but also to further leverage the industry’s power for creating change.
Last night, the Women’s Media Center honored women who have done just that at the 2018 WMC Women’s Media Awards at Capitale in New York City. From journalists, a congresswoman, to high-ranking businesswomen, this year’s honorees inspired the audience with their work as well as their compelling words.
Women made their voices heard in the media this past year by carrying the torch of #MeToo, defending attacks on the media and fighting for gender equality by using their platforms as storytellers and advocates to continue to stand in solidarity with women. Host and CEO of Starfish Media Soledad O’Brien acknowledged this meaningful work right off the bat at the night’s festivities.
This past year the media has focused “on uncovering and documenting the reprehensible behavior of powerful men and finally holding some of them to account,” she said, adding that the Women’s Media Center has been “at the center of this paradigm shift.”
“As a journalist, I know how critical this reporting and data are,” O’Brien noted. “Who tells the story is every bit as important as what the story is — and often the former determines the latter.”
In her opening remarks, WMC President Julie Burton, shared how the Women’s Media Center is working to make women visible and powerful in media with its programs and reports, including The Status of Women in U.S. Media that highlights how women are doing across all media platforms.
The first three honorees of the evening were all graduates of the Women’s Media Center’s Progressive Women’s Voices leadership training program and all three credited their training and the sisterhood offered by the Women’s Media Center as central to their successful leadership. They were introduced by WMC board members: Maya L. Harris, Helen Zia and Soraya Chemaly.
Fatima Goss Graves, president and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center, has contributed to shaping the media story around #MeToo significantly in her role overseeing the administration of the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, which aims to enable more individuals to come forward and be connected with lawyers — regardless of industry, rank or role. Goss Graves has helped the fund raise an incredible $22 million and assemble a network of 700 attorneys.
“What is happening right now is big,” Goss Graves said. “And it is women who are at the forefront of that work.”
Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, a pioneer in the inaugural class of the WMC Progressive Women’s Voices program, has used her experience founding Hate Free Zone, one of the largest immigrant advocacy organizations in the country, not only to fight for policy, but to speak out publicly on behalf of those often rendered voiceless in the media.
“I am one of only 12 immigrants in the U.S. Congress, and we need more,” Jayapal said.
“Immigration has never been an issue of policy,” she added, “but of our moral imagination.”
Many women have also worked in the trenches of newsrooms to bring about the groundbreaking change we’ve experienced and awareness to broad range of issues. Maria Teresa Kumar, president and CEO of civic media organization Voto Latino and an Emmy-nominated contributor with MSNBC, is one such woman. Not only does Kumar use media technology to encourage Latinos to vote and connect with a massive audience of supporters, but also has used her own voice to influence the national media.
“The one thing we do know,” Kumar noted in her acceptance speech, “is that when women are at the table, revolutions happen.”
After rousing remarks by WMC co-founders Robin Morgan — who honored student journalists Neha Madhira and Haley Stack — and Gloria Steinem, documentary filmmaker Abigail Disney took the stage, to accept the Pat Mitchell Lifetime Achievement award.
“We must never allow our vision of the future to narrow,” Disney told the audience. “We have to commit ourselves to fight for things bigger than we are. Those of us who are safe must risk our safety for those who are not. The reward will not be in the victory but in the fight.”
WMC Carol Jenkins Award honoree Lisa Borders, past president of the WNBA, has illuminated how professional basketball and the media can work in tandem for good over the course of her career. Borders has helped bring strong, powerful women into the spotlight in multiple ways, including an initiative in which $5 from each WNBA ticket sold was donated to organizations that empower women and girls, and the WNBA’s support of players protesting racial injustice. Now, Borders will take her wisdom to Time’s Up as its new president and CEO.
The final honoree of the evening, Cindy Holland, has overseen the debut of more than 100 scripted series, documentaries, and specials this past year alone as the vice president of original content at Netflix. Holland’s inclusive and brave choices have included the international comedy hit “Nanette” by stand-up comic Hannah Gadsby, and shows featuring diverse characters such as Orange Is the New Black and One Day at a Time. In presenting the Women’s Media Center Visible and Powerful Award to Holland, WMC co-founder Jane Fonda celebrated the extraordinary influence Holland has had in reshaping entertainment media.
The evening ended with the words of yet another inspiring woman who has shaped media narratives this past year: Congresswoman Maxine Waters, who is the newest member of WMC’s board of directors. As per usual, Waters concluded the evening on an insightful and inspiring note.
“We must continue to hold the media accountable,” the congresswoman said. “In a time when truth is under assault, we must stand strong and be vigilant. With so much at risk, we cannot afford to be silent.”