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Saturday
Jul042009

Women's Media Center Awards

The Women's Media Center gave its first annual awards tonight to honor women’s role in media and point out the sexism that still exists.The WMC was founded in 2005 by a triumvirate of female media powerhouses: Gloria Steinem, Jane Fonda and Robin Morgan.

Gloria went to Smith – where I graduated from – so it is always nice to see her. She opened the evening honoring presentations by likeningstories in the media to a modern-day campfire, where stories are told and people express themselves.

"It is crucial that everyone's stories be told...the media is our campfire. And if we cannot tell our stories or have people listen to our stories, we feel alone,"she said.

The event was in the downstairs floor and garden at theSackler Foundation in New York City, surrounded by some of the collection’s artwork. Elizabeth Sackler is known for supporting the feminist art center at the Brookklyn Museum. The space was lovely but toosmall for about 100 attendees.The mostly female -- but some male – media and culture mavens, supporters, and some J school students ate hors d’oevres and then the awarees gave their acceptance speeches.

In her opening remarks, Steinem also associated the media with a modern-day campfire, a place where people gather to tell stories and express themselves. "It is crucial that everyone's stories be told...the media is our campfire," she said. "And if we cannot tell our stories or have people listen to our stories, we feel alone."

Candy Crowley, CNN’s Senior Political Correspondent was honored for her outstanding political coverage during the 2008 election.(add what we talked about).

Candy was as engaging and exceedingly clever in her remarks as she is in her reports, as she credited Gloria Steinemn forher career, and hoped women would be as accepted with grey hair as Wolf Blitzer.

When I said hello, Candy smiled and said, “Didn’t I see you on our air today?’’ She was right- I was on with Rick Sanchez talking about the public uncovering of Senator Ensign’s extra-marital affair and why men do it.

Candy also acknowledged the support of her son, a handsome 20-something musician who was there to support her.She told ofhow that support really mattered in her long time away from home, frustrated when covering news and blocked in getting the story.She still carried a printout of a text from him that cheered her on.

Earlier this month, Cansy also got a Gracie award (named after Gracie Allen of the comedy duo Burns and Allen) from my organization -- the American Women in Radio and Television. AWRT also gives awards for positive stories by and about women.It was for outstanding feature/hard news program for her coverage of Hillary Clinton's White House bid.

CNN Chief International Correspondent Christiane Amanpour wias also honored but not present. Nor was Tona Fey, honored for her work oin 30 Rock –not for her impersonation of Srah Palin, as you might have thought.

Having been to Sierra Leone and having met the son of a former President of Liberia at the 40threunion of Harvard Law School, I was also most interested that another award honored stories of women in Africa. Director Gini Reticker and producer Abigail Disney made the documentaryPray the Devil Back to Hell, about women in the peace movement in Liberia. Their stories had been overlooked by the media, as journalists told Reticker, "When they saw the women demonstrating, they said they looked so pathetic that they didn’t cover them. They were more interested in covering ten-year-old boys with guns who were high on drugs."

Having also just been to a United Nations video conference with NGOs and women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, I was also interested that a woman -- Lynn Nottage from Brooklyn (where I was born) -- was honored for her Pulitzer Prize-winning playRuined, about rape in the Congo.It played at the Manhattan Theatre Club. Noting sexism, Nottage said: “I really do believe that if this were a play written by a white male that it would be on Broadway…so I don’t quite understand why we haven’t transferred this, other than the unconscious bias."A Yale Drama School grad, Nottage also had aGuggenheim fellowship and won a MacArthur "Genius" Award – very impressive.Nottage told how Steinem inspired her when she stayed in the same cabin at a writing retreat and had writer’s block.

Much was made ofEditor-in-Chief of Salon.com Joan Walsh’s confrontation with Bill O’Reilly.

Besides cheers for positive media, there were jeers for negativeorganizations and events that shed a particularly negative light upon women in the past year.The list included:

• The Presidential Debate Commission: For its decision not to have women or people of color

as moderators of the final Presidential debates.

• Media Executives: For failing to create a diverse White House press corps.

• The Networks: For the lack of diversity among the hosts of the influential Sunday morning
pundit shows.

• "Deadly Words": A dishonorable mention given to media figures who use hyperbolic,
inflammatory and dangerous language against specific individuals, inciting violence against them.

Gloria Steinem said, "It's very important that we criticize when [women's coverage] is incomplete, but praise when it's complete."

In a daring closing remark,WMC board member Gloria Feldt – whom I know when she was past President of Planned Parenthood and also attends Renaissancce – told a joke whose punchline was"Bullshit can get you to the top, but it can't keep you there."

Another nice part of the evening was the connecting of three different decades of Smithies, a fond name for Smith College graduates: Gloria Steinem, Dr. JudyKuriansky, and Dr. Judy's intern Alexandra Frizzell.

While so much of the evening was about lauding Gloria for being a pioneer in feminism and women speaking out, when Dr Judy pointed out that she had just seen Gloria's picture in the Smith library when she was on campus for a reunion, Gloria seems a little disappointed noting her years there were quiet and staid in contrast tosubsequent years there - like Dr. Judy's -- whichweredefined by suchpolitical activism and social change. That was mostnoticeable in the 60s, but continues to be true in other ways for Alex'scontemporary times.

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