Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Why Women Matter

Am I a feminist? Yes. What does that mean? It means that I, in all facets of life, believe that women (young and old) deserve the same rights as men. The reason we deserve those rights is because we have just as much to bring to the table. For me, in this day and age, one of the most powerful things about the way many women work is their ability to shake the world and make waves, while carefully ensuring that the most fragile amongst us don't get swallowed up by the storm. I love that women can be strong, yet gentle. Passionate, yet measured. The feminist movement started long ago and many people are still fighting to move things forward. The landscape has changed, but the goal remains the same. I must admit there are days when I feel anything but ready for battle. Those are the days when I am so grateful for the many warriors, past and present, who fearlessly stood and still stand on the field - demanding equality and that their voices be heard.

A few weeks ago my eyes were opened to a powerful documentary that features these warriors that I refer to. As soon as I saw the trailer I knew that this project was right in line with what we like to highlight at The Sentimentalist. This body of work, MAKERS, features women who have changed our world for the better. Some in small ways, many in large, have had the courage to stand up and say "I don't like the way things are going so I am going to change them." Kudos to these groundbreaking "Makers". I admire them and some day I know my young daughters will understand the importance of what these women did. I am glad that their stories now have a home. 

The MAKERS Trailer

A Conversation with Nancy Armstrong, Web Producer, MAKERS - Women Who Make America:

Why make a documentary about this topic right now?
A documentary on this topic is actually long overdue. It is phenomenal how far women have advanced in America over just 50 years, and the comprehensive story of the movement that forever altered the world we live in today has never been told in this way, in the words of the women who lived it.  In terms of women's issues and women's equality, it's important to understand where we've been, in order to chart a course for the way forward.  Gloria Steinem has said that a movement takes 100 years.  We are fifty years into the women's movement, so there is still a long way to go.

MAKERS: Gloria Steinem

Whose interview surprised you most? 
I have been fortunate to interview so many amazing women through the course of this project, from Martha Stewart, Marlo Thomas, Diane Von Furstenberg, and Danica Patrick, to less familiar but equally game-changing women like Muriel Siebert, who was the first woman to own a seat on the New York Stock Exchange, and Barbara Burns, who was one of the first female coalminers. All of the women were fascinating to interview, and all of them made an indelible mark on American history.  

What was one of your more emotional interviews?
My very first interview for MAKERS was with Maria Pepe, the first girl to play little league baseball.  She was a gifted ball player who was chosen to play on a team because of her talent, and unceremoniously removed from the team because of her gender. This is one of the quintessential MAKERS stories in that it clearly illustrates how one girl's courage helped change the rule books on whether or not girls could participate on Little League sports teams. Maria and I both cried during her interview, and her final profile piece on MAKERS.com still makes me a little teary. The stories of these women are so powerful.

MAKERS: Maria Pepe

How can we explain the movement and this documentary to the youngest of our communities? 
The easiest way to introduce young girls to the project is through the groundbreaking profile pieces on the Web that are produced in short video clips. These are perfect for introducing smaller children to the project with the gripping three-minute stories that they will marvel at. For example, it was hard for my 7 and 9-year-old daughters to believe that women were not always allowed to compete in marathon races, and after watching Katherine Switzer's incredible story, they were able to understand and recount this piece of history in a meaningful way, and feel gratitude for her courage in opening up that opportunity for women.

MAKERS: Katherine Switzer

Why should men care about this project? 
Men do care about this content. What surprised us most about the traffic on MAKERS.com is that 48% of it is male. Groundbreaking accomplishments are interesting on their own, whether they pertain to men or women. Gender discrimination was rampant until women woke up and decided to start aggressively challenging that in the 1960's.  There were also many men who were feminists during that period, who fought alongside women for equal rights. I would imagine that for men living in today's society with daughters of their own, there is a strong measure of gratitude to those groundbreaking women who transformed society into one in which their daughters will be able to pursue their dreams without limitations. As a practical matter, men want this country to be successful just as much as women do, and if the advancement of half of the population, and therefore half of the talent, is stifled in some way, the country is ultimately less successful.

What is next for Makers?
There is no set number for the MAKERS program – this is an evergreen project with limitless bounds. There are so many incredible women that we can celebrate. The collection of MAKERS will continue to grow and evolve beyond the broadcast, as new stories are added to the site on a weekly basis.

Where and when can people see the full documentary?
MAKERS - Women Who Make America debuts as a three-part documentary at 8pm on PBS on February 26, 2013 (check local listings).

The Sentimentalist will be watching on the 26th, and I hope you will too.

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