From child marriage to being forced to abstain from formal education, Woman with Gloria Steinem examines the hardships women continue to experience around the world in the 21st century. The eight-part series is presented by the trailblazing activist, whose work in the areas of women’s rights and gender equality have made her an authority in the field.
Woman executive producer Amy Richards is a writer and self-described “professional feminist”, who co-founded Soapbox Inc, the world’s largest feminist speakers’ bureau, and the Third Wave Foundation. Here, Richards reflects on the impact of Woman and the challenges of continuing her work in Trump's America.
Why do think Woman has had such a profound impact?
The message of Woman is timeless – women are being exploited, damaged and underestimated. The facts haven’t changed, but there is now more willingness to hear them. For someone like Gloria Steinem, who has been writing about similar issues of gender inequality since the late 1960s, the message and facts haven’t evolved much, but there are now many more people willing to work toward interrupting those injustices. What we now know to be true is that besides having a direct impact on women, such treatment also devastates entire economies. Understanding that respecting women is in the best interest of everyone makes the message harder to ignore.
What was your goal with Woman? Do you think you have achieved it?
The goal was to document and ultimately disrupt the assumption that “women’s issues” are exclusively a human rights crusade for the betterment of women. My awakening to the fact that what happens to women today has to the potential to impact everyone was 9/11. Before September 11, 2001, no one paid much attention to the Taliban because their target was mostly just women and girls. That all changed on that infamous day. How we treat women is an indicator of how we treat the world.
I also had a goal of bringing issues I long knew about to a less predictable audience, so VICELAND was the perfect partner. I will admit we were sensitive to how this material might be handled by what had been dubbed “the boy’s club” of Vice. Were they just looking to capture more female viewers? Would they silo the content off in a sidebar? Would they make us have a happy ending?
We didn’t set out to create a series. We talked about the content and what medium would make the most sense to present it in. Over time, it became clear an eight-part series for their soon-to-be launched network would be the best format. Telling a story is so much more powerful than recapping facts and that’s what this series did. It allowed viewers to experience the stories in real time and through trusted guides.
VICELAND was the perfect partner – and this series set new standards. Not only were women the narrators and trusted sources, but they were often the camerawomen and the producers.
Is there an episode or moment in particular that speaks to you?
When I was onsite for the segment being filmed in Zambia on child marriage, I was with a crew of five others who were mostly younger than me by at least a decade. Within a few hours of being on the ground, I realised most of them were learning these facts for the first time. They couldn’t comprehend – and initially believe – the depths of the hatred of women. What was old news to me was a revelation to them. In that moment I realised how important it was to tell these stories to the VICELAND audience – people who often hadn’t yet been awoken to the inequalities around gender.
On this same segment, we were about to film the actual wedding of Dialess, the 14-year-old girl being married off. I felt it was intrusive and like an outsider exploiting these people. Once the film was completed, I realised how necessary it was to show the whole story and allow audiences to fully understand. After the film came out, I had a chance to travel to Zambia and host a screening there with local women. Again, I felt presumptuous showing “them” film about “their” country and worried they would feel exposed. The opposite happened – they felt seen, heard and cared about.
Away from the series, what inspires you?
I love being surrounded by extremes – those who have power and influence, and those who think they don’t matter – and connecting the two. I also love helping people on their path toward feminism. I have long noted that what stands in the way of living in a more feminist infused world isn’t a belief in feminism, but an understanding of how one can be feminist. I love pointing people in directions that make the most sense for them.
Living in Trump’s America and seeing Planned Parenthood attacked, but then seeing such movements as the Women’s March, do you think we are heading towards achieving equality?
Even if Hillary Clinton was president, we would still be far away from achieving equality. The more we learn about the inequalities, the more we have to evolve our definition of equality and the goals of feminism. Thirty years ago, parity felt like progress, but now there's more proof that simply balancing an imbalanced system won’t help all women. We need to find multiple definitions of success.
Our biggest hurdle is that thus far feminism has mostly focused on empowering women, but hasn’t been bold enough to tear down masculinity. In theory, yes, masculinity has been identified as an obstacle to feminism. But there are many systems we assume sustain us – the military, marriage, Wall Street, corporations. We have to be willing to challenge these systems and acknowledge our dependence on them in order to fully realise a feminist future.
What is the role of men in feminist perspectives, and how they can be allies without being accused of appropriating or mansplaining areas of women’s lives?
Historically, men were often involved in feminism “on behalf of” the women in their lives (their daughters, mothers, sisters, friends, etc.). Certainly that remains an important role. The powerful group is always more likely to be trusted, because their words won’t be written off as “why are you taking this so personally?” As a white and straight person, I know I have a certain privilege and security to point out racism and homophobia. While I still think men should provide that same support and validation, I think it’s more important for men to look at the ways their lives might be limited by trying to fulfil gendered expectations.
I had a great epiphany years ago doing a big voter registration effort. I had assumed I was participating because I wanted to reach out to marginalised communities, and help them feel empowered and less marginalised. In making my pitch to one woman to register to vote, I realised that not having a fully engaged citizenry was also personally impacting me. My country failing to live up to its promise of democracy was not only hurting disenfranchised communities but hurting all of us. I think men need to ask themselves similar questions.
What other projects are you working on?
I just completed a book for tweens about inspiring women and girls. It’s based on MAKERS.com and it was great fun to put together. I’m also working on a book, 101 Ways to Be a Feminist. And Woman will have season two – so lots to look out for.
What advice do you have for young writers, activists and feminists who are struggling to see the light at the end of the tunnel?
Change rarely happens from the top down, but from the bottom up. Many people doing many things is far more impactful. Political change is crucial, but enacting that change is a bigger battle. For journalists specifically, as important as facts are, people are more likely to be moved by stories.
Stream Woman with Gloria Steinem now at SBS On Demand: