Seven Who Make Their Voices Heard for All of Us

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Gail Evans

Gail Evans, Author,
Former Executive Vice President, CNN

(WOMENSENEWS)–Gail Evans has a view about the rules and believes they could be the key to leveling the playing fields.

After leaving a top post of one of the most intense newsgathering organizations, she is getting into the habit of writing books that provide a bigger picture. “Play Like a Man, Win Like a Woman,” was an immediate best seller that details the strategies men use to succeed business and how women can adapt them.

The former executive vice president of CNN is now at work on a sequel tentatively titled “She Wins, You Win,” that urges women to look at competition differently. “For every woman who succeeds, all women succeed,” Evans says. “And for every woman who fails, all women fail. So we all need to get on the playing field together and help each other to be successful.”

Evans apparently developed this philosophy while operating in core of organization that could easily stand for the Competitive News Network.

“All the barriers that have been broken for women at CNN are because Gail broke them herself or stood behind others while they broke them,” says Greta Van Susteren, a lawyer who was discovered by Evans and is now one of CNN’s most high-profile anchors. Other women who worked at CNN also give Evans high marks for supporting their careers.

In 1980, Evans began working at what was known as the Cable News Network. The news channel at the time was “like any startup company,” she recalls. “They needed people who were smart, fast and cheap. So the ratio of men to women was always pretty good. But that was not true in the higher ranks.”

During her 21-year run, Evans developed Talk Back Live, television’s first live talk show; Burden of Proof, television’s first daily legal talk show; and CNN and Company, in which a panel of female experts debate the news, not only what are commonly seen as “women’s issues.” All the while, Evans was steadily putting more female faces onscreen and bringing more women into positions of authority at CNN.

“Women have finally learned the rules. We know how the boys do it,” says Evans, “But there’s one rule we haven’t learned yet: That we need to be out there supporting each other. We won’t become part of the national power structure unless we build our own power structure.”

Jessica HalemJessica Halem, Director,
Lesbian Community Cancer Project, Chicago

Jessica Halem is one of the youngest directors of a nonprofit organization in the United States. Even so, she has spent two decades preparing for the job.

She recalls being 9 years old and responding to an adult’s question about what she wished to be when she grew up: “A feminist!” she said.

In 2001, Halem began to lead the 10-year-old cancer project, which works to educate medical professionals on issues of sexual orientation, develops support groups for lesbians with cancer and makes “health issues matter to lesbians” by educating the community about the dangers of smoking, drinking and obesity.

“The fact that they hired someone so young was an indication of their commitment to prevention, acknowledging that women need to start thinking about cancer prevention long before age 40,” Halem says.

She wisecracks about her upbringing on her Web site, saying she is “no ordinary Jewish lesbian genius from a small town in Ohio.” The so-called small town is actually Kent, the home of Kent State University, a center for political activism in the state’s northern rim and the scene of the deadliest U.S. protest against the Vietnam War.

Halem, daughter of a professor of art at Kent State, was born in 1972, two years after that incident, in which National Guardsmen killed four college students.

“I knew early on that it was a radical act to be a political activist,” she says.

Right out of Sarah Lawrence College, she accompanied the U.S. delegation to the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing. She worked closely with members of the delegation, the former U.S. Rep. Bella Abzug from New York, known for her sharp wit. There, she says, she realized the power of laughter to bring people together and began to develop her stand-up comedy skills–as a tool for political activism.

After China, Halem moved to Chicago and landed a job as the marketing manager of Freezone.com, a now-defunct online community for curious kids and teens.

“It was business on steroids,” she says. “We used to talk about how years in an Internet company were like dog years, with so much going on.”

The company folded as so many others did, and Halem worked for a while in public relations. But that was only her day job. Halem also was building her career in comedy. She turned the local lesbian comedians into a touring group, Hysterical Women, with appearances and benefits throughout the Midwest.

She still tries to make audiences hysterical at night, but by day, she runs a project dedicated to preventing suffering. Studies have indicated that many lesbians are fearful of being open about their sexuality with medical professionals; other lesbians experience a sense of being given short shrift by physicians focusing on the outcomes of heterosexual activity.

“I talk to women every day who haven’t been to the doctor in 10 years,” Halem says.

Elizabeth MartinezElizabeth Martinez, Author,
Director, Institute for MultiRacial Justice

Often lost in the deluge of media attention on international issues following Sept. 11 is the fact that the previous weekend the World Conference on Racism, in Durban, South Africa, had just ended. Most of the press covered the fact that the nations represented were unable to resolve issues raised by the Israeli-Arab conflicts–and the U.S. involvements in the Middle East.

However, the conference drew thousands of women from all over the world, and, even with no official recognition of the link between race and gender bias, the women attending from non-governmental organizations were determined to demonstrate it by provided their living testimony.

One U.S. woman at the conference, Elizabeth Martinez, a board member of the Women of Color Resource Center, attended as part of her long and persistent struggle against race, gender and class oppression in the U.S.

“The hope is that people will recognize the need for a real transformation of this society,” she says.

Martinez is a veteran of the 1960s civil rights movement. Despite having many issues in common with those protesting racial bias, the predominately white feminist movement of that era was often plagued with indifference to racism and women’s struggles against it, she recalls.

Years later, Martinez penned an essay that expressed her reaction to this divide: “Caramba, Our Anglo Sisters Didn’t Get It.” In the essay, she recalls at a meeting on the night of the assassination of Martin Luther King, her consciousness-raising group thought it unnecessary to discuss the event.

Martinez never went back and instead began working on developing the abilities and leadership of young women, especially Chicanas.

Martinez has taught in the Women’s Studies departments of California state universities and she travels the country to speak about race and gender.

In 1997, she co-founded the Institute for MultiRacial Justice as a resource center to help facilitate multi-ethnic organizing and her Women of Color Resource Center played a decisive role in ensuring the participation of American women of color in the 1995 Beijing conference on women. That conference generated a host of projects that followed her lead including Women’s EDGE, that drafts legislation on international women’s issues.

Her six books, such as “Letters from Mississippi” and “De Colores Means All of Us: Latina Views for a Multi-Colored Century” are used as texts in many universities.

“I try to let people know about efforts people are making,” she says, “to win social justice.”

Dina MerrillDina Merrill, Vice-Chair,
Republican Pro-Choice Coalition

The world knows Dina Merrill as an actress and movie star, but in Republican circles she is fast becoming one of the party’s most successful lobbyists for women’s health issues. As vice-chair of the growing Republican Pro-Choice Coalition, Merrill uses her star power, determination and passion to gain support for legislation crucial to maintaining women’s reproductive freedom.

“Curiosity gets me in the door,” says Merrill, an actress with more than 25 leading roles in films, including “The Player and True Colors.” “When people recognize my name, they want to know why I’m calling them. And once I have them on the phone, often they’ll listen to what I have to say.”

Merrill was very much present at the 2000 Republican National Convention, although not inside the convention hall. She was across the street, buttonholing delegates and prospective candidates urging them to end the party’s anti-abortion stance.

She was also instrumental in persuading members of the New York legislature to support the state’s Clinic Access and Anti-Stalking Act of 1999, modeled after the federal law but with important distinctions that provide additional law enforcement resources to protect abortion clinic employees and patients.

Merrill currently is lobbying for the passage of the state’s Women’s Health and Wellness Act, would require insurance companies to provide coverage for women’s preventive medical services–mammography, bone density tests and contraception–that many women now must pay for themselves. Because of her tireless lobbying Republicans to support women’s right to reproductive health care, this year the Republican Pro-Choice Coalition chose Merrill as the honoree for its annual Choice Award.

“In many cases it’s just a question of opening the eyes of the legislators,” she says. “A lot of times they just don’t think about women’s issues. So we invite them to come to our conferences, and when they hear what these issues mean to women, it kind of stops them in their tracks.”

Dr. Rose Marie RobertsonDr. Rose Marie Robertson, Professor of Medicine,
Vanderbilt University Medical Center

Heart disease and heart attacks are often thought of as issues for middle-aged men.

If Dr. Rose Marie Robertson has her way, that will change. Currently the head of cardiology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn., she recently ended her term as the head of the American Heart Association, where she developed programs to raise the awareness in the medical profession and in female patients that the number one killer of women was not breast cancer, but heart disease.

She says that the public education about breast and cervical cancer and the need for regular examinations are public health success.

“Now we need a second victory around heart disease,” she says, “because more women die of heart disease than anything else.” At the Heart Association, she initiated education campaigns to encourage more dialogue about heart disease between women and their doctors and to promote the lifestyle changes that can dramatically reduce its incidence of heart disease.

Robertson knew as a young girl that she would emulate her mother, who was a physician in their Michigan farm community. Entering Johns Hopkins Medical School in 1970, she joined a class that included Bernardine Healy, later director of the American Red Cross, and Jeanne Wei, now on the faculty at Harvard Medical School. At that time, women were about 10 percent of the class, as compared with to 30 percent to 50 percent in most medical schools today.

Arriving at Vanderbilt in 1975, she has spent the last 26 years building her department, becoming a national spokeswoman on heart disease and health strategies for women and watching the transformation of her field.

“When I was an intern,” she says, “when a patient came in with a heart attack, you put the patient to bed and then you went to bed. There wasn’t much you could do.” Now, she says, “We both stay up all night. But I think the patient gets better care.”

Wanda RapaczynskiWanda Rapaczynski, President,
Agora International

Wanda Rapaczynski has found Poland’s post-communist business environment a fertile place for women. “The glass ceiling is far more tangible in the U.S. than here, ” says Rapacznynski, the head of a media empire and named by Business Week as one of the 50 most influential Europeans.

Yet she acknowledges that women’s success in business does not indicate they have full equality.

Making end runs around Poland’s male-dominated government, the news media she controls have strategically highlighted selected issues, such as domestic violence and conditions in maternity wards. And she has only just begun to see the potential for using her companies to improve conditions in her beloved Poland.

Growing up among the Polish elite, Rapaczynski was always expected to achieve academically. Her family instructed her that “girls don’t marry before they get their doctorates.” After her family left Poland in 1968, Rapaczynski continued her schooling abroad, and completed that doctorate in the United States, in psychology.

Her first taste of a different life came when she joined Yale University ‘s Family Television Research and Consultation Center. Then, she says, she realized that “being an academic is like being behind a glass partition: You see things but you don’t really affect them.” She entered Yale’s graduate school for business and joined Citibank’s new products division.

Throughout, she kept in touch with friends from Poland, Adam Michnik and Helena Luczywo, both of whom were helping lead the anti-communist Solidarity trade union movement of the 1970s and 1980s and was one of many expatriates helping sustain the movement.

When democratic elections were held in Poland, Luczywo and Michnik started a newspaper, Gazeta Wyborcza (Election Gazette). They asked their old friend to bring in her management and media skills to the project. For a while, Rapaczynski continued with Citibank while commuting to Poland, until the paper’s holding company, Agora, grew far too much for that.

In 1995, Rapaczynski moved Agora into radio: It now owns more than 15 radio stations across the country. In addition to Gazeta, the empire includes myriad smaller newspapers.

“It’s not an attractive world here,” says Rapaczynski, citing political infighting, sluggish progress and virtually nonexistent results. “The end result is frustration.” Only a long-needed political shake up, one that brings women into significant decision-making positions, will change this trend, she says.

Rapaczynski plans to advocate for change by creating successful ventures that spread the word.

“In a reasonably young democracy like ours, we have an important role to play,” she says.

Sister Christine VladimiroffSister Christine Vladimiroff, Prioress,
Benedictine Sisters of Erie, Pennsylvania

Sister Christine Vladimiroff speaks gently of her decision to stand her ground in deliberations with the Vatican–a course of action which could have led to expulsion from her order or ban her from participating in the rituals of her faith.

She did so, she says, because she was obeying a higher power than the pope–and a much older monastic tradition of obedience achieved through dialogue rather than hierarchical decree. Her decision also conforms with her lifelong mission as an educator, she says.

In March 2001, Vladimiroff, the prioress of the Benedictine Sisters of Erie, Pa., received a formal warning from the Vatican stating that a noted author in her community could not speak at a July 2001 Women’s Ordination Worldwide conference in Dublin, Ireland. The letter threatened unspecified “just penalties” if the warning was not obeyed. Instead of delivering it to the nun invited to speak, Vladimiroff met with all the members of her religious community and then with Vatican representatives. Vladimiroff even traveled to Rome in an unsuccessful attempt to persuade the Catholic authorities that the invitation to speak in Dublin should be honored.

Vladimiroff joined the convent at age 17 in her hometown of Erie because the nuns in her high school “were the most happy and competent women I had ever seen.” She pursued college degrees with the order’s support and earned a doctorate at the Universidad International in Mexico City. She has been a secretary of education for the Diocese of Cleveland, the second-largest Catholic school system in the country, a college professor and the executive director for 10 years of Second Harvest, the national network of food banks headquartered in Chicago. “I saw this as a way to educate people about hunger in the United States,” she says.

She resigned in 1998 when her order in Erie elected her their prioress–the equivalent of Mother Superior but, in this 1,500-year-old order, not any sort of commander.

Decisions are made by consensus and the order prays not to the “Father, Son and the Holy Spirit,” but to “Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier.” One of the order’s most well-known members is Sister Joan Chittister, author of 20 books, including “Heart of Flesh: A Feminist Spirituality for Women and Men,” and “Beyond Beijing,” her journal from the United Nations’ Fourth World Conference on Women. It was Chittister who was invited to address the ordination conference.

When Vladimiroff returned from Rome, she gathered all 135 members together and read them her response to the Vatican, in which she wrote that she could not, in good conscience, deliver the papal order to Chittister.

She was saying no to the Vatican. All but one of the members of her order added their signatures to the letter, which then made all of them subject to the same “just penalties.”

Chittister spoke and the Vatican took no action. After the conference ended and hundreds of participants from four continents had departed, the Vatican’s spokesman said that church authorities had “not taken–in this case–disciplinary measures into consideration.”

Vladimiroff finds the statement heartening, she says, “because it indicates an openness to continue a dialogue.”

“This was not about women’s ordination,” Vladimiroff says. “This was about silencing being wrong when dialogue brings truth.”

Chris Lombardi is a freelance writer in New York. She coordinated Women’s Enews’ Fall 2000 election coverage and helped cover the Beijing + 5 conference on women. Her work has been published in Ms. Magazine, The Progressive and Inside MS.

Intern Allison Steele assisted in the reporting and writing of these profiles. She has worked as a reporter for the Baltimore Sun, the Kansas City Star and The New York Times. She hopes to apply her background in journalism to a career in social work and legal defense.

For more information:

Gail Evans
“Play Like a Man, Win Like a Woman”:
http://book-dvd-movie-cd.com/Best_Selling_Books/Play_Like_a_Man_Win_Like/cd.com

CNN.com:
http://www.cnn.com/CNN/anchors_reporters/executives/evans.gail.html

Jessica Halem
Hysterical Women:
http://www.hystericalwomen.com/jessicahalem.htm

Lesbian Community Cancer Project (LCCP):
http://www.lccp.org/

Fourth World Conference on Women:
http://www.undp.org/fwcw/dawfwcw.htm

Elizabeth Martinez
Towards Social Justice:
http://www.tao.ca/~colours/crass3.html

Women of Color Resource Center:
http://www.coloredgirls.org/

Dina Merrill
Women’s International Center:
http://www.wic.org/bio/merrill.htm

Republican Pro-Choice Coalition:
http://www.rpcc.org/

Women’s Health and Wellness Act:
http://www.naralny.org/whew_action.htm

Dr. Rose Marie Robertson
American Heart Association:
Choose to Move:
http://www.choosetomove.org/interview.html

Wanda Rapaczynski
Corporate – Agora International:
http://www.agora.pl/agora_en/corporate/zarzad.html

Also see Women’s Enews, January 4, 2002:
Polish Women Locked Out of Politics, Win in Business:
http://www.womensenews.org/article.cfm/dyn/aid/712

Christine Vladimiroff
Association for the Rights of Catholics in the Church:
http://arcc-catholic-rights.org/prioress.htm

International Movement We Are Church (IMWAC):
http://www.we-are-church.org/it/attual/Congresso.donne.prete.html


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