By Robin Hindery
Sunday, January 2, 2005
Estefania "Stephanie" Alves, Loreen Arbus, Charon Asetoyer, Sallie Gratch, Wilhelmina Cole Holladay, Anne Hale Johnson, Barbara Lee.
Estefania "Stephanie" Alves knew she wanted to raise her voice on behalf of young women in her Dorchester, Mass., neighborhood. Now that voice is coming across the airwaves, reaching farther than she ever thought possible.
Alves, just turned 19, is the co-founder of Radio LOG 540-AM in Boston, which broadcasts music that "respects and empowers" women and brings in local women to talk on the air about their accomplishments and issues such as HIV and teen pregnancy.
The idea for the station came to her when she was 17 and a junior in high school. She and some friends approached their local community center leader, Larry Mayes, for help with developing a project that could reach out to the youth in their largely immigrant, low-income neighborhood. Mayes scheduled a meeting with Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, who asked them to brainstorm ideas.
"All of a sudden I said, 'Hey, what about a radio station?'" says Alves, now a sociology and human development major at Boston College. She says the idea stemmed from her childhood love of all forms of media, her experience as an HIV peer leader and her involvement in student council in high school.
After strong support from the mayor and members of the community, the station started up in February, and now airs live Monday through Thursday from 4-7 p.m. Its motto is "Where the voices of young women are heard and respected."
The youth staff consists of 18 female teens from the Dorchester community, ages 12 to 18, who are paid a small stipend. Alves acts as a coach to the girls and a general supervisor, rarely going on the air herself.
The station's selective music programming was a response to the women-bashing lyrics in many of today's rap songs, Alves says.
"If the station is there to empower women, the music we play can't degrade them," she says.
Alves' work was recognized recently by the National Organization for Women, and she was recently contacted by groups of young women both in England and Virginia who hope to start similar stations in their own communities.
Loreen Arbus made a deal that would go down in cable history.
It was the early 1980s, and she had just left ABC for Showtime, where she was the first woman to head network programming. The cable network at that point was much like Arbus herself; struggling to form its identity and gain recognition in a male-dominated industry.
Her first move was to persuade two writers to air their comedy series, "Bizarre," on then-obscure Showtime. The show became the first scripted comedy series on cable television.
"It was quite a big step forward," she says. "Back then, people thought cable was the enemy."
Bolstered by that success, Arbus took on another project: heading up programming for the Cable Health Network/Lifetime. The 24-hour network was the first of its kind, she says, focusing primary on health and women-focused programming. It became the model for the modern version of Lifetime Television for Women, she adds.
But Arbus says little has changed for women in film and television in the two decades since she cracked the glass ceiling of the cable industry. "We have a great deal more presence in sales, marketing and programming, but we are not well represented as directors and producers. In the past couple of years there has been less opportunity for women, in terms of management positions across the board, due to consolidation" in the media industry.
So today Arbus--who has moved on to form her own non-fiction programming company, Loreen Arbus Productions--encourages women in film, television and communications.
Arbus--who on top of everything else is a renowned Argentine tango dancer, choreographer and teacher--serves on 10 boards, including the John F. Kennedy School of Government Women's Leadership Board. As board member of the Museum of Television and Radio she is co-organizing the Women's Collection, which will sponsor events featuring women in media.
Charon Asetoyer battles on behalf of indigenous women.
"Our traditional laws did not exclude or belittle us," she wrote in March. "Our voices were never questioned until the dominant society, through the colonial process, started to impact our society."
Asetoyer, a Comanche who married into the Yankton Sioux tribe in Lake Andes, S.D., hopes the project she has spearheaded since 1988, the Health Education Resource Center, can start to re-establish the rights that Native American women have lost over the years.
The center was created as an offshoot of the reservation's Native American Community Board, which Asetoyer also founded. The resource center assists indigenous women and their families through policy work as well as direct services and coalition-building with other indigenous women around the world. It was the nation's first reservation-based resource center.
In 1991, the center opened a domestic-violence shelter that provides women and children refuge from sexual assault and domestic abuse. Many other programs have followed, including one for fetal-alcohol awareness and AIDS prevention for young people.
Asetoyer says the biggest challenge is protecting women's rights and Native American traditions and health practices from outside groups and government organizations. For example, she noted, the word "abortion" is not in any indigenous language, but the practice of terminating a pregnancy to preserve a woman's health is part of basic medical knowledge and was traditionally a decision left to the woman.
Yet the Sioux reservation's primary health care provider is a division of the United States Public Health Service. With the 1976 passage of the Hyde Amendment, women on the reservation were restricted from abortion services. The amendment excludes abortion from the comprehensive health care services provided to low-income people by the federal government through Medicaid.
As a peace activist during the Cold War, Sallie Gratch understood well the concept of citizen diplomacy. In that context it meant individuals from different nations reducing the threat of nuclear war by communicating and getting to know one another.
She now uses that same approach to promote Judaism and feminism.
Gratch, a social worker, founded Project Kesher 10 years ago after a six-month stay in Kiev opened her eyes to the hunger of Jewish women in the Former Soviet Union to learn more about Judaism and to connect with other Jewish women in their communities. "I realized I could combine all the things I cared about so deeply--social work, feminism and Judaism--to create one organization," she says.
The project, whose headquarters is in Evanston, Ill., is a grassroots organization with a mission to renew Jewish life, empower women financially and secure women's health and safety. It facilitates the creation of groups of women by providing a process, infrastructure and resources.
Project Kesher took off at a conference Gratch helped organize in 1994 in Kiev that gathered several hundred Jewish women from around the world. "The women could not get enough of talking to one another," Gratch recalled. "The power behind our efforts all along was really in the women themselves."
The organization currently operates in 165 communities within Russia, Moldova, Belarus and Ukraine. In addition to the core leaders in the United States, there are 7,000 members in the Former Soviet Union working towards the project's continued success. Project Kesher's work is not limited to Jewish women. Gratch says efforts to include "our non-Jewish sisters" are central to many chapters, as shown by projects to curb sex trafficking or combat domestic violence or train women of all backgrounds to use computers.
She hopes that world leaders will note the success of projects like hers as they try to repair damaged relationships and forge new alliances. The project's mission--to help individuals build coalitions and work toward consensus--is "common sense on how nations can work with each other for peace," she says.
Wilhelmina Cole Holladay is a collector and philanthropist who pulls female artists into the cultural limelight.
She and her husband, Wallace Holladay, first began collecting art in the 1960s. They quickly realized that the near-invisibility of women in the art world meant a huge wealth of talent was being wasted.
"Wherever we went on our travels, we would go to top commercial galleries and ask for art by women," Holladay says. "They would always tell us, 'We have nothing.' But once they realized how serious we were, they would always manage to dig up something beautiful that had just been hidden away."
The Holladays committed themselves for over 20 years to assembling art by women. By 1980, Holladay--who studied art history at Elmira College in New York and did post-graduate study at the University of Paris--knew she was ready to present that art to the world. She began to devote her energies and resources to creating a museum that would showcase female artists.
In 1981, the National Museum of Women in the Arts was born in Washington, D.C. It operated as a private, nonprofit museum until 1987, when it opened in a new permanent location. The museum's Web site claims it is the only museum in the world dedicated exclusively to female artists.
Since then, the museum's holdings have grown to include works by more than 800 artists. Holladay has also spearheaded an effort to establish a $25 million endowment--$18 million has already been raised--on top of $15 million she has helped amass in planned giving.
The next step, Holladay says, is to increase the museum's international presence. The Louvre has says it will loan a collection of paintings by female artists for an exhibition in the near future.
As a philanthropist, a pro-choice activist and a progressive leader within the religious community, Anne Hale Johnson puts her actions and her energy where her passions lie.
As a young girl growing up in the 1920s, Johnson knew early on that there was a difference between how boys and girls were treated and viewed by society. But Johnson--born in Rochester, N.Y., the home of Susan B. Anthony from a line of college-educated women--sensed the gender gap could be bridged.
As board chair of Union Theological Seminary in New York, which trains progressive people who wish to enter the ministry from a diversity of religious backgrounds, Johnson is helping further the institution's women-friendly, atmosphere. Johnson received a master's degree from the school in 1956, just a month before Presbyterian Church USA ordained its first female minister. Today, two-thirds of the students at Union today are women, as are more than half of the tenured professors.
Johnson has continued her support of progressive ideas within the religious community by serving on the board of directors of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice and the Covenant Network of Presbyterians, a group that supports gay ministers and an all-inclusive church. She has fought within the church in support of pro-choice positions, and has funded several studies of conservative religious groups in order to inform the public of their anti-choice, anti-gay agendas.
Johnson will likely step down from Union's board in May, after eight years as chair. But she will continue teaching her weekly class at her local Presbyterian church and will continue her advocacy for causes that are closest to her heart.
"A woman's right to choose is being threatened, and that will remain my number one cause," she says. "Without that, we become victims, unable to order our own lives."
Barbara Lee had her "Aha!" moment in the early 1990s.
Lee, a philanthropist with a background in teaching and social work, was listening to a speaker talk about philanthropy's ability to set off a social revolution.
"I had never thought about it that way before," Lee says. "I had always been more of a traditional giver, when it came to charitable organizations, but after that I began to explore how to empower women in new ways through my gifts."
Lee decided the best way to empower women was to get a woman elected president and co-founded the White House project.
Studies over a period of a few years convinced her that the pipeline to a female presidency would most likely run through a governor's office ala Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.
Through her Barbara Lee Family Foundation, she started various projects--including Women's eNews--aimed at supporting women in politics and public policy. For example, she launched a "Governor's Guidebook" series that offers practical guidance to female candidates.
Most recently, Lee organized Revolutionary Women Boston 2004, a major rally and concert during the Democratic National Convention in Boston. Revolutionary Women Boston was a grassroots event designed to engage, mobilize and empower women from all walks of life to support progressive, pro-choice female candidates for local, state and federal office. Revolutionary Women, a membership based organization, continues to expand on the groundwork laid during the inaugural event by communicating with members through a weekly newsletter and endorsing candidates in key races across the country.
Lee--influenced by her grandmother's advice about the importance of the suffragists' movement and women's voice in democracy--was also an early supporter of the nonpartisan, get-out-the-vote organization, "Women's Voices. Women Vote."
The organization focuses primarily on getting women--especially unmarried women--to vote and let politicians know about the issues of special concern to them. Lee's initial donation leveraged the group's ability to raise more funds.
Lee also has made an effort to support both individual female artists and exhibitions of female artists. Her devotion to Boston's cultural and political life led Boston Magazine in 2003 to name her among "The 100 Women Who Run This Town."
Robin Hindery is a writer for Women's eNew