Credit: Courtesy of MAKERS.


Credit: Courtesy of MAKERS.

(WOMENSENEWS)–The other night my 6-year-old son and I hopped into a taxi en route to his baseball game. A sweltering hot day, I knew my life would be easier if I succumbed to a taxi than walk the dozen blocks.

As usual, he argued to sit in front of those always annoying TVs on display in the backseat, often showing scantily clad women selling some product or spotlighting some dreadful piece of headline news. That night, after the perfunctory New York Taxi public service announcement, Gloria Steinem appeared. Steinem barely said a word when my son exalted: “This is the luckiest cab ever.”

It’s not just New York City taxi riders who are lucky enough to be treated to these video gems though; soon anyone, anywhere, can get glimpses into the lives of some of America’s most important and impactful women, thanks to a new digital collection of women’s stories.

Called MAKERS, these bite-size stories run about three minutes and can be streamed from any device. Created by Dyllan McGee for PBS and AOL and sponsored by Simple, the little historical records will become the basis of a PBS documentary on the women’s movement in America (to be aired in early 2013).

As I get ready to mark Women’s Equality Day today and think about the backbreaking work women put toward gaining the right to vote, MAKERS is a reminder of how women are continuing the battle from all those decades ago, but unfortunately that history has mostly had to be cobbled together by women’s studies experts.

Refuting Assumptions

Now future history makers will have easier access to the story behind the change laid before them. I have been peripherally involved with MAKERS from the get go, and take it from me, these videos are just what the women’s movement needs: showing us the breadth and depth of feminism as it has always been. No matter how many articles are written to state that feminism isn’t exclusively a white-middle-class movement or that it is about raising the floor as much as it is about breaking the ceiling, this collection’s very existence refutes those assumptions.

There are women we know and (mostly) love, such as Katie Couric, Sandra Day O’Connor, Billie Jean King and Christiane Amanpour. There is also Kathrine Switzer, the first documented woman to run a marathon, and Maria Pepe, whose tenacity made it possible for all girls to play in The Little League. And Byllye Avery, creator of the The Black Women’s Health Imperative.

I’ve used the videos in my daily life regularly to contextualize women’s contributions. Our family trip to Washington, D.C., was prompted by my older son’s love of the Fudge books penned by Judy Blume. In trying to explain how I loved Blume, too, we watched her video and the controversy when she dared to utter the word “masturbation.” (That one I might have pre-screened before watching with my 8-year-old.) In working on an event honoring Sarah Weddington, I linked to her profile in order to inspire others about the event.

Beyond the Names

Undertaking what will become the largest collection of living American women’s stories, of course, raises the question of “what women?” MAKERS might be able to be comprehensive, but by its own admission, it can’t be complete. How does one choose the top 100 women in contemporary American history? You don’t; you can’t.

This project started by focusing only on American women and living women. Other criteria had less to do with the individual stories and more to do with overall image–creating a tapestry that didn’t give too much weight to some professions (women in politics or novelists) or underestimate the importance of women across disciplines (not exclusively those who self-identify as a part of “the” movement). This imperfection might in fact be the greatest asset of this project: using women who have made the biggest impact on America to inspire even more amazing feats of greatness. It also presents feminism as contemporary as much as historical.

The lesson for the 6-year-olds who are lucky and the rest of us is that as we learn that women are unique in their excellence, they are often unified by compassion, perseverance and driven to not be the last or the only. And that is what makes them a MAKER.

Amy Richards is the co-creator of Soapbox: Speakers Who Speak Out, and the author of “Opting In: Having A Child Without Losing Yourself,” among other books, articles and missives. Richards is also the co-founder of the Third Wave Foundation and the voice behind Ask Amy. Help find the next MAKERS. Nominate a remarkable woman today, #NextMAKER.

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