Whip out that #OscarsSoMale hashtag. This year, the Academy snubbed such filmmakers as Gina Prince-Bythewood, Maria Schrader, Sarah Polley, and Charlotte Wells as Best Director nominees. In The Wrong Kind of Women, Naomi McDougall Jones writes that this snubbery—read: discrimination—owes itself to “the film industry’s fetishization of the male ‘genius’ auteur filmmaker.” Must the patriarchy be so basic? At least Sarah Polley took home a Best Adapted Screenplay Academy Award for her film Women Talking.
Regardless of Tinseltown’s Old Boys Club, snubbery won’t stop women directors from telling stories—a form of revolution to dismantle the gods of Hollywood. The same goes for all women contending with the patriarchy to tell stories in all other media: print, radio, stage, blogs, podcasts, news, social media, etc.
In the spirit of this year’s theme for Women’s History Month, Celebrating Women Who Tell Our Stories, here’s an inexhaustive batch of recommended reading and book-length shout-outs to the women who’ve done so, from the past and from today. Because these stories, in all their nuances and varieties, are what map out and thread together women’s history.
“How we treat disabled people, how we treat minorities, boils down to our fundamental beliefs about humanity. Do we believe that we all have something to contribute, regardless of where we’re from, how we move or think, the language we speak, the color of our skin, the religion we choose, and the people we love? Do we believe in equality? We need to look inside and think deeply about whether we really believe this to be true.”
—Judith Heumann with Kristen Joiner
“In the 2000s, [Cathy] McBroom was one of the only women in the United States who was publicly raising allegations about sexual harassment and sexual misconduct by a federal judge. In 2006, an activist from New York, Tarana Burke, suggested that women should band together to combat pervasive stories of sexual abuse and assault by sharing what she called ‘Me Too’ stories, though Burke’s idea would not fully take hold until 2017. That year, other women finally began to speak out about how other powerful federal judges had committed sexual harassment and other forms of misconduct. Many men cloaked in the power of their black robes seemed to have gotten away with it.”
“Like the ones who came before, she lived an artist’s life, a flesh and blood life, with a great deal of difficulty and little in the way of respectability once she committed fully to who she was. She did things that were politically dangerous. She was brave and also fearful; experimental and superb.”
“Ultimately, momfluencer culture allows us to control—at least to an extent—the mythology of our own motherhood. I don’t have a ton of followers on Instagram, but every mom-centric photograph or caption I post is chosen to communicate something specific about my motherhood, about the type of mom I want others to see when they look at me.”
“After centuries of living in the societies we have made, we call what we see ‘patriarchy.’ From here it appears almost conspiratorial, as though it was cleverly planned out from the start—when, in truth, it has always been a slow grift. We can see this for ourselves in the patriarchs still trying to stretch their tentacles into our lives today.”
Black feminist women are being heard in ways they have never been heard before. Social media networks provide platforms for conversations that we have long been having in our hair salons and our churches, by our watercoolers and in our breakrooms, and in our housing project courtyards and systematically segregated classrooms . . . . We have to look at how, over the last decade, Black women have harnessed their ingenuity and their magic and have taken to digital platforms to advance the fight toward liberation while honoring the ways in which Black Feminism has been the guiding theoretical framework for our collective progress.
“Although Lizzo locates Tharpe historically with her phrase ‘back in the day,’ in talking about [Janelle] Monáe’s ability to set ‘the example’ for contemporary ‘black and queer and big’ artists, she connects the dots between past and present. We need monuments to Rosetta Tharpe, but we also need to work for a world in which the trailblazing Rosetta Tharpes of today can thrive. Only then we will have truly ‘told’ Tharpe’s story.”
“Most of the women of Operation Life have now passed on. But they would be happy to see this new era of activism. Still, there is one aspect of their movement that perhaps could be highlighted more dramatically. They insisted that poor mothers are the real experts on poverty, that their vision and their labor are crucial if we really hope to improve the lives of this country’s poor mothers and children. “We can do it and do it better,” they often said. This is a history of extraordinary women who did exactly that. We have never needed their vision more.”
“Black women have been leaders in medicine in America for over 150 years, despite the immense barriers erected along their paths. They’ve succeeded in medical specialties, surgical specialties, public health, and policy while providing care for underserved communities on the local, national, and international levels. They’ve changed the culture of medicine, making the field more accessible for women and people of color coming behind them.”
“Dorothy had a profound impact on her community and on the women’s movement, even if it is not yet widely recognized. For many years now, women’s historians have understood that it is wrong to grant only white women in the women’s movement agency and power to create political change. Dorothy’s route from New York City community activism through the women’s movement and beyond has been a challenge to document, but a genuine commitment to understanding the wider history of Black activism makes it vital to piece together, lift up, and publish stories such as Dorothy’s.”
—Laura L. Lovett
“As the lead voice for how a film comes together and as the person in charge on set, a director’s role is absolutely crucial. But the final product of their work is not based on solitary effort. Neither is their success or failure. Where this becomes particularly problematic is that women do not benefit from the genius myth. When a woman’s film succeeds, it’s because of the team effort, and a female director is frequently replaced on the sequels since her work isn’t seen as all that crucial. When her film fails, however, the failure is hers alone.”
—Naomi McDougall Jones