Rewriting the Score: Advancing Women’s Representation in Classical Music


Join Ms., Feminist Majority Foundation and the American Youth Symphony in Los Angeles for a FREE concert featuring music from three women composers to ring in AYS’ Year of the Woman! Click here to reserve a seat.

Among the many aspects of contemporary life and culture in which women’s representation is edging toward equity, the field of classical music is making progress. There is ample opportunity for this progress—given that classical music has been built on centuries of works composed, performed and curated by men.

Women’s representation has been notably increasing among orchestra musicians, especially as more organizations institute blind auditions as a standard practice, placing a curtain between auditioning musicians and judges. According to the League of American Orchestras, the percentage of women instrumentalists has gone from 38.2 percent in 1978 to nearly 50 percent in 2018. (Recent headlines, however, suggest that the gender pay gap in the field remains significant.)

Statistics from Bachtrack also note that significantly more female composers were featured in 2018 concerts than in previous years, but equitable participation is not as apparent in regard to conductors and composers. The same statistics show that only five of the top 100 conductors and only two of the top 100 composers were women. According to a report by The Guardian, only 2 percent of works programmed by top orchestras worldwide this season were written by women, and 95 percent of concerts only included music written by men. And while there has been a recent wave of women hired to conduct, especially in the U.S., anecdotally, data from the League of American Orchestras shows that the percentage of women holding music director positions is virtually the same in 2018 as it was in 2006—roughly nine percent.

In an effort to push forward the dialogue around representation of women in classical music, the American Youth Symphony (AYS) has declared the current 2018/19 season “The Year of the Woman.” Founded in 1964, AYS has welcomed women since the beginning—even during a time when many orchestras and training programs were not so inclusive. (Fittingly, the AYS mission is to “inspire the future of classical music.”)

This season features two concerts fully devoted to showcasing the talent of women in classical music, and all but one of the season’s nine performances prominently feature a woman in a leadership position: composers, guest artists and fellows in charge of programming. The exception is our annual Hollywood Project concert, in which the orchestra plays the live score to a full-length film; this year, we’re doing Raiders of the Lost Ark.

An upcoming AYS concert on February 23rd marks the capstone of The Year of the Woman—and the first live event in a new series called AYS Amplifies, an ongoing effort to amplify the voices of people doing important work in the classical music community. Sponsored by Ms. and the Feminist Majority Foundation, the concert will feature only music that has been written by women: Lera Auerbach, Jennifer Higdon and Susan Botti, who will also perform live as a guest artist with the orchestra. (Both the performance and pre-concert conversation are free and open to the public, though reservations are recommended.) The concert will be preceded by a conversation facilitated by AYS Music Director Carlos Izcaray about the representation of women in classical music, with a focus on composers, featuring Botti and Ms. Executive Editor Katherine Spillar.

A study by Quartz found that only 31 percent of musicians in top orchestras are women, and that only 21 percent of principal and titled positions were held by women. But of the musicians in the 2018/19 orchestra at AYS, which conducts blind auditions in order to select musicians based on merit and artistic ability only, 45 percent are women; and 52 percent of principal and titled positions are held by women. In addition to performance training, AYS also currently offers three professional development fellowship positions, all of which are held by women this season—the Concertmaster, Orchestra Management Fellow and Citizen Musician Fellow. It may also be worth noting that all four full-time staff positions at AYS are held by women—including me, the AYS Executive Director.

But AYS is also not the only organization moving toward gender equity; there are others doing incredible work, and we use our platform to share their efforts when possible. We have started featuring people and programs supporting women at all stages of their careers on the new AYS Amplifies blog, and we welcome recommendations for others to highlight. (You can reach us via email at amplify@aysymphony.org.)

I couldn’t be more thrilled to be part of AYS—and to have joined during The Year of the Woman! I was introduced as the new Executive Director at the first concert of the season, and met Maestro Izcaray in person for the first time at the post-concert reception. “I hope every year after this,” I said lightheartedly after a few minutes of conversation, “isn’t The Year of the Man!” Although he could have laughed it off as a joke, he responded in earnest and shared his ideas for more equitable gender representation moving forward.

It is a beautiful and humbling responsibility to be able to influence future generations of musicians and audience members through our programs. Given that AYS alumni are playing in orchestras across the U.S. and around the world, we have the opportunity to influence the field at-large. Our season themes will change year to year, but we are committed to “inspiring the future of classical music” to be one that is more equitable.

Tara Aesquivel is the Executive Director of the American Youth Symphony. She strives to share the power of the arts with others through her work—which has included strategic planning, fundraising, production and community engagement for Pittsburgh Opera, LA Opera, A Noise Within, Antioch University Los Angeles, The Lukens Company and Invertigo Dance Theatre. Tara has a B.A. in Music from the University of Missouri at Kansas City, a Master of Arts Management from Carnegie Mellon University and studied Cultural Economics at the University of Bologna. She volunteers with Emerging Arts Leaders Los Angeles and the Cal State Dominguez Hills Innovation Incubator and enjoys traveling, hiking and being a mom.

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LISTEN: Sisterhood, Accountability and Ravenously Hungry Girls


Emmy and duPont-Columbia award-winning journalist Anissa Gray’s debut novel The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls is a poignant exploration of sisterhood and motherhood situated at the intersections of race and gender.

When Althea and her husband, Proctor, face charges related to their local restaurant-cum-community-charity that cause their family to fall from grace, her sisters Lillian and Viola find themselves rarely reunited in an effort to care for her daughters, Baby Vi and Kim. As the couple awaits their fates, the Butler family members standing strong in Lillian’s home are forced to reckon with some of their darkest memories—and figure out how to forge an unthinkable path together toward healing.

Gray’s novel, narrated through the alternating voices of Althea, Lillian and Viola, hits shelves in bookstores across the country today. The audiobook, narrated by January LaVoy, Adenrele Ojo, Bahni Turpin and Dominic Hoffman, is now ready for your earbuds as well.

Gray covers much ground in telling the engrossing story of the Butler family—including eating disorders, the disparate consequences of a turbulent economy and the fresh wounds of centuries of racial injustice. In the exclusive clip for Ms. readers below, the tied-tightly and therefore ever-put-together Lillian attempts to quiet her own inner turmoil in order to find the strength to comfort Althea’s daughters, and imagines the worst that could be facing her big sister.


The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls by Anissa Gray. Narrated by January LaVoy, Adenrele Ojo, Bahni Turpin and Dominic Hoffman. Published by Penguin Random House Audio.

Carmen Rios is the Digital Editor at Ms. and co-host of the weekly news show TRIGGER HAPPY on Binge Networks. Her writing has been published in BuzzFeed, Bitch, Mic, MEL, Everyday Feminism and Autostraddle, among others, and she is a co-founder of Argot Magazine. Like everyone else in LA, she once had a podcast; unlike everyone else, she stays pretty zen in traffic. You can find her on Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr.

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Solidarity on Screen: What “Roma” Means to Domestic Workers Worldwide


“What an incredible time for this movie to come out, after #MeToo and Time’s Up,” Emmy Award-winning producer and New York Times bestselling author Nely Galan suggested to a crowd of Academy members and advocates Friday. “And yet, Latinas have always been at the end of the story.”

That evening, however, Latinas were front and center. Galan, joined by actors Yalitza Aparacio and Marina de Tavira and National Domestic Workers Alliance Gender Justice Campaigns Director Monica Ramirez, moderated a conversation after the social impact screening of Alfonso Cuaron’s groundbreaking and 10-time Oscar nominated Roma that focused on the film’s reverberations across the U.S. and Mexico, especially for Latina women.

Nely Galan, Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira and Monica Ramirez spoke to an audience in West Hollywood Friday about Roma and the impact it has had for domestic workers—and on the actors themselves. (Charley Gallay/Getty Images for Netflix)

Roma, inspired by Cuaron’s memories of his own childhood, follows a domestic worker named Cleo through political and personal tumult in Mexico City in the seventies. Cleo oversees the care of four children and a dog; with the help of fellow domestic worker Adela, she also manages the house helmed by their parents and grandmother. Outside of the house, the two young indigenous women also navigate romance and family obligations, but at work, Cleo increasingly finds herself holding together her employing family as divorce threatens to dismantle their day-to-day lives. In the span of a year, Cleo’s employer, Sofia, played by de Tavira, becomes a single mother in an oversized home, complete with a car she can’t fit through the front gate; in private, Cleo also suffers through pregnancy complications and the growing divisions between her past in a poor village and her life in the big city.

Friday’s even was the first event in advance of the Oscars ceremony this weekend that allowed the women who brought Cuaron’s childhood memories to life on-screen to reflect on their experiences bringing female experiences to the fore. “I’m moved by the fact that I’ve honored these women,” Aparicio, who stars in the film as domestic worker Cleo but came to the set with no formal training, told the crowd. “I had thought that I was doing this in order to pay homage to my mother. but as the film has taken off, I’ve realized that really it’s become a film where I’ve paid homage to so many women.”

In fact, Aparicio paid homage to 67 million people around the world who perform domestic labor—and who, in the wake of Roma, have now finally seen themselves on screen. Despite a nearly 50-year span between the film’s origin story and its birth on the screen, much of what Cleo suffers through still rings resonant today. Domestic workers perform grueling physical and emotional labor, oftentimes in the shadow of painstakingly high expectations and in the face of unfair conditions. NDWA reports that 70 percent of the 2 million domestic workers in the U.S. make less than $13 an hour, and 65 percent don’t have health insurance; the Instituto de Liderazgo Simone de Beauvoir found that one-third of the 95 perfect of the 2.4 million female domestic workers in Mexico today are paid less than the minimum wage, and a majority face discrimination and violence on-the-job.

Galan, Aparicio, de Tavira and Ramirez at the Roma social impact screening Friday. (Charley Gallay/Getty Images for Netflix)

Cuaron did not set out to romanticize or wax nostalgic about his appreciation for his childhood nanny in order to erase her own challenges. Instead, Roma broke new ground for domestic workers by providing viewers with an authentic depiction of Cleo’s life—one that is hard, but important, for all of us to watch.

“The work Cleo and women like her do is so often invisible—things that look simple, or like they don’t matter, but they do,” Ramirez asserted. “For many people, domestic workers are invisible. There has been little attention paid to the ways in which they’re contributing, every single day, to families and to our country. And this movie provides an opportunity for us to see exactly how they’re  contributing and why it’s so important that they be treated with dignity and respect.”

Roma has already had a reverberating impact. Domestic workers in Mexico recently won social security benefits from the nation’s highest court, and NDWA is leveraging the film’s Oscar buzz to generate more support across the country for domestic workers and make a National Domestic Workers Bill of Rights a legislative reality. “We have to make sure people understand that all work and all workers are valuable,” Ramirez declared. “I believe that, as we continue to celebrate the contributions of domestic workers, the more we can improve their conditions.”

Galan told Aparicio and de Tavira that she was struck by one heartbreaking scene in Roma in particular, when Sofia  comes home drunk and tells Cleo: “No matter what, we’re always alone.” But that’s not the final word in Roma. Instead, the film highlights the power and poignancy of sisterhood: Cleo and Adela lean on one another for support through their personal times of upheaval; Sofia and Cleo develop what become a literal life-saving friendship that, in real life, led to a life-long cohabitation between the two women they’re based on.

Such was also the spirit of Friday’s screening. “I so root for your success,” Galan told Aparicio and de Tavira, both now nominated for Academy Awards. “When one of us succeeds, we all succeed.” Aparicio is the first indigenous woman to ever be up for Best Actress, and says she is “still digesting” the rush of praise and critical acclaim her performance has won for Cuaron’s film; de Tavira told the audience Friday that she is proud to represent actors from across Mexico on the red carpet.

“When I saw Alfonso Cuarón’s film Roma it moved me to tears,” legendary feminist and labor rights leader Dolores Huerta confessed in an op-ed for Deadline Hollywood. “Roma reminds me of that power and that seeing women, people of color and indigenous people on screen is crucial. Roma is a love letter to the women that raised Alfonso Cuarón and a reminder that the strength of women lies in our solidarity.”

Huerta’s signature send-off—si, su puede!—was echoed in the screening room Friday as well. “Together,” Galan reminded the audience before closing down the discussion, “we are everything.”

Carmen Rios is the Digital Editor at Ms. , co-host of TRIGGER HAPPY on Binge Networks and co-founder of Argot Magazine. Her work has also appeared at BuzzFeed, Bitch, Mic, MEL, Everyday Feminism and Autostraddle. Like everyone else in LA, she once had a podcast; unlike everyone else, she stays pretty zen in traffic. You can find her on Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr.

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That Thing She Had One Time: Exploring Abortion Stigma On Screen


“You’re going to have to come back in five days. You’re too early to schedule an abortion.”

This is the moment when Jordan collapses into tears.

Jordan is in 10,000 miles away from home in New York—and the tangled mess of anxiety, fear and disarray has built up in her isolated mind and finally overflowed as she gives way, with half-held back tears, to the strange and uncomfortably impersonal hospital staff.  “Look, it’s just because your HCG levels aren’t high enough,” a nurse says into the face of a young, lost girl with eyes wide and eyebrows furrowed in panicked confusion. “You need stop crying.”

Jordan is exasperated. Of the six professionals she met with in New York, she recalls just one to whom she felt something other than coldness towards, and who seemed to feel something other than aversion to her situation. “The second time I came back there was one,” she says, “the sonogram doctor that time, she was really nice. She was young, she was the only one who talked to me and made me feel okay.”

But Jordan Fassina has been here before. It’s Sadie who hasn’t—the main character of her upcoming film That Thing I Had One Time, which will be released this year by Red Sky Studios.

Jordan Fassina’s autobiographical film “That Thing I Had One Time” explores the stigmas facing women who seek abortion care.

“This is going to be a lot of closure for me,” Fassina told Ms. “It’s going to be a really beautiful thing to put my experience out there and know that there’s other women that are going to relate. I feel that there’s going to be a sense of unity for me, if that makes sense—or a sense of being understood.”

Executive producer Bobby McGruther, who excused himself at times from the set due to the film’s unsettlingly personal nature, describes parts of That Thing I Had One Time as “very intense.” But director Orlando Joubert feels that the potential impact of the film lies in that jarringly intimate voice—in its power to highlight a human experience that is so widely shared, yet seems rarely considered.

“I think this film could shed some light to the other side of the political spectrum—open their eyes as to why many are fighting for a choice and a difficult one at that,” he told Ms., “Though the character of Sadie is sure of her choice, you can see the anguish in her eyes from making it.”

The potential to reap empathy is the entire point of Fassina’s film, and it’s the mission that empowers her to tell her own difficult story. “My main goal is to validate women in their experience and have them feel less alone,” she said in an interview with FilmInk. “I know that there were plenty of times where I felt as though no other person could empathize or understand, so I’m making this for the women who feel no one gets it, to let them know that I do. Abortion is ridiculously common and normal, yet we’re so hesitant to talk about it—and for some, quick to condemn it—that it leaves women feeling isolated.”

The 22-year-old Australian actor and screenwriter’s film on abortion comes at a time when women nationwide are also seeking that sisterhood as they face unprecedented assaults on their reproductive rights. Four states—Mississippi, Louisiana, North Dakota and South Dakota—currently have “trigger laws” on the books which would outright ban abortion if the landmark Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade were overturned. Dozens of lawmakers in other states are seeking to do the same, and the recent shift in power of the Court’s bench has groups like Planned Parenthood and NARAL preparing for a post-Roe landscape. Beyond trigger laws, politicians have done all they could in the last five years to restrict and limit abortion access—and, too often, have succeeded.

“I’m very privileged in the sense that my family is financially stable and is able to provide an abortion if I needed,” Fassina noted to Ms. “But it’s been proven through so much research that limiting access to abortions is incredibly dangerous for women.”

Denying abortion care to women makes them more likely to experience poverty, physical health impairments and even intimate partner violence. And a 2017 research report by the Center for Reproductive Rights found that the states hellbent on restricting abortion also offer fewer supportive policies for mothers in place than their neighbors, putting women’s lives in danger at every turn. 

“Abortion restrictions can delay or make access to care more difficult, contributing to poor emotional and financial well-being as women try to navigate abortion care hurdles,” researchers noted. “Other restrictions block access to abortion all together, interfering with women’s abilities to make their own reproductive decisions and preventing the achievement of life plans and goals.

Women from Fassina’s hometown in Australia will also no doubt empathize with and understand her story. The last Tasmanian abortion clinic closed early last year due to decreased demand, causing women to seek expensive and more isolated care in other states. Despite a new facility opening in November, concerns have continued regarding the clinic’s affordability and access for regional women in particular.

“It honestly breaks my heart,” Fassina told Ms. “It’s one thing knowing that you have to have an abortion—but knowing that you have to go through leaps and bounds just to get it is a whole other ball game.”

Madeleine Rojahn is a freelance journalist based in Tasmania. Her work has appeared in the UK magazine Transform and local publications Togatus and The Mercury.

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The Ms. Q&A: Carlos Izcaray’s Year of the Women is Only the Beginning


On February 23, a new vision for classical music will resound in Los Angeles.

Susan Botti’s EchoTempo, a setting of Native American translations for soprano, percussion and orchestra; Lera Auerbach’s Icarus; and Grammy- and Pulitzer Prize-winner Jennifer Higdon’s Concerto for Orchestra will fill UCLA’s Royce Hall. The trio of works, performed by the equitably gender-split American Youth Symphony’s 2018 cohort as a salute to its 2018/19 theme, “The Year of the Woman,” will set a new tone in the field for advancing gender equality—and provide audiences with the rare opportunity to spend a night surrounded only by the sounds of works composed by women. (Ms. and Feminist Majority Foundation are sponsoring the free event, and will be on-site to participate in a pre-concert conversation about gender gaps in classical music.)

Though the orchestra’s season will eventually come to an end, AYS’ commitment to advancing women’s representation—behind the curtain, backstage and in the conductor’s pit—will not waver come summer. The Year of the Woman, inspired by the mounting global fight for women’s equality in every sector and sphere, is only the beginning of AYS’ enduring commitment to shaping the future of classical music.

Carlos Izcaray is steering that powerful vision for progress. He is no stranger to the AYS mission to foster young talent and set a new tone in the field: Just last year, Izcaray’s Strike Fugaz was premiered by AYS in association with Human Rights Watch to celebrate global fights for justice; throughout his career, he has worked with young musicians in workshops and led tours by youth orchestras.

The AYS Music Director, who is splitting his time between AYS and a parallel role at the Alabama Symphony Orchestra, is also a legendary figure in classical music with a storied career, lending more than a note of gravitas to his efforts to diversify the field. Izcaray leads ensembles across the U.S. and around the world, from the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphonies to the Kwazulu-Natal Philharmonic. He has performed in opera theaters as nearby as Utah and as far as Peru. He served as Principal Cello and Artistic President of the Venezuela Symphony Orchestra and was featured as a concert soloist and chamber musician worldwide. He won top prizes at the 2007 Aspen Music Festival and the 2008 Toscanini International Conducting Competition, took home the Best Opera prize at the Irish Theatre Awards, received rave opera reviews and saw praise pour in after the release of “Through the Lens of Time,” his latest release.

Izcaray talked to Ms. about how AYS plans to continue advancing women’s representation, what comes after the Year of the Woman and just what we can expect to experience this weekend.

I always start with an inception story. Tell me how the 2018/2019 AYS season became known as the “Year of the Woman.”

As I was envisioning the season as a whole, I wanted to make a statement regarding women composers. The initial idea was to do a program where all featured composers were women, something that I hadn’t done before. As soon as I started the process though, it quickly became evident that doing just one program wouldn’t be enough. There are just too many great works by an incredible diverse pool of women composers to chose from, and sticking to a single event didn’t have the impact I desired. So the main goal quickly evolved into something much more powerful and meaningful, where AYS would perform a whole season where the majority of living composers were women. Add to that the involvement of several female guest artists and, voila!, the Year of the Woman season was born. This felt like a real statement that we could all stand by, and an example to follow in the future.

You’ve also made your own firm commitment to gender equality in time with this powerful public devotion to the issues women face in getting to the stage. Can you also tell me a little bit about your pledge to produce gender-equitable shows?

One of the challenges with classical music is that our past doesn’t collaborate with the gender gap. In other words, women of previous eras sadly didn’t get the opportunities to shine in the field, or even to start in the musical path, hence we have very little repertoire to choose from. But our era is quite different.

A brief glance at databases like composerdiversity.com shows that the resources are there for us to level the field. So we, as a field, can really make it proportionally fair if we desire, and it’s something we at AYS will continue to do so from here on. Our goal is that 50 percent of all living composers through each of our programming cycles, which last 2-3 years, will be women. From a performing angle, it is also key to give equal opportunity to guest artists, and make sure that there are no gender gaps.

I just want to mention some statistics here about gender in classical music: A 2018 study by Quartz at Work found that, of 2,438 full-time musicians from the world’s 20 greatest orchestras, 69 percent were men. A Post analysis the same year found that women made up nearly 40 percent of the country’s orchestras members—but then held only 21 percent of the principal, or titled, slots. Last year, women occupied just 12 of 73 principal positions in the “big five” orchestras in Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Philadelphia and New York. Of the 1,445 classical concerts performed across the world from 2018 to 2019, only 76 included at least one piece by a woman.

Beyond feminist programming and individual commitments, how do we close these gaps? What will it take for women to achieve parity in classical music, and how can leaders in the field follow your lead and play their own part in making it happen?

I believe the best way to deal with the gender gap is to tackle it head on at every single front. First comes the exposure and instruction for our youth, where every child, no matter that gender they may be, feels that there is equal access and fairness during the first steps of the musical path. Second, there must be equal opportunity for those musicians who strive for advancement in an extremely competitive field. Blind orchestral auditions, where the jury panel is positioned behind a screen and can’t view who is playing, are a great example. Since the practice started a few decades ago, the gender gap has been drastically reduced, and I’m very glad that we at AYS have adopted this practice since the beginning of my tenure. The last part of the equation is the leadership. Whether we’re talking about composers, featured artists, administrators, members of boards of directors, or conductors, it is important to provide an even field and opportunities so that women can also display their talents at the helm of the industry.

What impact do you hope the “Year of the Woman” has, locally and on a larger scale—and how will it shape what’s yet to come from AYS?

With regards to AYS, I hope that our young musicians will see this as a model to follow as they advance in their careers. I foresee that a good number of them will be involved in making artistic or executive decisions in the future, so hopefully they can consider this methodology when it comes to programming and hiring. I also want our audience to feel enriched by being exposed to this diverse roster of composers and performers. On a larger scale, I would encourage other artistic leaders and administrators to apply similar concepts with their respective organizations. This initiative is truly universal in spirit, so it can and should be applied worldwide.

I’m already so looking forward to the “Year of the Woman” celebration concert later this month, produced in partnership with Ms. and the Feminist Majority Foundation. What can those of us in attendance expect that night? 

You can expect to be moved by three amazing composers. Lera Auerbach’s Icarus is driven and fiery, and it provides an energized spark for the concert to take flight. Susan Botti’s Echo Tempo, based on Native American poetry, provides a music tapestry that is truly enchanting. We are also extremely fortunate to have Susan as our voice soloist, and Ted Adkatz will join her with the incredibly complex percussion part. Jennifer Higdon’s Concerto for Orchestra, our closing work, is a journey of epic proportions that features and challenges all the sections of the orchestra. Each composer provides a completely different sound world, with a wide spectrum of emotions to discover.

You can follow Carlos on Instagram @carlos_izcaray and learn more about him at carlosizcaray.com.

Carmen Rios is the Digital Editor at Ms. , co-host of TRIGGER HAPPY on Binge Networks and co-founder of Argot Magazine. Her work has also appeared at BuzzFeed, Bitch, Mic, MEL, Everyday Feminism and Autostraddle. Like everyone else in LA, she once had a podcast; unlike everyone else, she stays pretty zen in traffic. You can find her on Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr.

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The Imaginary Beings of the Feminist-Fueled Resistance


I’ve been working for a few years on an ongoing collage series entitled “The Catalogue of Imaginary Beings,” in which I build larger-than life portraits out of collage material. In the wake of the president’s State of the Union address, I have opted to turn away from my anger and frustration with the White House—and focus my attention instead on the inspirational, monumental and formidable women fighting for equality and leading the resistance.

We’ve seen and heard some powerful and brave women this year. I’m especially inspired by the 116th Congress, which is the most diverse Congress in American history.

That’s why I’m celebrating them with my newest portraits.

THE WOMEN OF THE WOMEN’S MARCH: I’ve made quite a few marchers and protesters in the past couple of years, and I continue to build these women out of other marchers and protesters. These marchers represent all of us. There are too many of us to ignore.

RUTH BADER GINSBURG: The venerable Supreme Court Justice and Super Hero has spent her career advocating for—and ushering in—victories women and girls.

DR. CHRISTINE BLASEY FORD: The courageous woman who was brave enough to testify about her sexual assault—even in the face of threats against her life—inspired millions to rise up and resist the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

NANCY PELOSI: The Speaker of the House, which must be one of the toughest jobs in the world right now, wields a gavel like no other.

ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: One of two women elected in November who became the youngest representatives ever to serve in Congress didn’t take corporate money in her successful bid to unseat an incumbent—and never waivers on what she believes in.

ILHAN OMAR: This glass-ceiling-smasher is one of the first Muslim women and the first Somali-American elected to Congress, and the first woman of color to serve as U.S. Representative from Minnesota.

AYANNA PRESSLEY: The first black woman ever elected to Congress from Massachusetts isn’t there to play.

KRYSTEN SINEMA: The first openly bisexual member of Congress in the history of the U.S. chose to be sworn-in over a legal text that contained the Constitution instead of a Bible.

KAMALA HARRIS: The Senator who takes no guff—and asks the tough questions of Trump’s nominees.

ELIZABETH WARREN: The Senate voted to silence Warren when she tried to voice her objections during Jeff Sessions’ confirmation hearing. (Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, infamously complained that “nevertheless she persisted.”) Warren had to finish her objections in the halls of the Senate.

Johanna Goodman is an artist based in New York City. She graduated from Parsons School of Design with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Illustration in 1992 and has been a freelance illustrator ever since. Her work has garnered awards from The Society of Publication Design, American Illustration and Communication Arts. Her clients include the Sidney Hillman Foundation, The Paley Center for Media, Le Monde, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, Bust, New York Magazine and Smithsonian Magazine, among many others. ms. blog digest banner

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Picks of the Week: Gender and Justice Intersecting On-Screen


Picks of the Week is Women and Hollywood’s newest resource. We are often asked for recommendations, so each week we’ll spotlight the women-driven and women-made projects—movies, series, VOD releases and more—that we’re most excited about. Sign up for the Women and Hollywood newsletter at womenandhollywood.com to get each week’s pick delivered to your inbox.


Theatrical Release of the Week: Birds of Passage

Directed by Cristina Gallego and Ciro Guerra; Written by Maria Camila Arias and Jacques Toulemonde Vidal

Based on a true story, Colombia-set Birds of Passage tells the story of the Wayuu, an indigenous group ravaged by the drug war. Kicking off in 1968, the epic is told in five parts and spans a dozen years. We witness Zaida (Natalia Reyes), a young woman from the revered Pushaina clan, performing an elaborate coming-of-age dance that attracts the attention of Rapayet (José Acosta), a poor orphan raised by his uncle.

The matriarch of Zaida’s family is unimpressed with her potential suitor, and demands a dowry that should prove impossible for him to deliver. But Rapayet figures out a way to fulfill the requirement: he gets involved in the marijuana business, forever changing the fate of the Wayuu tribe. Despite a high body count, the crime saga is anything but conventional.

A slow-burn, haunting story of family, honor, greed and capitalism, Birds of Passage is visually stunning and offers a fascinating look into the traditions of the Wayuu. (Laura Berger)

Read Women and Hollywood’s interview with Cristina Gallego.

Birds of Passage opens in NY February 13 and in LA February 15. Find screening info here.


Docuseries of the Week: “Lorena”

Lorena Bobbitt became a household name in 1993 when she cut off her then-husband’s penis with a kitchen knife while he slept. Her shocking attack—and the fact that her trial was televised—made her an overnight news sensation. A four-part docuseries, Amazon’s “Lorena” sees Bobbitt telling her side of the story, and exploring how so much of the racist and sexist news coverage surrounding the case—and tasteless jokes on late-night TV—often ignored or minimized the fact that she claimed her husband, John Wayne, physically and sexually abused her. Dismissed as a “hot-blooded Latina” and a “jealous wife,” Bobbitt had many witnesses corroborate her account of her husband’s monstrous behavior.

Cheesy and unnecessary reenactments aside, “Lorena” offers a powerful portrait of a woman pushed to the brink—and a nation wholly unprepared to deal with its epidemic of domestic abuse. The docuseries provides a helpful historical overview of what services and legal recourse were available to abused women at the time, or more accurately, the lack thereof. Hopefully the rise of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements will encourage Bobbitt skeptics to view the case through a new lens, and encourage all of us to do more for the millions of women who continue to be affected by domestic abuse. (LB)

“Lorena” will stream on Amazon Prime beginning February 15.


TV Movie of the Week: “Kim Possible”

No matter your age, chances are you’ll find something to love in “Kim Possible,” a new Disney Channel movie that’s also a Gen Z update of the beloved early-aughts cartoon. Kim is no longer animated, but she’s still everyone’s favorite straight-A student/crime fighter.

If you watched the original series, you’ll get a kick out of Christy Carlson Romano’s (i.e. the voice of the animated Kim) cameo, and the film’s many Easter eggs. If you think young girls need more ass-kicking role models like Buffy Summers, you’ll probably be delighted to see Alyson Hannigan—yes, Willow!—playing Kim’s brain surgeon mother. If you enjoy multi-generational stories about women, à la “Gilmore Girls” or “Jane the Virgin,” you’ll be psyched when Kim (Sadie Stanley), her mom, and her nana (Connie Ray) team up to take down the bad guys. If your favorite characters tend to be villains, you’ll bask in Shego’s (Taylor Ortega) scenes—between her side-eye and acid tongue, she pretty much steals the entire movie.

Most importantly, if you’re someone who appreciates a nuanced coming-of-age tale—especially one about a young woman in the midst of a huge life transition—“Kim Possible” delivers. Give or take the gymnastics skills and spy gadgets, we’ve all been in Kim’s shoes: the beginning of high school is rough, and figuring out your identity as a teen can feel impossible. But Kim makes her way through one shitty sitch after another and comes out the other side more confident than ever. Plus, she saves the world. (Rachel Montpelier)

“Kim Possible” premieres February 15 at 8pm ET on Disney Channel and DisneyNOW.

Women and Hollywood educates, advocates and agitates for gender diversity and inclusion in Hollywood and the global film industry. The site, founded in 2007 by Melissa Silverstein, sets the standard, defines the conversation, fuels coverage and reinforces messages throughout the specialized and mainstream media to call for gender parity on a daily basis. Follow W&H at @WomenaHollywood and Melissa @MelSil.

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2019 Reads for the Rest of Us


The Feminist Know-It-All: You know her. You can’t stand her. Good thing she’s not here! Instead, this column by gender and women’s studies librarian Karla Strand will amplify stories of the creation, access, use and preservation of knowledge by women and girls around the world; share innovative projects and initiatives that focus on information, literacies, libraries and more; and, of course, talk about all of the books.


As a reader, I’m always surprised at how challenging it can be to quickly locate books written by women from historically marginalized or underrepresented groups. It’s not that the books aren’t being written—they just are often not afforded the same visibility as titles written by white women, and definitely not by white men.

As a librarian with expertise in gender, women’s and LGBTQ studies, I am uniquely equipped to find these titles—and have been on a mission to curate lists specifically dedicated to books written by women, defined broadly, with a particular focus on Black and Latinx women, women of color and Indigenous women writers; lesbian, bisexual, aro/ace, queer, intersex, transgender and gender non-conforming writers; international writers; writers who are disabled, neurodivergent, justice involved or living in poverty; or any number of other writers whose stories haven’t been as visible. (Including white ones and, at time, even men!)

I’ve been offering these new book lists and reviews on my website for the last year, and I’m now thrilled to offer this to more readers with Ms.! These are the 2019 releases about which I am most excited. And it might not look like the list you’re expecting.

In putting this together, I wanted to focus on titles that haven’t been included on other lists from Bustle, Nylon, O Magazine, The Millions, Book Riot, Publisher’s Weekly, etc. (I read them all! My favorite is by R.O. Kwon for Electric Lit.) There are some amazing books coming this year that you’ve already heard about that won’t be on this list—think: The Source of Self-Regard by Toni Morrison, The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls by Anissa Gray, Magical Negro by Morgan Parker, Lisa See’s The Island of Sea Women, On the Come Up by Angie Thomas. While I can’t wait to read these, I’ve left them and other higher-profile books off the list to make room for those that I’m excited about but haven’t seen other places.

I plan to read and review as many of the books on this list as I can over the next year—and will share my thoughts with you right here once I do! I also hope to explain why, as a white woman, I find it absolutely imperative to read the work of women outside of my own identities. But those are future columns…


January

Black Is the Body: Stories from My Grandmother’s Time, My Mother’s Time, and Mine

by Emily Bernard

In this volume, English Professor Emily Bernard includes twelve personal pieces about her lived experience as a Black woman—from growing up and attending university, to marriage and parenthood, and even the random stabbing that encouraged her to share her stories. Dr. Bernard’s belief in the regenerative power of writing is beautifully demonstrated in this memoir of essays. Emily Bernard is on Twitter @emilyebernard and Instagram @bernardemily.

A Bound Woman Is a Dangerous Thing: The Incarceration of African American Women from Harriet Tubman to Sandra Bland

by DaMaris B. Hill

At exactly the right time, University of Kentucky professor DaMaris B. Hill has written a powerful collection of poems examining the incarceration of Black women. Dr. Hill profiles women such as Lucille Clifton, Eartha Kitt, Ida B. Wells and Assata Shakur and, in poetry, demonstrates the multiple ways Black women experience being bound, hemmed in, fettered, imprisoned. I will be processing this book for a long time. Follow DaMaris Hill on Twitter @damarishill and Instagram @dr_digifeminist.

It Was All a Dream: A New Generation Confronts the Broken Promise to Black America

by Reniqua Allen

Writer, producer and journalist Reniqua Allen has published this timely critical examination of Black millennials in the U.S. who are caught between Civil Rights-era promises and post-Obama realities. Giving Black millennials much-needed airtime, Allen shares their stories alongside keen reporting of how they are playing the game by their own rules—and winning. You can find Reniqua Allen on Twitter @rnz1.

Thick: And Other Essays

by Tressie McMillan Cottom

Tressie McMillan Cottom’s Thick has already gotten a lot of play—and rightfully so—but I had to include it anyway because of how excited I am to read it. With this book, Dr. Cottom wanted Black women “to feel seen”, and by all accounts, they do after reading this book. Centered on the importance of Black women taking up and holding space—literally, figuratively and all ways in-between—Thick is one of the reads of the year. Follow Tressie McMillan Cottom on Twitter @tressiemcphd and on Instagram @tressiemcphd. See also: Thick the Book.

February

Borders of Belonging: Struggle and Solidarity in Mixed-Status Immigrant Families

by Heide Castañeda

I can’t think of a more timely issue to learn about right now than the struggles of immigrant families, especially when some members have legal status and others do not. In this ethnographic study, Dr. Castañeda explores issues imperative to the safety and health of these immigrant families and the strategies of solidarity they use to survive. Follow Heide Castañeda on Twitter @CastanedaHeide.

Them Goon Rules: Fugitive Essays on Radical Black Feminism

by Marquis Bey, out February 19

Dr. Regina Bradley called Them Goon Rules “a provocative and compelling interdisciplinary trans-­feminist read of American society and culture from a Black perspective,” and Dr. Kai M. Green said, “Bey demonstrates a distinctive radical vulnerability that can only be the result of working in and through a Black queer feminist lens.” If you enjoyed Unapologetic by Charlene Carruthers or Black on Both Sides by C. Riley Snorton, I think you’ll dig this one. You can find Dr. Marquis Bey on Twitter @marquisdbey.

We Set the Dark on Fire

by Tehlor Kay Mejia, out February 26

While not usually a reader of romance, I am excited for one featuring two powerful Latinx women fighting for agency in a fantastical world struggling (much like our own) with issues of immigration, equality and privilege. This YA debut is receiving rave reviews and I am here for it. Find Tehlor Kay Meija on Twitter @tehlorkay and on Instagram @tehlorkay.

March

Sissy: A Coming-of-Gender Story

by Jacob Tobia, out March 5

I am a big fan of memoirs, especially memoirs that have something to teach—and we have so much to learn about gender! Tobia shares their story in Sissy with candor, wit and sensitivity. Like Vivek Shraya’s I’m Afraid of Men, this is a book we really need. Follow Jacob Tobia on Twitter @JacobTobia and on Instagram @jacobtobia.

New Daughters of Africa: An International Anthology of Writing by Women of African Descent

by Margaret Busby, out March 8

Over 25 years ago, Margaret Busby brought together essays from over 200 women writers of African descent in one landmark volume, Daughters of Africa. In 2019, she does it again with this companion of another 200 writers such as Roxane Gay, Nnedi Okorafor, Eve Ewing, Yrsa Daley-Ward and Edwidge Danticat. This book is over 700 pages and I can’t wait to dig into it!

On Intersectionality: Essential Writings

by Kimberlé Crenshaw, out March 12

It’s here! It’s here! The collection of Kimberlé Crenshaw’s writings that we’ve all been waiting for! Crenshaw’s collection of essays and “a sweeping new introduction” will cover over two decades of intersectional feminist writing—and be required reading. Follow Kimberlé Crenshaw on Twitter @sandylocks and check out her non-profit, the African American Policy Forum.

Malawi’s Sisters

by Melanie S. Hatter, out March 15

Selected by Edwidge Danticat, Melanie Hatter won the inaugural Kimbilio National Fiction Prize for Malawi’s Sisters. Inspired by the 2013 shooting of Renisha McBride, the book is focused on the grief and healing of a Black family after their daughter was fatally shot by a white man. Hatter has written a story that Danticat calls, “timely and well executed” and that’s enough for me. Follow Melanie S. Hatter on Twitter @mshatter1.

To Turn the Whole World Over: Black Women and Internationalism

Edited by Keisha Blaine and Tiffany Gill, out March 19

An impressive array of scholars and writers contribute to this volume examining Black women’s engagement internationally. Topics include travel, migration, the arts, politics, activism and more. With Dr. Keisha Blaine and Dr. Tiffany Gill as editors, this collection is bound to be thorough, critical and well-executed. Follow the editors on Twitter @KeishaBlain and @IAmTiffanyGill.

Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good

Written and gathered by adrienne maree brown, out March 19

adrienne maree brown follows her popular Emergent Strategy with this collection of essays focused on how to make activism more pleasurable and healing than stressful and unforgiving. Some of my favorite writers have contributed to this volume including Sonya Renee Taylor and Alexis Pauline Gumbs. Follow all three on Twitter @adriennemaree, @Sonyareneepoet and @alexispauline. (And don’t miss Gumbs in conversation with Ms. scholar and contributor Janell Hobson as part of the Ms. Black Feminist in Public series.)

April

The Affairs of the Falcóns: A Novel

by Melissa Rivero, out April 2

After the Falcóns flee Peru, the family struggles to make it as undocumented immigrants in New York City. In this important debut novel, Melissa Rivero tackles a challenging and pressing issue in accessible, vivid prose. Follow Rivero on Twitter @melissa_rivero and on Instagram on @melissarivero_.

The Body Papers

by Grace Talusan, out April 2

Grace Talusan’s The Body Papers is a challenging, candid memoir of finding meaning and hope in the midst of the challenges of immigration, racism, depression, abuse and cancer. As a fan of memoirs, I look forward to spending time with this Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing. Follow Grace Talusan on Twitter @gracet09.

In the Night of Memory: A Novel

by Linda LeGarde Grover, out April 2

In her latest book, Linda LeGarde Grover (Bois Forte Band of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe) revisits the Minnesota reservation of her previous novels and focuses on the younger generation of Ojibwe girls. This coming of age story brings together themes of missing women, family and community, complicated histories and collective wisdoms.

Holding the World Together: African Women in Changing Perspective

Edited by Nwando Achebe and Claire Robertson, out April 16

This collection of essays, edited by Dr. Nwando Achebe (professor at Michigan State University and daughter of Chinua Achebe) and Dr. Claire Robertson (professor emerita at The Ohio State University), includes an impressive list of contributors. Topics focus on the myriad of ways women across Africa wield power, act as agents of change and the challenges they face while doing so.

May

The Farm

by Joanne Ramos, out May 7

There’s been some buzz surrounding Joanne Ramos’ The Farm, but I couldn’t resist including it on my list as well. In this, her debut novel, Ramos presents the reader with a world where fertility commands a high price, in more ways than one. This is a story that inspires critical examination of notions of motherhood, immigration and capitalism, in gripping prose.

Fearing the Black Body: The Racial Origins of Fat Phobia

by Sabrina Strings, out May 7

With this book, Sabrina Strings presents readers with an historical examination of fatness, Black women and the stigma and fears surrounding fat Black women. Dr. Strings hypothesizes that fat phobia doesn’t stem from health concerns, as so often argued, but instead from a desire to control and oppress by gender, race and class.

June

My Seditious Heart

by Arundhati Roy, out June 4

Here’s another one I’ve been waiting for: a complete collection of Arundhati Roy’s nonfiction writing! At almost 1,000 pages, this volume is a monster. But so is she, so this shouldn’t be a surprise. I’m just going to grab it, slowly make my way through it and chew and digest it, one bite at a time.

We Have Always Been Here: A Queer Muslim Memoir

by Samra Habib, out June 4

In this candid memoir, Samra Habib explores family, queerness, faith, tradition, feminism and creativity from her perspective as a Pakistani Muslim. Follow Samra Habib on Twitter @therealsamsam and on Instagram @samra.habib.

If It Makes You Happy and Tell Me How You Really Feel

by Claire Kann, out June 4; by Aminah Mae Safi, out June 11

These are just two of the fantastic LGBTQ titles coming out in 2019. If you enjoy YA titles featuring diverse characters and contemporary coming-of-age themes, these are for you. Find the authors on Twitter @KannClaire and @aminahmae.

The Record Keeper

by Agnes Gomillion, out June 18

I read a few great dystopian novels last year such as The Book of M by Peng Shepherd and Suicide Club by Rachel Heng. This year I hope that books such as The Record Keeper will scratch my itch for unique speculative fiction. Follow Agnes Gomillion on Twitter @agnesgomillion and on Instagram @agnesgomillion.

The Stationery Shop

by Marjan Kamali, out June 18

Marjan Kamali has written an intense story of love and loss set in Iran, against the backdrop of the 1953 coup d’etat. It’s a grand saga spanning decades and countries, centered on a young couple in love. Will they end up together or will circumstances beyond their control keep them apart? Follow Marjan Kamali on Twitter @MarjanKamali.

The Travelers

by Regina Porter, out June 18

Regina Porter has penned this new American saga that spans the 1950s through the Obama presidency. Fans of character-driven historical fiction will enjoy this one. Follow Regina Porter on Twitter @ReginaMPorter and on Instagram @reginamporter.

July

Speaking of Summer

by Kalisha Buckhanon, out July 30

I don’t read many thrillers or mysteries but the description of Speaking of Summer piqued my interest. Critically acclaimed novelist Kalisha Buckhanon presents a story of a missing twin and the sister searching for her throughout Harlem. I’m eager to give this one a try. And I am in love with this cover. Follow Kalisha Buckhanon on Twitter @KalishaOnline.

August

A Pure Heart: A Novel

by Rajia Hassib, out August 6

Raija Hassib has written this gripping contemporary novel about two Muslim sisters who grew up in Egypt and then took very different paths as adults. When one sister is killed, the other uncovers continuous challenging questions in her quest for understanding and closure. Follow Rajia Hassib on Twitter @rajiahassib.

The Memory Police: A Novel

by Yoko Ogawa (Author), Stephen Snyder (Translator), out August 13

Acclaimed Japanese writer Yoko Ogawa has written a frightening new dystopian novel about state surveillance and strange disappearances. The description reminds me of Peng Shepherd’s The Book of M in which people’s shadows begin to disappear along with their memories. I’m intrigued by this book, written by a prolific author who has won every major literary award in Japan.

Trans Love: An Anthology of Transgender and Non-Binary Voices

by Freiya Benson, out August 21

This anthology includes essays about transgender love including familial and romantic love, friendship and self-love. Full of candid voices and stories, this thought-provoking volume is edited by writer and photographer Freiya Benson. Follow Benson on Twitter @scarlettraces.

September

Pet

by Akwaeke Emezi, out September 10

This is the book I am most excited for in 2019. If you read my review of Akwaeke Emezi’s debut adult novel, Freshwater, you would know that it was my top read of 2018. Emezi has a style all their own, filled with edges, curves and corners. While I await their second adult novel due out in 2020, I will devour this, their first YA novel, a tale of monsters and those who deny their existence. Follow Akwaeke Emezi on Twitter @azemezi and Instagram @azemezi, and click here to read the Ms. Q&A with Emezi.

Renia’s Diary: A Holocaust Journal

by Renia Spiegel, out September 17

For the first time this year, the diary of Holocaust victim Renia Spiegel will be published in English. Spiegel was a Jewish Pole who began her diary at age 15 in 1939 when she went to live with her grandparents after the start of the war. Spiegel wrote almost 700 pages before she was killed in 1942. Destined to become a new classic of primary Holocaust literature, the diary relates the life of a teenage girl during the Nazi occupation, in all its raw insights, candid emotions and aching fear. Not to be missed. Learn more at the Renia Spiegel Foundation.

High School

by Sara Quin and Tegan Quin, out September 24

A memoir by Tegan and Sara? Yes, please. That is all. Find Tegan and Sara on Twitter @teganandsara and Instagram @teganandsara.

October

In the Dream House: A Memoir

by Carmen Maria Machado, out October 1

This is Carmen Maria Machado’s follow up to her extremely popular Her Bodies and Other Parties. A memoir of an abusive relationship, In the Dream House challenges readers’ assumptions of safety, lesbian relationships, humor, abuse narratives and memoir. Follow Machado on Twitter @carmenmmachado.

The City We Became

by N. K. Jemisin, out October 8

This is the first book in a new series by N.K. Jemisin, best known for her speculative fantasy works but also last year’s short story collection, How Long ’til Black Future Month? I’m looking forward to getting in on the ground floor of this new series. Follow N.K. Jemisin on Twitter @nkjemisin.

Escaping Exodus: A Novel

by Nicky Drayden, out October 8

Fans of scifi and magical realism will be excited for this spacey standalone novel by Nicky Drayden. Escaping Exodus sounds like a fantastical, save-the-world adventure and I can’t wait for it to take me away! You can find Nicky Drayden on Twitter @nickydrayden.

Who are you excited to read this year? Tell me in the comments!

Karla J. Strand is the Gender and Women’s Studies Librarian for the University of Wisconsin. She completed her doctorate in Information Science via University of Pretoria in South Africa with a background in history and library science, and her research centers on the role of libraries and knowledge in empowering women and girls worldwide. Karla is working on her first book, a history of the Office of the GWS Librarian, due out in 2020. Tweet her @karlajstrand.

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Unfiltered: Why Jessica Abo’s Book is the Perfect Galentine’s Day Pick


“Social media is not the enemy,” Jessica Abo said at a recent gathering of Jewish women in Los Angeles. “Loneliness is the enemy.” In that moment, I sat up straighter in my chair.

As women today celebrate friendship for “Galentine’s Day,” our social media feeds are undoubtedly full of picture-perfect couples and love stories—and Abo’s calls to action to all of us to stop perpetuating the social media cycle of “compare and despair” and make room to “care less about what everyone else is doing and more about what’s good in [our own] life” is as timely as ever.

Lisa Niver and Jessica Abo.

Abo’s book Unfiltered: How To Be As Happy As You Look On Social Media, is a confessional and a revelation. “No one tells you staying positive is a mental exercise that should be classified as a marathon with its own medal,” she writes. “Have you ever noticed how quickly one negative thought can turn into a million? … The next thing you know, you’re on the express train to Negative City with no stops in sight.”

In Unfiltered, Abo opens up to readers about her career as an anchor, her experiences in philanthropy and her own quest to find love and offers worksheets and practical exercises to nudge us along on a journey toward fulfillment and happiness. Whether reader’s take Abo up on her advice to use the notokapp.com or partner with a friend to reach their goals; get inspired by her examples from Teachers Righting History, DreamJobbing.com or TED talks; her book will ultimately make you seek out the best next step for yourself.

One of my own a-ha moments came when Abo discussed her faith. When we met, she explained that she made sure a Menorah was included on the Five-Day forecast during Chanukah while she worked at one broadcast station. “He always had ghosts for Halloween, Santa for Christmas,” she said, “and I wanted to make sure Chanukah would be represented, too.” That small gesture led to a small shift in my own life: I have made an effort since our meeting to post about Shabbat each Friday. If I am in Los Angeles, I attend Shabbat services at temple, but it was not something I ever thought to mention on social media. Abo helped me realize how important it is for girls to see Jewish women in the media, and as adventurers and wanderers.

Abo’s perspective on rejection is also ripe for inspiration. “Sometimes being rejected from something good,” she writes in Unfiltered, “is directing you to something better.” I remembered then how disappointed I was last summer when I wasn’t selected for a three-month project on the East Coast—and that I was later invited on two bucket-list trips, which led to several great story opportunities, and which would eventually take me to the graces of Jane Goodall, Jean Michel Cousteau and Seth Godin. What I was available for by being rejected was much better for me. “Do your own thing on your own terms,” Abo urges readers. “It doesn’t matter how long it takes to get there. Just keep going.”

I often think that my own advancement—and progress for our culture-at-large—is taking too long, but we all have no idea what the “right” amount of time really is. Abo’s focus on happiness, resilience and empathy similarly emerges and intersects, in part, from and with her activism. Her #SeeHer project seeks to lift up women in the media and entertainment; The Female Quotient’s Gender Equity Measurement tool is helping to increase the number of women in advertisements. But these days, her mission is to inspire other people to embrace life’s messy moments and share more of them.

“I launched #LiveUnfiltered as a way for people to join this movement,” she explained. “I would love to see more people post their real, unedited moments. Those are what remind all of us that we’re human and enable us to create more meaningful connections online and in real life.”

One mantra guides Abo and the readers through tales of her hopes, disappointments and successes: “We’re all a work in progress.” If you need a boost of you can do it, you need to buy yourself a copy of this book.

“Whenever you feel lost, remember this is temporary,” she writes. “Whenever you make a mistake, allow yourself to be upset but don’t let this setback consume you for too long. Whenever someone posts about their awesome office view, team, project or product remember you can have that sense of work pride too. Whenever you find yourself in a different place form your friends, remind yourself that outgrowing certain dynamics is part of growing up and life is not a race. Whenever you’re on the edge of breaking up with dating and everyone around you is getting engaged, married and having kids, stay in your lane. Whenever life crushes you with bad news or a new reality, honor your feelings. Whenever you see someone doing something inspiring, think about what keeps you up at night and look into what you can do around that issue.”

Unfiltered feels like a good talk with the one friend who can shake you out of a rut and get you back on track. This Galentine’s Day, I can’t think of a better book club read.

Lisa Ellen Niveris an award-winning travel expert who has been to 101 countries and six continents. Her website, We Said Go Travel, was read in 212 countries in 2018. Lisa has written for AARP, American Airways, Jewish Journal, Smithsonian and Wharton Magazine and is working on a book—Brave Rebel: 50 Adventures Before 50—about her most recent travels and challenges. She also talks travel on KTLA TV and on YouTube, in videos with nearly 900,000 views. In the meantime, you can find Lisa underwater SCUBA diving, in her art studio making ceramics or helping people find their next dream trip. 

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Menstrual Equity’s Red Carpet Moment


A notable outlier among the mostly-male nominees for this year’s Academy Award for Best Director of a Documentary Short is Rayka Zehtabchi, whose work tells a uniquely female story—one which emerged from a transnational feminist coalition fighting for menstrual equity.

Period. End of Sentence. tells the moving story of a quiet revolution taking place in a rural village outside of Delhi, India: In the face of stifling menstrual stigma that has persisted over generations, a woman-led sanitary pad business is shifting culture. Zehtabchi’s film chronicles the installation of a sanitary pad-making machine—and the subsequent empowerment women involved in producing and selling the menstrual products find as they become entrepreneurs and build feminist community.

Boys and girls alike face the camera in Period. and resist even saying the word. Women confess to viewers, with raw honesty, the lengths they went to in order to make do with dirty rags during menstruation before deciding to drop out of school. These stories echo the stark statistics around menstruation in nations like India, where between 25 and 57 percent of adolescent girls miss school or drop out altogether because of their periods and others even commit suicide to escape menstrual stigma. The negative impacts on girls lives—including financial dependence and an increased risk of forced child marriage and teen pregnancy—also extend to their national economies, which lose billions in GDP when girls step out of the classroom.

The woman in Zehtabchi’s Period. decide to confront these gender-based disparities head-on. They name their brand “FLY,” because they want women “to soar.” They go door-to-door selling boxes of pads at lower prices to reluctant customers away from the leering men who stare them down at large marketplaces.

For Zehtabchi, making the film was an opportunity to participate in the project hands-on—and complete a crash-course in documentary filmmaking. Zehtabchi has a background in short films, but had previously worked on narrative projects. She began the project by doing extensive research, and constructing an idea in her mind of where the story might lead. Once she was in India, helping construct the machine and forging relationships with local women, she found herself starting from scratch—and doing her best to tell their story instead.

Zehtabchi tells that story with prowess, weaving a massive movement into a stunning cinematic moment. The film is punctuated by humor, awash with optimism and constructed through stirring imagery and intimate glimpses into the inner worlds of women across the village.

“It’s a very beautiful process,” Zehtabchi explained to me on stage at an event hosted by Netflix in Los Angeles, where we discussed the film and fielded questions from Academy members in the audience. “It changed me as a filmmaker.”

The women featured most prominently in Period.—including Sneha, a young Indian woman who dreams of forging her own path as a police officer in New Delhi; and Gouri Choudari, chair of feminist organization Action India—came to the fore because of their own passion for the project. But their work was, in part, also enabled by the efforts of high school girls half a world away who only appear in the credits.

Members of the Girls Learn International chapter at the Oakwood School in Los Angeles raised the initial money needed to install the machine through vegan bake sales, yoga-thons and two successful Kickstarter campaigns. Their partnerships with Action India, which was founded in 1976 to engage in community-based work locally and insert Indian women’s voices into the feminist movement at-large; and the Feminist Majority Foundation, GLI’s parent organization founded in 1987 to advance women’s equality around the world, eventually led to Period.—and the launch of menstrual equity non-profit The Pad Project.

The young feminists at Oakwood knew from speaking to girls around the world that it wasn’t just the village of Hapur which urgently needed a dose of period pride, and they wanted to amplify the inspirational story they were watching unfold through their work. Switching gears, they became producers—and hired Zehtabchi, then a recent graduate of USC film school, to direct a film about their efforts.

Born in Japan and raised in Southern California, Zehtabchi was an unlikely but perfect fit for the project emerging from a transnational, intergenerational collective of feminist activism. Period. End of Sentence. screened across the U.S. at film festivals throughout the summer and fall of 2018 before being taken on by Netflix. For Zehtabchi, that’s a happy ending: “We wanted something short that people could share,” she explained, “which is why Netflix is a perfect home for it.”

The rest, as they say, will be herstory—and regardless of whether Period. lands Zehtabchi on the Oscars stage, she’s awed by what she and the village of feminists who made the film possible have accomplished. New pad machines are already slated for construction or in construction in villages beyond Hapur. Zehtabchi will remain involved with The Pad Project as a board member. And this week, Netflix viewers around the world will be able to stream the documentary and get involved themselves.

“You don’t often get to see change in real time,” she confided to the Academy members who gathered with us that night, remembering what it was like to return to Hapur six months after the pad machine was installed. “I’m so proud to have had the opportunity to tell this story.”

Join FMF, GLI and Netflix for a screening of Period. End of Sentence. and a Q&A with the women featured in the film and the student activists from Oakwood later this month in Los Angeles!

Carmen Rios is the Digital Editor at Ms. , co-host of TRIGGER HAPPY on Binge Networks and co-founder of Argot Magazine. Her work has also appeared at BuzzFeed, Bitch, Mic, MEL, Everyday Feminism and Autostraddle. Like everyone else in LA, she once had a podcast; unlike everyone else, she stays pretty zen in traffic. You can find her on Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr.

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