Lest We Forget: The Ms. Interviews of 2019 in 42 Quotes

Activists, advocates, filmmakers, show-runners, authors and other feminist leaders and luminaries sat down with Ms. writers and editors this year for interviews about their work. We’ve rounded up notable quotes from our year of questions answered to look back—and give you inspiration in the new year.


“It’s crucial for everyone to understand the pressures, stereotypes and expectations that young men are dealing with in America right now. There are countless ways to be masculine, and an individual’s identity should not be wrapped up in how he or she fulfills a gender role. We need to let young men know that they should feel free to be who they are.”
What Alexandra Robbins Learned as an Undercover Greek

“Black feminist intellectual legacy is powerful, and I just think about the love and the labor of it over generations. Part of the performance of M Archive is citing one black feminist theorist over and over on every single page of a book that’s hundreds of pages long. This is part of my prayer, my gratitude, my libation—and my reminder that I don’t think black feminist theorists have been cited enough or given the credit that they deserve.”
Black Feminist in Public: Alexis Pauline Gumbs

“You might prefer the story of how I used to read Gertrude Stein to friends over the phone to annoy them until I realized I had tricked myself as I was enjoying sounding her poetry aloud. Or how I grew up reading Nancy Drew and science fiction late into the wee hours and then woke up and watched Saturday morning cartoons in black and white. But this moment with my father shattered something. Luckily, the cracks are often where we make things and the broken pieces what we make things with.”
Amy King on the Power of Stories and the Weight of the Current Political Moment

“One thing I love about music—I was actually just writing this for the liner notes of our ‘Hadestown’ cast record—is it’s weightless. It’s not a product you hold in your hand. It’s a wave in the air. I love that it’s an undeniably valuable thing that doesn’t really cost money. It doesn’t clutter up the space. It’s not destroying the earth. The product is completely positive. Especially going to a theater show or a concert—it feels like one of the last places were people will put down their phone and set aside their egos to an extent, and just kind of be together, breathe together, move together. It’s spent time when it’s good. It’s a dilation of the moment. That feels like such a valuable offering to the world.”
What Led Anaïs Mitchell to Hadestown

I think I didn’t feel worthy, to be honest with you. I didn’t understand my place in it. The costume went to the Smithsonian in the fall and all these great things have happened. It’s almost a thing that’s a few steps ahead of me that I kind of keep it ahead of me a little bit out of self-preservation. I don’t want to sully it in any way by making anything trite. I’m very proud. I guess I’m most proud that it has a voice for women in a really true way.”
Shouting in Silence: The Ms. Q&A with Former “Handmaid’s Tale” Costume Designer Ane Crabtree


“A lot of people relate to politics as a kind of intellectual exercise. They are knowledgeable about the major issues oppressed people face; they follow current events; they may express opinions or write about injustice. What they are less likely to do is to get involved in the day to day work of organizing to make fundamental political change. They do not put themselves in situations of learning from and being led by those who are most directly targeted by systemic oppression. My observation is that all of our major leaps forward toward liberation come from the grassroots, not from the top down.”

Barbara Smith Looks Back on a Lifetime of Black Feminist Struggle


“The American people are smart and understand trade-offs, because they have to do it in their own lives all the time. It would be helpful to be reminded that when it comes to law enforcement, there are trade-offs there, too. If we’re going to elect the people who make these decisions, we shouldn’t let them just give us slogans. They should give us detailed policies so we can have informed conversations.”
Carissa Byrne Hessick Wants to Hold Prosecutors Accountable

“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.”
Carlos Izcaray’s Year of the Women is Only the Beginning

“I have seen the alchemy that occurs when a woman decides that enough is enough and sets out on a journey to make the madness stop. By coming to us, she acknowledges that she matters—that she is worthy of support, comradery and a life free from fear, and that she is willing to fight for that. Standing beside her is an honor.”
Why Carrie Goldberg Takes Trolls to Court

“Everywhere I go I meet people who default to kindness. I meet people who are working in all kinds of ways to reach across dividing lines. I see people reaching across those lines all the time, for the food bank or family or love, for all kinds of reasons. Something in us expects kindness, and I find it to be that way. There’s this gravity I see in people. After deep, deep grief, someone comes back to love. How do they do that? And yet we do. You see it all the time. There’s a gravity to love that humans carry around.”
Carrie Newcomer‘s Latest Harmonious Call for Inclusion

‘The idea of free speech has been so co-opted by abusers. What is counter-speech to a non-consensual pornographic image of you? What do you do with threats to your life? There isn’t counter speech for that. I’ve talked to so many young women who want to start a blog, or a podcast, or a project, but are really afraid of being targeted. I know that feeling with this film. But I think it’s important for young women and all women to know that we stand strong together and if you are being targeted that there is a whole coalition of women and men who support you.”
Cynthia Lowen Puts Cyber Harassment in Focus in “Netizens”


Diane Paulus (second from the right) with Gloria Steinem (center) and actors from “Gloria: A Life.” (@gloriatheplay)

“I went to an all-girls school growing up: The Brearley School in New York City. There was never any question that we could be whoever we wanted to be and say whatever we wanted to say. In high school, I marched for the ERA and I lobbied for Planned Parenthood in Albany. I actually wanted to go into politics—my goal was to become the mayor of New York. In the end, theater became the way for me to channel that impulse to bring people together and make change. Now, having done this project, I have an even deeper understanding of how everything that I have been able to do in my life is thanks to the efforts of the women’s movement.”

What Diane Paulus Learned by Telling Gloria Steinem’s Story


“Of course she had a gun. She put herself in constant danger, and she knew that the people who would be coming after her would be armed to the teeth. Some of the people who traveled with her also had guns. That was a central part of her mission. So why not position her as she came to slay? She came to slay slavery. She came to remove her friends and family from the most violent system in the United States. She came, and she did it, armed and ready. If we think about the importance of activism today, because clearly Harriet Tubman was an activist, you have to have that mentality that you are ready and willing to go fight and slay the beast in order for justice to prevail.”
Inside Erica Armstrong Dunbar’s Black, Feminist Biography of Harriet Tubman

“This is not a time to congratulate ourselves. It is the time to press forward with eyes on the overarching goal of full equality for all women. All humans, for that matter. Go win elections. Give money or time to candidates you support or run yourself. Start companies that build wealth at the Apple level or run them. Raise feminist kids. Give to social justice causes. Invest in women-led businesses and buy from companies with female-friendly policies. Find the cure for cancer, solve climate change. Do one small thing every day to help another woman succeed. Use your power to lead men and women together to a healthier, more just world. Nobody has to do everything, but everybody can do something.”
Gloria Feldt Wants More Women Empowered and in Power

“That’s the art that I’m interested in, the kind of art that moves me. Art that reminds me of the problem and absences and silences and silos, but also shows me the way out. Just focusing on the problem is keeping us in a static place. What is the pathway to reconciliation? What is the pathway to healing? What is the pathway to awareness? What is the pathway to completely dismantling this thing and turning it around? Show me how this art allows us to move forward, even in a minute way.”
How Curator Grace Aneiza Ali is Reimagining “Women’s Work”

“My mother was in public health my whole life, my dad was an activist and I’d been a teacher already for a while, so I could answer their questions. The nature of the questions wasn’t very complicated, so putting together Scarleteen I figured I would put up five or 10 pages as a supplement and that would be fine. Of course, what I wasn’t aware of is that even by that point in the mid-90s a lot of people were not getting sex ed in school or anywhere else. So I put up those pages and it kind of exploded and everybody started writing letters. So, naturally, the questions coming in didn’t necessarily stay so fast and easy. I had to basically stop teaching in person. I had to make a decision to do Scarleteen full time, and once it took off, it kind of ate my life.”
How Heather Corinna Started the Online Sex Education Revolution

“I think she chose me. After she died, I was simply unable to stop being mournful about the loss for the country, and for me personally. Although meeting her, which I did, was not the reason why. I just felt she was an incredibly important voice in the zeitgeist, and that she died at such a young age. She’s that the kind of personality where you think is always going to be there. You think, ‘What will Ann Richards say?’ She was quite a presence in New York. When she died, I just simply couldn’t believe it. I started reading things about her, and I couldn’t shake my sense of loss and remorse.”
Why Holland Taylor Wanted to Act Like Ann Richards


“It wasn’t a normal day-to-day kind of world I was living in at that time after seeing that film… It just lit up some place in my brain and in my heart and in my soul. There are no words. You can’t explain it when something like that happens. You just experience it. And it takes you and it leads you. You’re not leading it.”

How Thelma & Louise Turned Jennifer Townsend into a Filmmaker


“Poetry is really about listening, and I think if we were to listen, we would definitely hear the earth.There are trees that sing. There are plants that talk. There is all of this communication going on. The wind, it’s all there. We all have the capability to hear it. When you hold a tree in the poem, or there are stones in your poem, or seasons, they help you stop and listen and remember we are part of all of this. Any project will have poetry central—but how can we speak across the line? How can we speak about the unspeakable?… How do we use poetry to make links and connections, so people listen and there is no more cruelty in the world? We all have a small part.”
How Poet Laureate Joy Harjo Plans to Change the Narrative

“I don’t understand how you could really be living in these times and be a black woman and not be a black feminist.”
Black Feminist in Public: Kasi Lemmons on Telling Harriet Tubman’s Freedom Story

“I wanted to get something out so that people would really think about what was going on with witchcraft accusations and all the violence surrounding it,  so that people will start to really think and say: ‘Yes, this is what is actually happening—it is all in the name of something else and innocent lives are being lost.’ Also, I wanted to show the importance of women in our society. They raise you up and instill all these traditional cultural ways and teach you how to survive and in the end someone turns around and does the most horrific thing to them.”
Why Papua New Guinean Filmmaker Katherine Reki is Zooming in on Witchcraft

“My goal is to help equip people for private conversations—dialogues, not monologues—about both abortion opinion and abortion experience. I think they are both valuable. We make assumptions that when someone says they are pro-choice, we really know how they feel about abortion. Or when they say they are pro-life, that we really understand how they feel. But the political and public conversation becomes so toxic and polarized and the private conversation is so stigmatized that we are scared to even inquire with people who we know and like. We might ask them their opinion on 200 other things and still think, oh but you can’t talk about abortion. And I just reject that, I refuse.”
Katie Watson Wants to Talk About Ordinary Abortion

“The #MeToo movement is partly why I came forward. And something that encouraged me as well was watching the Kavanaugh hearing, where I saw Christine Blasey Ford get raked over the coals by these stupid old men. I was also watching the administration at Penn State, as well as all the cases of people being abused by priests. I think that two or three years ago I would have been dragged over the coals, once again. But it’s really, really changed. So I thought, you know what, there’s probably a bunch of 14 year old people like me having this problem, or maybe they’re 20, or maybe they’re 30, who cares. They may not be in the position that I am to be able to talk about this issue.”
Time’s Up in Classical Music: Q&A with Lara St. John


“We need to storm in and say we want to be part of the conversation. The kind of polite anger that women display does not disrupt the system and it does not get our needs met. It is time to be enraged—not be violent, but to take action.”

How Leymah Gbowee Turned Anger into Action


Many mistruths begin with what children are taught—or not taught—about our nation’s history. We must confront our nation’s birth defects of Native American genocide, slavery and exclusion of women and people of color from our electoral process. And we have to work tirelessly to eradicate their continuing effects on our lives and the lives of our children and to confront the growing voices of those who want to turn back the clock of racial and economic progress through mass incarceration, voter suppression, the criminalization of the poor, an unjust criminal justice system, separate and unequal funding for schools and massive poverty and systemic economic inequality that plague us still. Only the truth can make us free.”
Marian Wright Edelman is Sowing Seeds for Social Change

“I don’t think I can isolate what I need as a writer from what I need as a Black woman, mother, wife—which is to live. Do you understand what I mean? And to know that my children have a future. And to know that my husband will not be hunted down. That’s what I want, period. A humane system where our humanity is never questioned.”
What Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie’s Womanist Poems Tell Us About Love, Language and Race in America

‘I wasn’t trying to write about the movement. I wasn’t trying to be a voice for the movement. With this kind of a shooting, and this kind of a story, you cannot not include it, because it’s part of the framework of society that we’re in right now. So every time there’s this kind of shooting, the Black Lives Matter movement is there, it is a presence.”
The Black, Feminist Subtext of Melanie S. Hatter’s Award-Winning Novel Malawi’s Sisters

“I think it’s really important when we use the word ‘marginalized,’ we realize that someone has been marginalizing them. There’s a subject to that sentence. Often, many of us as scholars think we’re not the ones marginalizing [women filmmakers] because we’re for equality. But when you really start to reflect on what you’re teaching and what you’re writing about, you might be shocked to discover that you’re more part of the problem than the solution.”
Why Michele Meek Celebrates a Diversity of Icons in Film


What I would say to women and girls here and around the world: Be not afraid. Be ready for whatever opportunities come along, and know how important your contribution is, because when women succeed, everyone succeeds.

The Ms. Q&A: Nancy Pelosi Emerges Victorious


“I traveled back and forth to town quite a bit, and got to know folks from all corners. What I learned was that everybody was impacted by the rape, the effects were so far reaching, everyone felt close to it and hurt by it. It really solidified my understanding that rape is not just a crime between victim and perpetrator, it reaches and ripples out to en entire community. But we are truly in a transformational moment. Finally people are listening, are enraged. We are seeing more men stepping up as allies, calling out the behavior as unacceptable. Can we harness that for change?”
Why Feminist Filmmaker Nancy Schwartzman Went Back to Steubenville

“Within the health talk and discussion, you’re asking people to reach out to others: ‘Who do you think you can reach out to with the information that you got today?’ Some of them will say: My husband. My best friend. My daughter who is not here because she’s attending school or she’s in the U.S. or Europe, and I’ll share with her through text message or WhatsApp. It’s like a snowball effect. You are empowering these people so they can reach out and empower others themselves. The more everyone agrees that this practice is harmful, the more sustainable your decisions will be.”
How Nafissatou J. Diop Plans to End FGM

“Feminist writers ask the pertinent questions about how we are to be in this world and what we can make of a future that transcends what, for too many, are the givens. Feminist poets forefront environmentalism, anti-violence work, social justice work and new definitions of beauty. I love that Anne Waldman calls her work (and you can say this of many of these writers) ‘trickster feminism.’ Women writers disrupt patriarchal notions of family, sexuality, erotic desire and even economics—I’m thinking here of Susan Briante and Julie Sheehan. If the idea of the human is to be truly re-made, then women will do the making.”
Patricia Spears Jones Fights Patriarchy and Racism with Feminist Poetry

“The work we’re doing here—and I’m going to use this term that I’ve talked about, I didn’t coin it, but I’ve talked about in a lot of my writings—is we have to create a non-reformist reformance. We are reform movement until revolution, but a non-reformance reform is the idea that you are going to reform an institution by not making it stronger. Non-reformance reform is something like, you know, take a half of the police budget and give it towards schools—not reform that would actually enhance the police. It’s like body cameras, right? We’re not interested in giving more money to law enforcement to do a job that is about harming and violated communities. We’re interested in taking away that power so that we can put power into places that will empower our communities.”
Patrisse Cullors is Fighting for Institutional Investment in Black Lives

“I was a voracious reader—libraries were my home. Part of my time growing up, we lived in rural Georgia—the only family of color in a poor white community. My white teachers were threatened by me—and my ability to read. For reading ahead in assignments, they chastised and shamed me. From these experiences, at an early age, I connected language to power—and felt aware of my brown body. Of being marked as a brown girl. I stepped back to observe the world and understand it through language. I am now working to step up and re-create the world—and my experiences—through language. Poetry is a way to re-vision our world, how we navigate it, how we live in it, how we expand in it. Poetry has helped me re-claim my voice, sense of self and to feel. Poetry enables me to decolonize.”
Purvi Shah Resists Erasure and Rewrites History with Feminist Poetry

“Since I was a child, I have always wanted to change the world. I could’ve gone into social work and help rape victims. I could’ve done that, and we need those people, but that’s not in my wheelhouse. If I think about what is in my wheelhouse, and I couple that with my desire to change planet Earth, then the question is: Can that be my mode of feminist intervention? How do I take science and by solving a problem in science, address a problem that disproportionately affects women all over planet Earth? That’s my feminist agenda.”
How Rabi Musah Uses Chemistry to Advance Social Justice

“Every day in a Black body can evoke a number of responses—fear, envy, desire, fascination, attack or disdain. This is often before the person in the Black body gets a chance to engage it, or find safety, self-love, understanding or an appreciation for it. especially if the body’s been attacked or exploited. As a teaching artist for many years in and around New York, I’d often hear my young black girl students speaking my past insecurities about my body right back to me, so this is ongoing. With Nola, a young Black woman at the center of the show, we get to see someone who’s found peace in her body. A woman who doesn’t apologize for what she does and doesn’t do with her body. It was liberating for me to write a character like this.”
Why Radha Blank Had to Write for It

I’m feeling a deep sense of connection and sense of place in this world from hearing how my words have been empowering for so many strangers—people who are no longer strangers because once you’ve read my work, we become family. To hear their loving praise gives me such pride and gratitude, and the affirmation that this is precisely what I was born to do. I’m so honored to serve others in their journey into their bravest, boldest self. To speak is a revolution. To know that my voice is now igniting others is the most profound fulfillment.
How Reema Zaman Found Healing in Her Own Story


“You know, people often ask me why I choose the subjects that I do, and it’s really based on my barometer of anger. If something makes me very angry, that’s what I really want to focus on.”

Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy Wants the World to Let Girls Dream


“Feminism is expansive, and there are all these different strains of thought within it, so I think that my feminism is one that makes space for a conversation about fashion that doesn’t just take it as something that’s frivolous, but sees the potential for fashion to be liberatory, and also sees the long history in which feminists of all colors, classes and so forth have used style and garments as central to their movement, as central to their activism—creating uniforms, if you will, that help make their political message very clear.”
Tanisha C. Ford’s Black Feminist Love Letter to Fashion

“It’s one thing to say ‘this is bad,’ but to be able to do it in a way that is satirical with music was my stamp on it…I was reading all this stuff about feminism every day and trying to think about these large questions and I thought, what’s a comedic take on it? What am I digesting?”
Tess Paras Talks #MeToo Movies and Inclusive Casting

“I feel that rape and sexual violence is so embedded in our culture that it will take much more than the expose of a Weinstein to begin the process of stamping it out. We know that the percentage of convictions for rape and sexual assault is very low. The complicity of the Hollywood community, which allowed Weinstein to act with impunity, is echoed throughout our culture: look at the Catholic Church, sports and many other industries. So until we can start to call out and dismantle complicity, predators will continue to stalk their victims.  Speaking out is the first step, but it will take a long time. “
What Ursula Macfarlane Learned by Investigating the Harvey Weinstein Scandal

“I’ve seen such darkness in the world, in my childhood and through my nonprofit work in war zones; execution, war and ugliness I don’t even like to talk about. You have a choice on how to react to life and I choose to appreciate life. I still get excited when I see acts of kindness. To me, it’s the opposite of the anxiety I felt growing up. I choose to see the beauty of humanity. The only way I could survive all the darkness I’ve seen is to put goodness out into the world.” —Where Zainab Salbi’s Fight Meets Eleanor Roosevelt’s Legacy

About

Carmen Rios is the Managing Digital Editor at Ms. and has spent over a decade raising hell in feminist media. Her work has been published by outlets like the Atlantic's CityLab, BuzzFeed, ElixHER, Feministing, Girlboss, Mic, MEL and Everyday Feminism; and she also spent six years writing and editing for Autostraddle, was a founding blogger and activist with the SPARK Movement and was the inaugural managing editor of THE LINE Campaign blog. Carmen is additionally a co-founder of Webby-nominated Argot Magazine.