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“It seems audacious, even today, that one could start a revolution by telling stories often ignored in the mainstream, written by voices that have been cast aside. And yet, that is the very model that has allowed Ms. to serve as a catalyst for social change.”
On Tuesday, Sept. 19—the same day the Ms. book, 50 Years of Ms.: The Best of the Pathfinding Magazine That Ignited a Revolution, was released—Ms. magazine was awarded PEN America’s Impact Award, in honor of the publication’s five decades of feminist journalism.
“Through its art, literature and journalism, Ms. magazine became a platform that educated, inspired and mobilized generations of feminists in support of equality,” said PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel. “I am deeply honored to present the PEN America Impact Award … in recognition of Ms. magazine’s contributions to journalism, feminism and social change.”
Since its earliest days, Ms. has demonstrated the untapped potential for reporting that centers news and analysis on women and their lives. Our new book, 50 YEARS OF Ms., showcases it all, decade by decade, as well as behind-the-scenes photographs that reveal and reflect the changes set in motion by Ms., and the iconic covers that galvanized readers. Curated by Ms. editors, 50 YEARS OF Ms. includes a foreword by Gloria Steinem, co-founder of Ms. magazine, and commentary from Ms. executive editor Katherine Spillar and Ms. publisher Eleanor Smeal.
Spillar and Steinem accepted the award Tuesday on behalf of Ms.
Below are Nossel’s prepared remarks (lightly edited for clarity):
It is an honor to be here in celebration of 50 years of Ms. magazine’s pioneering work—and a privilege to celebrate alongside so many of the trailblazing women who founded, led and continue to pave the way for its extraordinary legacy.
The PEN America Impact award is conferred in honor of a publication that has left an indelible mark on the landscape of journalism, activism and women’s rights. Of course, no publication better embodies this mantle than Ms. magazine.
For over half a century, Ms. magazine, whose iconic founder Gloria Steinem is in this room tonight, has been at the forefront of social change, pushing for gender equality and championing the rights of women of color, LGBTQ+ individuals, and other underrepresented groups. Through its art, literature and journalism, Ms. magazine became a platform that educated, inspired and mobilized generations of feminists in support of equality.
It seems audacious, even today, that one could start a revolution by telling stories often ignored in the mainstream, written by voices that have been cast aside. And yet, that is the very model that has allowed Ms. to serve as a catalyst for social change.
The impact of this work has shaped the course of women’s history in innumerable ways. I am reminded of the 1986 PEN Congress in New York, where out of 120 selected panelists, only 20 were women—despite the fact that women made up about half of PEN’s membership. A group of women, surely inspired by the spirit of the Ms. magazine generation, protested their underrepresentation. And in response to their demands, the Women’s Writers Committee at PEN America was born.
Ironically, the only photo of PEN’s Congress in The New York Times was that of the Women’s Meeting. It got people thinking: Where are all the women writers?
Many of them have been right here, propelling the Ms. revolution for decades. Women writers like our very own Elizabeth Hemmerdinger, who wrote a piece in the first issue of Ms. magazine in July 1972 titled Demystifying Your Car. The article breaks down the inner workings of the motor and all other aspects of a car, so that women could feel empowered to take their own car to a mechanic. As Elizabeth wrote in the article: “To understand is to be free.”
This guiding principle continues to ring true today—when the landscape for women’s rights looks more like it did in 1971 than it did a decade ago. The work of Ms. magazine is far from over.
And now, without further ado, I am deeply honored to present the PEN America Impact Award to Kathy and Gloria in recognition of Ms. magazine’s contributions to journalism, feminism and social change. On behalf of PEN America, and our membership of writers, thank you for 50 remarkable years of reporting, rebelling and truth-telling.
We are honored to celebrate this milestone with you. Here is to 50 more!
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U.S. democracy is at a dangerous inflection point—from the demise of abortion rights, to a lack of pay equity and parental leave, to skyrocketing maternal mortality, and attacks on trans health. Left unchecked, these crises will lead to wider gaps in political participation and representation. For 50 years, Ms. has been forging feminist journalism—reporting, rebelling and truth-telling from the front-lines, championing the Equal Rights Amendment, and centering the stories of those most impacted. With all that’s at stake for equality, we are redoubling our commitment for the next 50 years. In turn, we need your help, Support Ms. today with a donation—any amount that is meaningful to you. For as little as $5 each month, you’ll receive the print magazine along with our e-newsletters, action alerts, and invitations to Ms. Studios events and podcasts. We are grateful for your loyalty and ferocity.