Feminist Journalism is Essential to Democracy

Celebrating the Legacy of Feminist Reporting: 50 Years of Ms. Magazine at UCLA’s Hammer Museum

Feminist journalism is essential to public discourse. It is essential to political debate. And it absolutely essential to free and fair democracy. Explore more at Feminist Journalism is Essential to DemocracyMs. magazine’s latest installment of Women & Democracy, presented in partnership with the International Women’s Media Foundation.

Katherine Spillar, Eleanor Smeal, Michele Goodwin, Dolores Huerta and Carmen Rios, discuss 50 Years of Ms. at the Hammer Museum on Oct. 5, 2023, in Los Angeles. (Rodin Eckenroth / Getty Images)

On Oct. 5, 2023, Ms. celebrated the release of 50 Years of Ms: The Best of the Pathfinding Magazine that Ignited a Revolution, at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles. The event commemorated the legacy and future of feminist reporting with a panel moderated by Ms. executive editor Kathy Spillar, editor and contributor to 50 Years of Ms. and joined by:

  • Dolores Huerta: celebrated labor rights activist known for her contributions to the United Farm Workers Union, which she co-founded with Cesar Chavez. She is a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom and a member of the Ms. advisory board. 
  • Dr. Michele Goodwin: executive producer of Ms. Studios and the host of On The Issues with Michele Goodwin. She is a regular contributor to the magazine and the Linda D. & Timothy J. O’Neill professor of constitutional law and global health policy at Georgetown University. 
  • Ellie Smeal: the co-founder and president of the Feminist Majority Foundation, which publishes Ms. She is a political analyst, strategist and community organizer known for her efforts towards the economic, social and political empowerment of women worldwide. 
  • Carmen Rios: feminist writer and broadcaster and the former digital editor for Ms. Her work has been published in BuzzFeed, Bust, CityLab, DAME, ElixHER, Everyday Feminism and more. 

Below is an excerpted transcript from the panel discussion.  The full discussion can be accessed here

Kathy Spillar:  Ms. has always broken the silence on issues that mainstream media barely touched or refused to cover. In its very first issue, Ms. published a petition that led with “We Have Had Abortions,” signed by 50 famous women. This was 1972, the year before Roe, which meant many of them were admitting to having broken the law. 

The Washington Post recently concluded that that petition in Ms. had changed the course of the reproductive rights movement because it had finally made visible that which had been invisible, which were the women who had had abortions. 

How has Ms. shaped the war on women? What else has Ms. been able to do to change the discourse to get us closer to our rights? 

Carmen Rios: Ms. tends to be prescient, tends to start and add to conversation where information is missing about how things are impacting women, women of color or poor women, queer women. Leading into 2016, Ms. was sounding the alarm about the balance of the Supreme Court, we were talking about the risk to abortion rights, the risks women of color were going to face, the impact on abortion and more. And people absolutely said we were overreacting, overexaggerating.

Dr. Michele Bratcher Goodwin, Dolores Huerta, and Carmen Rios speak at 50 Years of Ms. Magazine, presented by the Hammer Conversations series, at the Hammer Museum on Oct. 5, 2023 in Los Angeles. (Rodin Eckenroth / Getty Images)

Ellie Smeal: One of the things that we say over and over again in the magazine and on the cover is that anger plus rage equals power, and I think the big lesson is you have to take power. We were the only people that put the first woman speaker Nancy Pelosi on the cover, while TIME had put her opponent on the cover several times. 

Michele Goodwin: I came to Ms. with a podcast because I thought that there could be no better place to be able to have a discussion, elevate issues and concerns that wouldn’t be edited out, that wouldn’t be sanitized, that wouldn’t have been at the end not making it to the public square, which happens so much with discourse that people just simply don’t realize. 

Our first episode was released alongside the horror of George Floyd’s murder, and we had four women talking about the issues that mattered at the moment, despite the epsiode being planned weeks in advance.  With January 6th, we had wanted to do a series on the challenges to democracy in this country and had just been setting up discussions around that. So keep listening, keep paying attention because, hopefully, we’ll find many different ways to reach you, your friends, and the people you love and care about.

Dolores Huerta: In my organizing with farm workers, there are stories that are so atrocious that it’s hard to believe them. There was an article in Ms. magazine called “The Green Motel” that inspired one of the women who had suffered years of being raped and sexually harassed to come forward with her story and go approach the company. And that article gave so many women the courage to speak up to stop the terrible harassment and treatment of women farmworkers, and so I am always grateful to Ms. for that. 

Kathy Spillar:  For all the horribleness, there is some good news. I want to turn to a recent national poll that Ms. and the Feminist Majority Foundation sponsored with Celinda Lake of Lake Research Partners, and we issued a report, “The Power of Abortion Rights and the Equal Rights Amendment in Driving the 2024 Elections.” We’re determined to get this word out because if you just listen to the general media and you read the various papers we all read you think the only thing that matters is rising prices or inflation, but abortion and the ERA rise up to being the second most important issue for voters, especially young women. 

Spillar, Smeal and Goodwin at the Hammer Museum on Oct. 5, 2023. (Rodin Eckenroth / Getty Images)

Dolores Huerta: In fact, 63 percent of Latina women support abortion rights for women, and when you consider voters, that number can go up to 83 percent. The Republicans are spending a lot of money convincing the Latino community that abortion is evil. But at the end of the day, we, as women, are going to be able to win. 

Kathy Spillar: What lessons can we take from the last 50 years to build an even bigger movement and even faster we move forward than we have so far?

Carmen Rios:  I don’t think of Ms. necessarily as prescriptive, I see it as this place where feminists come together to engage in good faith conversation with one another about how we can do better by one another, how we can be in solidarity with each other, about the commonalities of our lives and the differences in our lives. For me, it’s about making sure that we have a multiracial coalition of women across backgrounds and experiences, coming together to find solutions, to name problems and to raise hell. I think that’s the way forward. 

This piece was curated and edited by Aastha Jani.

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