Ms. Magazine

Ms. Women of the Year
Marleine Bastien
Jennifer Erikson +Robert Riley
Magda Escobar
Jane Fonda
Rebecca Gomperts
Naomi Klein
Barbara Lee
Yoko Ono
Sylvia Rhone
Venus + Serena Williams
The Women of Afghanistan
World Trade Center Heroes
Michelle Yeoh

Women Who Made A Difference
A few of the brave and tenacious women who left their mark on this momentous year—and one enduring female superhero.
30 Years of Ms.
A few of our words—and yours—about the magazine and its mission, and the roads we've traveled along the way.
Phantom Towers
An excerpt by Rosalind P. Petchesky

Editor's Page: Turning Point

Bold Before Her Time
Edna St. Vincent Millay's reckless life by Le Anne Schreiber

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Serena & Venus Williams
For serving up a discomfiting mix of sinew, grit, coal black kink, and 'tude-and daring to call it woman
Afghan Women
For pursuing acts of resistance in the face of brutal, gender-based oppression
Barbara Lee
For courageously standing up for peace and justice in a time of terrorism and fear Jane Fonda For putting her muscle and her money to work for girls' health and gender studies
Roberta Riley & Jennifer Erickson
For convincing a federal court that birth control is a medical necessity and mobilizing a movement for prescription coverage
Rebecca Gomperts
For hatching a heroic and ingenious plan to provide reproductive health services around the world
Michelle Yeoh
For creating powerful images of Asian women and refusing to be stereotyped
Magda Escobar
For showing us how to build community programs that bridge the digital divide
Naomi Klein
For connecting activists around the world to help create a new global movement
Sylvia Rhone
For putting her ideals into action-both in and out of the music business-on behalf of women and people of color
Marleine Bastien
For working to make the dream of democracy a reality for Florida's black voters
Yoko Ono
For five decades (and counting) of unwavering commitment to peace and feminism
September 11 heroes
For giving their lives to save others in the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center

Michelle Yeoh
For creating powerful images of Asian women and refusing to be stereotyped

Some say last year's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is a feminist movie because it has three strong female leads. Others rave about the martial arts feats performed by these women. But what makes the movie truly empowering happens when a father proudly holds up a baby girl and tells the swordswoman played by Michelle Yeoh, "I'll be happy if she's half as strong as you." That moment—like the movie—is a powerful rebuke to China's patriarchal culture that still devalues girls and treats female submissiveness as a virtue. Using her industry clout, Yeoh has challenged traditionally sexist views of Asian women by creating strong female roles—first as an action-movie pioneer and now as the head of her own film company.

"There are women out there watching this and getting inspired. Girls are taking up martial arts because of her," says Crouching Tiger director Ang Lee, whose movie won four Oscars. "In Asia, she has become an icon for the strong-willed woman."

Throughout her 17-year career in Hong Kong cinema, Yeoh (who pronounces her name, she says, "like yo!") has chosen to portray only women of strength because that is how she sees herself and the women in her life: her mother, her friends.

"I believe movies reflect what's happening in society," she says. "Why constantly portray Asian women as victims or sex objects when that's not how things really are?"

Since 1984, the Malaysian-born actor has played a cop, a rebel, a soldier of fortune, a superhero, a stuntwoman, even a superagent opposite Pierce Brosnan's 007 in Tomorrow Never Dies (1997). In the process, she has created a modern prototype instead of reinforcing a Hollywood stereotype. Ever since Anna May Wong played a prostitute opposite Marlene Dietrich in Shanghai Express (1932), Asian women have been cast as sexual playthings or silently suffering women—images as demeaning as the mammy roles were for black women.

"I didn't want to play a damsel in distress," says Yeoh, who initially faced a macho film culture that saw the former ballerina as too girly for chop-socky cinema. Proving her critics wrong, she performed her own stunts while most actors—male and female—used doubles. She clung to speeding vehicles, jumped from bridges, and even rode a motorcycle off a ramp and onto a moving train.

While filming Crouching Tiger, Yeoh tore a knee ligament—among the many injuries she's sustained in her career—but she stubbornly went on shooting. "She is the bravest person I know, a real daredevil," says Lee of Asia's highest paid female star.

"When I first started doing martial arts, I felt a sense of power because I was beating down these guys and taking punches myself. But you learn that martial arts is not about aggression. It's about discipline and getting beyond the physical until you reach a spiritual state," Yeoh says, reflecting on her career and life at 39. "Now I define strength as experience. It's everything you've ever learned. It's patience and understanding." Having founded Hong Kong-based Mythical Films in 2000, Yeoh is looking forward to producing her own projects. She turned down a part in The Matrix sequel to focus on her own movie, The Touch, a thriller about Chinese acrobats. The film, which is slated for a 2002 summer release, marks the first time that Yeoh will star in an English-language feature, an acknowledgement of her crossover appeal.

"She carries herself with such independence, intelligence, and confidence," says Risa Morimoto, director of the twenty-fourth annual Asian American International Film Festival. "Who wouldn't want to be Michelle Yeoh for a day?"
-Mai Hoang

Naomi Klein
For connecting activists around the world to help create a new global movement

When trying to explain the anti-World Trade Organization protests in Seattle in 1999, a New York Times writer declared, "seemingly overnight, the trade group has become the target of those opposed to what they consider the excesses of globalization."

"Overnight?" Naomi Klein laughs. "Only if you've been systematically ignoring activism for the last fifteen years, like the Times has." Klein, on the other hand, has been paying close attention. She had been working on her groundbreaking book, No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies (Picador USA), for four years, and it was published just weeks after the so-called Battle of Seattle. No Logo details how corporations have taken over our lives—from installing sneaker sweatshops in poor nations to crushing free speech in the name of trademark protection and brand identity—and what a generation of activists has been doing to counter it.

But the mainstream media doesn't want to hear it. Publications like The Economist constantly criticize and misrepresent her book and her politics (even the label "anti-globalization" is a misnomer, according to Klein, since what this movement is really about is calling for a truly international, democratic globe). "Some of the media coverage-of me and the movement-has been ridiculous," says Klein. "I was approached by Vogue in April. They called me in Quebec City—I was breathing tear gas, and I get this call—and they say they want me to come to New York and go shopping with them, and they said, 'We already know the headline: shopping with the enemy.' I asked, 'Who's the enemy?' And they said, 'You.'" Klein laughs. "I said, 'I thought you were the enemy.'"

But no amount of negative press can stop No Logo. Since its initial publication, the book has traveled around the world, making its way into 17 languages and onto numerous best-seller lists. Klein has traveled along with the book, giving speeches and readings, attending rallies and demonstrations, and meeting with activists. But that doesn't make Klein the leader of this movement, or the spokesperson, though the media continue to try to cast her in that role. "What I do is identify the threads that connect this web of activism," says Klein. "When I go to Australia I can say, 'This small thing you are doing here is part of a bigger movement; it connects to what's going on in Italy and in other countries.' I'm not a leader in the traditional sense."

But telling those stories and making those connections gives Klein a power that can't be ignored. She has the rare ability to be right there on the streets—directly involved in grassroots activism—yet simultaneously be able to see the movement from a distance, as a whole. Toss in her piercing intelligence, ability to handle the media, and almost uncanny prescience, and you have a beacon of hope and communication for the new left, one that is desperately needed right now.

In a post-September 11 western world, everyone wants to know what will come next for activists seeking a compassionate, sane way to proceed. Who better to ask than Klein, who has always seen where the movement is going before anyone else? "The task at hand is to expand the compassion that we saw in the U.S. after the attacks, the explosion of community, and the intuitive sense that in a time of crisis, it's inappropriate to rely on the rules of the market," Klein says. "This is what, as a movement, we've been saying all along-that there are things that are too important to be ruled by the market. And it's been a hard sell. But now, people are waking up to that."
-Ann Marie Dobosz

Marleine Bastien
For working to make the dream of democracy a reality for Florida's black voters

The beginning of 2001 saw a stunned United States questioning its electoral process. The closing of the year saw terror and destruction, and George W. Bush telling U.S. citizens, "This is the fight of all who believe in progress and pluralism, tolerance and freedom." But there are those who continue to remind us that we have not always won that "fight" on our own soil and that as we move forward into greater instability throughout the world, we must put our own house in order rather than dictate to others. Marleine Bastien is one such person.

Since fleeing the "Baby Doc" Duvalier dictatorship in Haiti in 1981, Bastien has dedicated her life to striving for freedom and justice. Whether challenging racist U.S. immigration laws or founding the nonprofit organization Haitian Women of Miami (better known by its Creole acronym, FANM), Bastien agitates for society's least powerful. As FANM's president, and now as its executive director, Bastien has nurtured projects that help prevent domestic violence and child abuse, provide micro-loans for Haitian women to start small businesses, and teach Haitian immigrants about the citizenship process.

Bastien spent most of 2000 motivating Florida's black citizens to vote. For Bastien, as for thousands of her Haitian American peers, the elections marked the first time in her life that she would have the right to vote for president.

But on November 7, numerous obstacles for black voters shattered the joy of that opportunity. Haitian Americans, for example, arrived at polling places to discover that Creole-speaking volunteers were blocked from providing language assistance and that legally required ballots in Creole were nowhere to be found. "Voting is a fundamental right," Bastien says. "We weren't killed by bullets, as in countries run by dictators, but our souls were wounded that day."

In the weeks that followed the botched election, hundreds of disenfranchised voters, including many who were not Haitian, called Bastien, knowing that she was one person who would stand up for them. "People came to me saying they would never vote again, that it was too painful. But that should be the fuel that motivates us to make the system better, for us and for our children." Bastien refused to allow the voices of black voters to go unheard. She helped organize protests and spoke at numerous rallies. She also testified for the NAACP and before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. At this writing, Bastien was working to prevent a similar breakdown in Florida's 2002 gubernatorial elections.

As the U.S. battles to "defend democracy," Bastien reminds us that we need a democracy to defend. "People consider the U.S. the champion of human rights," she says, "but during that election, people's most sacred right was denied. We must make sure it never happens again."
-Rebekah Nix

Barbara Lee
For courageously standing up for peace and justice in a time of terrorism and fear Jane Fonda For putting her muscle and her money to work for girls' health and gender studies

In July 16, 1946, a woman in labor was denied admission to a hospital in El Paso, Texas, because she was black. Hospital officials finally relented, but because of this delay, Barbara Lee was born by cesarean, pulled into the world with forceps that left a scar above her eye. "Every time I looked in the mirror, I knew I wanted to make things better so that no woman would have to go through what my mother did," she says.

Calling herself an activist "from birth," Lee has fought for the rights of women, the poor and dismissed—first as a psychiatric social worker and then as a respected member of Congress. On September 14, 2001, this advocate for justice also became a courageous voice for peace. In the days following the terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington D.C., as a traumatized nation demanded revenge, Representative Lee (D.-Calif.) stood on the floor of the House of Representatives and urged restraint instead of all-out war. "Some of us must say, let's step back for a moment and think through the implications of our action today so that it does not spiral out of control," she said. In the end, she stood alone. Out of the 421 votes cast for a resolution granting George W. Bush unlimited use of military force, hers was the one dissenting voice. Immediately, some branded her a traitor. Capitol guards moved to protect her around the clock after she received death threats. But in the more than 20,000 e-mails and phone calls in response to her vote, a majority applauded her act of conscience. To Lee, it was simply her patriotic duty.

"I am as American as anyone," says Lee, whose father served in the Army. "Now is the time when we should stand up and not let a crisis erode the Constitution and the system of checks and balances. We must continue raising issues, concerns, and ideas. We have to keep America the great democracy that it is." In the aftermath, she voted for funds to aid victims' families, rebuild lower Manhattan and the Pentagon, shore up defenses, and take military action if necessary. Like the rest of the nation, she mourned the loss of an estimated 5,000 lives—among them her Chief of Staff Sandre Swanson's cousin, a flight attendant on the United jet that struck the Pentagon. But as the shock and grief subsided, voices of reason demanded to be heard above the shouts of "USA!" and "Bomb Afghanistan!" A peace movement to counter the war effort soon emerged, with Lee as one of its heroes. "People of conscience look up to her," says Gloria La Riva, co-director of the International Action Center, which organized rallies nationwide to raise awareness of how U.S. foreign policy has led to anti-American hatred and acts of terrorism.

By late September, even before the U.S. began bombing Afghanistan, polls showed that nearly half of the U.S. public had reservations about military action, down from the high of 94 percent who favored it right after the attacks. This is not the first time Lee has taken a stance against militaristic solutions to complex problems. In 1999, she was the only House member to vote against authorizing President Clinton's bombing of Serbia.

"Other strategies that incorporate peace have to be on the table," says Lee, who helped fund the Martin Luther King Freedom Center to teach conflict resolution in her district, which includes Oakland and Berkeley. It was there—in those "leftist fever swamps," as her critics call the Bay Area—that Lee got her start in organized politics. In the early 1970s, while a student at Mills College in Oakland, she became a campaign coordinator for Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman to run for president. After starting a community-based mental health program as a social worker, she pursued policies to end the war in Vietnam as an aide to Representative Ron Dellums (D.-Calif.). Lee served in the state legislature for eight years before voters overwhelmingly elected her to Congress in 1998, where she became a major figure in domestic and global AIDS relief.

While national security is the number one priority these days, Lee reminds us that many Americans still need health care, education, housing, and jobs. "Domestic tranquility requires that we not let our own people suffer as a result of unwise spending in a crisis," she says. Ironically, just weeks before the terrorist attacks, Lee and 37 colleagues called for the creation of a Department of Peace—a Cabinet-level office on a par with the Department of Defense—that would have made social justice a national goal. "Peace is not the absence of war," The Honorable Barbara Lee tells us. "It's the presence of justice."
-Mai Hoang

Afghan Women
For pursuing acts of resistance in the face of brutal, gender-based oppression

Living in a state of siege has long been an ugly reality for Afghan women. For the past 22 years they have endured relentless warfare, droughts, deepening poverty, and, since the Taliban seized control of most of the country five years ago, a brutally misogynist government. As a result of the United States' war on terrorism, the story of their oppression is finally being widely aired.

Less discussed have been the everyday acts of thousands of Afghan women who risk beatings, imprisonment, torture, and death to defy their oppressors. In this, their hour of greatest need, we salute them.

The Taliban have banned the education of girls and women; they prohibit most women from working for pay and have decreed that it is un-Islamic for women to make too much noise, wear lipstick, show any skin in public, or leave their homes without a male relative. Vans filled with "religious police" from the Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and the Suppression of Vice monitor infractions and hand out punishment. Offenders risk being lashed with sticks wrapped in leather, or imprisonment. According to Farhat Bokhari, from Human Rights Watch, the "punishment the religious police mete out is arbitrary. Some Talibs are more brutal than others."

Despite the Taliban's edicts, women run hundreds of underground schools and moneymaking projects, risking prison and death—this in a country where women once made up 70 percent of the teachers. It is also illegal for women to beg in the streets, yet they do so and face brutal reprisals in order to support their families. Although forced to shroud themselves in the burqa, women have defied the order by flaunting polished fingernails, wearing platform shoes, and organizing underground beauty salons. And they boldly walk the streets of Kabul unaccompanied by a man.

"Women do this just to show their resistance and hatred of the Taliban," says Tahmeena Faryal, of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan. "One woman I know took off the veil of her burqa and threw it at a young Talib who had insulted her. She knew the potential consequences, but she'd had it."

And in the hundreds of refugee camps that line the country's borders, Afghan women struggle to reinvent their society. Afghans, the majority of them women and children, are the world's largest population of refugees. Most live in camps in Pakistan where hundreds of Afghan women work for organizations that offer much-needed health care, teach new refugees—especially women—vocational skills, and provide education for girls. By doing so, they provoke the ire of fundamentalist extremists in the camps.

Other women have gone back to Afghanistan, in defiance of the Taliban, to gather information on the treatment of women and to smuggle in medical and school supplies-even computers. These women have been forced to live with terrorism and war. They worry that if the war continues to escalate in their country, women will bear the brunt of the Taliban's reprisals—ranging from rape to being forced into prostitution or marriage. They worry about the danger refugee women face in Pakistan as the extremists vent their fury. They worry that when the guns of war have silenced women's voices and buried their issues, women will not be part of the peace-building process.

"We speak out on the radio, on TV, and at community centers about the situation of women in Afghanistan and Pakistan," says activist Fatana Ishaq Gailani. "We promote another vision of Islam; one of peace, love, women's rights, and human rights. If we stayed quiet, we couldn't solve Afghan women's problems." Women like Gailani are besieged, but they refuse to be vanquished.
-Anaga Dalal
Copyright Ms. Magazine 2009