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A Personal Take on 'The Women’s List'


Editor’s Note: This week’s guest blogger is KCTS 9 marketing and communications intern Sydney Friend Sifferman. In this post, Sydney reviews The Women’s List, a new program premiering September 25th on KCTS 9, and she reflects on parts of the program that were particularly meaningful to her.

Throughout my internship at KCTS 9, I have watched a range of programs, from Nova and Nature to Frontline, but nothing has inspired me more than American Masters’ The Women’s ListThe one-hour special, which premieres Friday, September 25th, highlights 15 women who have broken boundaries and overcome obstacles to succeed in art, politics, science, law, music, and many other fields. The Women’s List shows how women have made monumental strides due to their motivation and intelligence, but also how recognition for their work and work ethic is still something they struggle to obtain.

Throughout history, women have often been treated as second-class citizens. Women have been told that they can’t have an education. That they can’t work. That they can’t have equal pay. That they can’t vote. That they can’t own property. That they can’t serve in the military. However, individually and collectively, women have overcome all of these boundaries. And the women represented in The Women’s List are proof of that.

All of the women in The Women’s List inspired me, but Alicia Keys, Madeline Albright, and Shonda Rimes each said something that really spoke to me.

One of the biggest struggles I faced as a little girl was people telling me what a girl was and was not supposed to be. In the special, Alicia Keys says, “I love the concept of rebel… sometimes you will find yourself almost being told what you can’t do, what you shouldn’t do, what women don’t do, what women aren’t supposed to do. You will hear a lot of those things… I find that to be just because people are totally and utterly fearful, and we are so, so incredibly capable to do everything that we can possibly imagine, and the things that we don’t even know that we can do, we can do that too.” Growing up, I heard the phrases, “that’s not lady-like,” “be more lady-like,” or “ladies do not act like that” on a regular basis. My mom, aunts, and grandmothers were always trying to define what being a lady was, focusing on their own ideas about the limitations of the female gender. It was strange to me that they were so focused on forcing me to be a ‘girl’ rather than letting me be myself, a person who happens to be a girl. It was like they were scared of the type of girl I would grow up to be, a girl who got some mud on her tights at the playground, a girl who opened her own doors, a girl who was her own person and made her own rules instead of being the girl who sat back and waited for society to tell her what was and wasn’t acceptable. It is in this way that Alicia Keys and I faced some of the same struggles: we both wanted to be who were, but people around us were putting limits on who that person could be. 

Another challenge I have faced is dealing with women who feel the need to tear down other women in order to succeed socially or professionally. Madeline Albright speaks to this issue when she states, “One of the most important messages to young women is that it’s a wonderful time of opportunity, but basically, young women can’t forget how hard it’s been; we need to respect each other and we need to help each other.”  In my own experience, I’ve seen the girly girls ridicule the tomboys; the businesswomen dismiss the stay-at-home mothers; and the women who order salads look down on the women who order fries. When we have come so far, why do we have to tear each other down? We are supposed to be a team, helping each other get ahead. What does one woman gain by kicking down her teammate to score a goal for herself? This is why Madeline Albright’s words of wisdom should be heard by more girls and all women. The fight for equality is about respect for each other and teamwork, and Madeline Albright understands that.

One of my recent struggles is dealing with how some people view the word “feminist.” It baffles me that people attribute so much negativity to the word, a word that means equality. Shonda Rimes also shares this viewpoint in The Women’s List when she says, “I’m disturbed by the fact that people think that feminist is a bad word. I’m disturbed by the fact that young women think that feminist is a bad word. It’s as if they want guys to think they are cute, and they would rather be cute than equal, which is really disturbing.” The looks I get when I tell people that I am a feminist—it’s as if I told them I’m  joining ISIS!  For some people, feminism seems to mean that you hate men, you hate families, you are ugly, or you hate stay-at-home mothers. All of those statements are wrong. Men can be feminists too. Feminism is about standing up for equality between men and women, and that is something that I want, and every person should want. Women should want it for themselves and men should want it for their mothers, wives, daughters, granddaughters, nieces—and for themselves.

Alicia Keys, Madeline Albright, and Shonda Rimes inspired me, as did the other 12 women on The Women’s List. This program showcases how far women have come and how far we still have to go. This is a program that everyone should watch because everyone can get something out of it. As a woman and a 20-year-old college student, I’m very glad that I had the opportunity to see it.