During our recent chat (listen above), Gloria Steinem explains the surprising origins of her Emmy-nominated new series, “Woman,” an eight-part examination of issues confronting women in various parts of the world. “I was at a meeting of ideas held by Google, and was talking about violence against women worldwide that is cumulatively enough that there are now fewer females than males on earth. [Viceland CEO] Shane Smith was moved by that and he said we need to do something about that.”
The result is “Woman,” a riveting exploration of subjects that are too often under-reported. Correspondents traveled the globe, reporting on sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, child brides in Zambia, murdered women in El Salvador, the ongoing civil war in Colombia, and extremism in Pakistan. Closer to home, they focused on missing and murdered women of the First Nations of Canada and both the rise in sexual assaults of women serving in the US military and the chilling effects of incarceration on the children of American female inmates.
For Steinem, the success of the show is due to “it is the most like being there yourself. These women are on the ground asking questions in a good journalistic way by not presuming the answer and responding in a human way, not being detached. These are not constructed documentaries, which have another kind of purpose because they can show history and analysis in a different way.” Viceland launched last Feburary, with “Woman” unspooling on a weekly basis in the spring. For Steinem, the response has been overwhelming. As for a second season, she readily admits to being conflicted between returning to follow-up on these compelling stories or shining the light on other issues that are little-known.
Steinem readily revisits her past, recalling her years as an undergraduate at the renowned women’s college Smith that had a man as its president. Indeed, it was not until the centennial of the college in 1975 that a woman was named its leader. And she reminisces about her first time as an Emmy nominee. In 1965, she contended as part of the writing team for the NBC satirical series “That Was the Week That Was.”
As she explains, she was the “girl writer” and her job was to comb newspapers and magazines for odd facts and stats for the segment “Surrealism in Everyday Life.” That year, the TV academy had scrapped the traditional categories and Steinem and company found themselves competing in the wide-open field of writing against scribes from comedy (“The Dick Van Dyke Show”), variety (“The Danny Thomas Special: The Wonderful World of Burlesque”) and telefilms (“Hallmark Hall of Fame: The Magnificent Yankee”) with David Karp winning for an episode of the drama series “The Defenders.”
While Steinem may have been the only woman in that race, Smith is the sole male among the nominees from “Woman.” Indeed, women number among those cited for three of the other four nominees for Best Documentary or Non-Fiction Series– “American Masters,” “Making of a Murderer” and “The Seventies” — with only “Chef’s Table” being an all-male club.
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