Want to Meet Oprah Winfrey, Feminist Icon?

 

Back in 2010, New York Times op-ed columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote a piece about Lisa Shannon, a woman who was so inspired by a TV show that she decided to begin advocating for the women in war-ravaged eastern Congo, and eventually moved there. Unlike Ashton Kutcher, who founded his misguided anti-sex trafficking campaign after seeing an episode of Dateline, Shannon’s efforts had real-life impacts on the communities for whom she worked, and she ended up sacrificing a tremendous amount to help Congolese women rebuild their lives.

What, pray tell, was the TV show that inspired this radical change? I wasn’t surprised to learn that it was Oprah. When her show went off the air earlier this year, many mourned the loss of Oprah Winfrey’s media legacy.  On Feministing, Courtney Martin pondered the myriad of topics that Oprah brought to mainstream TV at a time when they were totally taboo: “incest, infidelity, eating disorders, mental illness, among so many others.”

Rebecca Traister went further in her praise. “Oprah has made blackness more visible,” she wrote, “has helped familiarize a country’s daytime audiences, not always the most politically progressive, with people they might otherwise not have known. Thanks to her, viewers know Steadman and Gayle, Toni Morrison and Maya Angelou. Her book club members have read Song of Solomon, Sula and three books by William Faulkner with race at their core.”

Oprah’s story is extraordinary.  Born to an unwed teenage mother in Mississippi and later sexually abused by family members, she still became an honor student and, at the age of 17, a beauty queen.  She received a scholarship to attend college, and from there, her media career soared.  Oprah’s presence on TV screens and magazine covers was, in itself, a breakthrough.

Because of the systemic currents of racism and sexism that keep women of color from appearing in powerful media positions, her success was unlikely. But that makes her presence even more important.  Oprah is a deeply inspirational figure for countless women, reminding all of her viewers that it is possible to overcome the adversity that faces women of color in the United States.  Her philanthropy continues to focus on women’s issues, like women’s leadership and maternal mortality.

Now she has her own television network, and is on the verge of making more breakthroughs for women. Oprah is uniquely poised to start speaking out about the deeper problems that keep more women and people of color from appearing in powerful media positions, as well as continuing her work to help women worldwide achieve their potential. On her show, Oprah’s stories mostly focused on self-help, inspiring her viewers to feel a new sense of control over the trajectory of their lives. Now, she can continue using individual tales of success to point out the ways that larger systems of oppression make it more difficult for ordinary people to achieve their dreams.

Care2 is partnering with the new Oprah Winfrey Network to reach the goal of one million students in “Oprah’s Lifeclass” by October 10. The first million people to sign up for the class enter a sweepstakes to meet Oprah in person. Who knows – maybe you could meet Oprah and ask her to use her influence to speak out more vocally about racism, sexism, and all the other factors that underlie the issues she addressed on her show.

Sign up here to reserve your spot in Oprah’s Lifeclass!

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Dying While Giving Life: Lack of Access and Equality Are Killing Women

Photo from nayrb7 via flickr.

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62 comments

Joanne Dixon
Joanne Dixon2 years ago

I can't help but wonder how many of these detractors posting here realize how obvious they are making their racism (some sexism too). I may have watched Oprah's show once or twice in my life, certainly no more, and I do not consider her perfect, but if I criticize her I will do it on rational grounds, not stuff like "outsiders are given too many rights... and then they abuse" or "weight problem, no husband." Oh, come on. Well behaved women rarely make history.

Andrew W.
Andrew W.2 years ago

Oprah Winfrey is not a feminist, but a woman who takes all available means to deceive the others and use them as steps for her triumph. I don't believe she could do that in Europe because she is abominably pedant, arrogant and RACIST. Yes, in some countries, like in the USA, outsiders have become like that for two simple reasons: (1) they are given too many rights – more than the rest of the people, and then they abuse; (2) notwithstanding their tolerance, they are really still object of a covered up racism by nonsense makeup laws.

John Kramer
John Kramer4 years ago

I wish this feminist icon would go to Massachusetts and lobby to get prostitution legalized in that state. Feminist should advocate legalization of prostitution as they advocate legalization of abortion. If a woman should have the right to have an abortion, she should have the right to sell her oun body to make money.

g g.
g g.4 years ago

All women take notice of the long held secrets of war told here in this 5 part PBS series."Women, War and Peace. You will cry at these truths of war and you will feel the urge to summon up your courage to stand for this issue. Women are our hope for the future. Teach your children well.

Be inspired by this poignant work by women filmmakers to bring this horrific message to us to awaken our populations to the detriments of cyclical war. Continuing to bring gender into balance please be sure to invite the men in your community also to home screenings. Awareness and education on these issues can change each persons action towards raising consciousness and creating a culture of peace. War is so pre century --between civilizations-- between nations-- between 21century powers -- between genders--between you and me!

http://www.pbs.org/wnet/women-war-and-peace/

Elle B.
Elle B.4 years ago

Noted. Thank-you.

"Teachers not only teach but they also learn." ~Sauk

Siouxz F.

charlene ,both bachman and palin are nasty witches with a capital B.
they're going to make the thought of a female in charge;LUDICROUS
and we all will suffer, in the end, because they lowered the playing field, instead of leveling it.
and did you realize that sarah palin has made over 10 million dollars,since leaving office of governor of Alaska?

Siouxz F.

not a fan,at all.
gossip is gossip

Yvette S.
Past Member 4 years ago

OK, so she is less a woman because she is over weight, unmarried, 'crawls in to bed alone' and has money? And by some miracle is able to do enough philanthropic good in the world to change lives in a positive manner given all of the aforementioned deficiencies?
I am indifferent to her show, but impressed by her drive to keep it focused and keep it informative. Her business acumen is definitely spot on. And I truly doubt she crawls into anything. One does not need to be svelte, married, and/or any combination of committed to another person, to satisfy some standard of what a real woman is or is not

Yvette S.
Past Member 4 years ago

OK, so she is less a woman because she is over weight, unmarried, 'crawls in to bed alone' and has money? And by some miracle is able to do enough philanthropic good in the world to change lives in a positive manner given all of the aforementioned deficiencies?
I am indifferent to her show, but impressed by her drive to keep it focused and keep it informative. Her business acumen is definitely spot on. And I truly doubt she crawls into anything. One does not need to be svelte, married, and/or any combination of committed to another person, to satisfy some standard of what a real woman is or is not

PAMELA V.
Pamela F.4 years ago

I think it is very sad that TV personalities start to believe that they are know all and above all. Where do they get off thinking that they have all of the answers??? Oprah is big on telling women to find themselves, well listen to me honey, if you don't know who you are and what u want then you are stupid. You should have decided want you want before you married and had children. Is Oprah married?? No, so why does she think she is the all woman's Savior??? She has a weight problem, no husband, which means she can not make a commitment. What she is is a good interviewer and she has enough money to do what she wants, but she still crawls into bed most nights alone. Maybe she should so find herself.