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'Ms.' Magazine Turns 35

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'Ms.' Magazine Turns 35

Arts & Life

'Ms.' Magazine Turns 35

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I'm Farai Chideya and this is NEWS & NOTES.

1972 was a big year for women in America. The feminist movement was in full swing. Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm became the first black woman to run for president. Congress passed the Equal Rights Amendment. And Ms. Magazine hit newsstands. Back then, there was nothing quite like Ms. The publication dedicated itself to putting issues like abortion and domestic abuse front and center.

Thirty five years later, Ms. Magazine is still going strong. Their anniversary issue features interviews with some major figures like former senator and Ambassador Carol Moseley Braun. We're going to talk with her in a minute.

But first, here to talk about Ms. Magazine's 35th anniversary is executive editor Katherine Spillar.

Welcome, Katherine. Congratulations.

Ms. KATHERINE SPILLAR (Executive Editor, Ms. Magazine): Well, thanks so much.

CHIDEYA: So 35 years is a big milestone. Why do you think Ms. has lasted so long?

Ms. SPILLAR: It's the power of the idea - nothing else can explain - that and a lot of hard work. You know, when we launched in 1972, "ABC World News" had a four-minute feature on the launch. And at the end of the news piece, predicted along with other pundits that they gave it about six issues before we'd run out of something to say. And it just shows you not only how much there is to say but that Ms. is so strong and vital today and used widely in women's studies programs all across the country. It's a vital source of information on the feminist movement not only in the U.S. but globally and just shows you the strength of the movement and the need for this kind of a publication.

CHIDEYA: Nonetheless, there have been some rocky financial moments. The magazine has been both advertising-supported and non-advertising-supported. Why do - and there are a lot of issues going on in the magazine industry, the media industry as a whole, with profit models, what have you guys decided in terms of what works for you, in terms of reaching an audience?

Ms. SPILLAR: Well, you're right about that. Ms. has struggled over the years, but it's always managed to keep going. When the Feminist Majority Foundation about five years ago took on publishing Ms. Magazine at Gloria Steinem's request, we created a model very much like National Geographic. You don't subscribe to Ms. You join the Ms. community. And as part of your benefits, you receive Ms. Magazine.

And we fundraised all different kinds of ways in addition to the money that comes in from members of the Ms. Community, and we do take advertising but only mission-driven and nonprofit advertising. We feel that the magazine not only is where the movement's voice can be heard and distributed on newsstands and online, too, by the way, but also that groups that are doing the work of women's rights here and around the world deserve a forum. And so we make sure that our readers know all the different types of groups that are working for women's equality and girls' opportunities out so that they can get in touch with them and that's the advertising that we take today.

CHIDEYA: There's been a lot of talk about the different waves of feminism, but feminism is still a hotly debated topic. Some people say that it's just man hating. Are you able to advance the conversation to other levels, or do you also still have to fight these various fundamental battles about defining what feminism is?

Ms. SPILLAR: Well, the good news - the bad news, of course, is that we continue to see opposition to women's equality and to women's advancement in many different sectors of society and around the world. Women are oppressed and second-class, third-class citizens in many cases. But the wonderful news, the good news is that the majority of women here in the U.S. self-identify as feminists. The vast majority of young women, 18 to 29, over 67 percent identify as feminists.

It's a very popular and growing movement. And Ms. Magazine is heavily read on college campuses, in women's studies programs. In fact, when people ask us, okay, what's your demographic? We say we really don't have a demographic. What we have is a psychographic. It doesn't matter what age you are, what income, what job, what your race or ethnicity is, you can find something in Ms. Magazine. If you're a believer in women's equality and opportunities, you can find something in Ms. Magazine that interests you. And so we appeal to just a huge market and a great need, fulfill a great need.

CHIDEYA: What about the issue of race? We're going to talk to former Senator Carol Moseley Braun in a second. But one of the issues that comes up within the feminist movement and comes up in many contexts is, is this a movement that includes women of color? How have you dealt with that, covered that, tried to even incorporate it into who you have on your staff?

Ms. SPILLAR: Well, if you look at the public opinion polls, those who identify as feminists the most strongly and support women's equality and girl's opportunities are women of color in the U.S., and we have been - made a very conscious effort to our staff and to our advisory committees.

We have a scholar's advisory committee, we have some of the most distinguished women study scholars who are helping feed stories and writers and reporters into the magazine. Many of them distinguished women of color, scholars. We feel that we want to show them the pages of Ms. that we appeal to a very large audience, and the importance of different parts of the movement and the contributions of those movements to the greater advancement of women.

And so, we've made a very, very conscious decision. And on our global news coverage, we reach out and use reporters indigenous to the countries from which they're reporting. So, we have reporters in Kenya and reporters in the Middle East, and reporters in Asia who are telling the stories of women's lives all over the world, so that we can all stay connected in this global movement.

CHIDEYA: Katherine, thanks so much.

Ms. SPILLAR: Well, thank you and I hope your listeners will join the Ms. Community, and the current issue on the newsstand is a lot of fun and we celebrate of victories as well as say, you know, there's a long way to go.

CHIDEYA: Katherine Spillar, executive editor of Ms. Magazine, and she joined us from our NPR West studios.

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