Earlier this week, the inaugural Young Women’s Honors, an award-show like no other, premiered.
Hosted and produced by Jane The Virgin star and pop-culture feminist icon star Gina Rodriguez, the televised event (which plans to run annually) was created to applaud ten young women for extraordinary achievements. The show is sponsored by Marie Claire and Clinique, among others.
Much more than just another red carpet TV event, the Young Women’s Honors, according to the show’s website, “is a global platform that will discover, honor and celebrate women who demonstrate confidence, intelligence and leadership, that will inspire others to follow.” The hope behind the mission, they explain, is to harness social media and the TV broadcast’s wide audience to expand their reach and “amplify” the accomplishments of the honorees to a vast base. Through this work, Young Women’s Honors is aiming to change “the conversation from ‘What If’ to ‘I CAN.’
This year’s honorees are an astonishingly accomplished group of ceiling-shattering ladies. The award recipients are movers and shakers across a wide array of industries. The 2016 awards went to Simone Biles, Vanessa Kerry, Jessica O. Matthews, Fereshteh Forough, Amanda Nguyen, Tatyana McFadden, Madison Maxey, and Sabrina Gonzalez Pasterski. Each of these women was recognized for excellence in a stereotypically male-dominated sphere. Biles and McFadden are unparalleled in their athletic prowess; Pasterski and Forough, STEM-superheros, are a physicist and computer scientist, respectively; Kerry, Nguyen, and Maxey are combining entrepreneurship and social justice.
The women who were recognized at this year’s first-ever Young Women’s Honors awards don’t only have extremely impressive resumes. In multiple cases, they’re women who have beaten the odds or defied stereotypes to get where they are today. Many of the honorees incorporate fervent feminist activism into their work, like Fereshteh Forough, who founded Afghanistan’s premiere all-girls’ coding academy and Amanda Nguyen, who started an organization that advocates for survivors of sexual assault in America.
As inspiring as they are, the launch of the Young Women’s Honors is meaningful for reasons that go beyond the inaugural honorees.
This was a challenging year in many (often unexpected) ways. The last several months in particular have reminded us of just how challenging it still is to be a woman in the world. In 2016, we’ve been bogged down in political debates, inundated with tapes and footage of our now president-elect’s lewd and sexist language, and made to feel like we just can’t catch a break. It’s rather remarkable to think, then, that just as the year comes to a close, viewers tuned in for the first ever feminist awards show. What better way to change 2016’s tone than a nationally televised tribute to strong, smart, capable young women?
The choice to present the evening as an awards show, complete with a red carpet and a celebrity host, rather than as a documentary or presentation, is an act of empowering subversion in and of itself. For years, we’ve been trying to change the atmosphere of awards shows. Several times a year, as the red carpet is rolled out, we subject women to questions about rumored baby bumps and who designed their shoes. Frequently, men sweep in awards categories dominated by hard-working women and female artists endure snubs and miss over-earned nominations. Not when it comes to the Young Women’s Honors, where women are applauded for their intellect, and ingenuity.
To broadcast, in front of such a widespread viewership, an evening in which every single award goes to a woman, is a meaningful, game-changing accomplishment. Now, more than ever, the ways in which we represent women matter. The Young Women’s Honors has shaken the status quo for women by flipping the typically sexist award show model on its head. In a time in which so much seems to focus on women’s bodies and wombs, dedicating a night to women’s minds, talents, and work is a much-needed step in the right direction. We can, and must, seize every opportunity to change the way we depict and perceive women — it’s more important now than ever.