Tuesday, October 16, 2018

New York Evening Hours by Lieba Nesis

"I Am Woman Hear #MeToo Roar"-The New York Women's Foundation Gala

Founders of the MeToo Movement Alyssa Milano and Tarana Burke
All photos Lieba Nesis - click images for full-size view

On another quiet Monday in New York, I arrived at the Plaza Hotel greeted by chants of animal rights activists protesting Honoree Mary Bassett for permitting the Jewish practice of slaughtering chickens when she was Commissioner of Health for New York City-until she stepped down in August 2018.  New Yorkers never sleep, and there are few groups as passionate and vocal as those advocating for animals. Despite this minor interruption,

The attendees at the Plaza

The New York Women's Foundation held its "Radical Generosity Gala" at the Plaza on Monday, October 15, 2018, with cocktails beginning at 6:30 PM. The New York Women's Foundation was started in 1987 and is the largest women-led grantmaking organization in the United States and one of the top two in the world. It invests in community-based solutions that promote economic security, safety, and health of the most underprivileged women in the world.

Jean and Martin Shafiroff

The evening was co-chaired by Jean Shafiroff and Lola West and honored #MeToo Founders Alyssa Milano and Tarana Burke, Former Health Commissioner Mary Bassett and Recording artists Haley & Michaels. The Plaza ballroom was filled with hundreds of vocal and empowered women there to support each other and have some fun. The energy in the room was palpable as the women joyfully celebrated the one year anniversary of the #MeToo movement that has undeniably changed the course of history.

Honoree Mary Bassett

The evening began with an electrifying performance by Sony artists Haley & Michaels who also concluded the program.  Board co-chair Kwanza Butler urged the audience to create a world where every girl could live free of violence. While this was undoubtedly a female-dominated event, we were also privileged to hear from Ted Bunch, the co-founder and director of "A Call to Men." Bunch acknowledged that every single man has been involved in the sexual harassment and objectification of women either directly or indirectly and it was time for men "to reflect and reset"-since they were ultimately the solution to the problem of violence and discrimination.

Haley Arias and Katharine Newman

The evening also awarded Abigail Disney for spearheading "Level Forward": a new breed of an entertainment company that utilizes inclusion and innovation to extend the footprint of ethical business.  The group is currently working on making Alanis Morissette's record "Jagged Little Pill" into a musical. I hate to be critical when someone does so much good, but honoree Abigail Disney was a no-show appearing via film and announcing that she was committed to making visible that which had been pushed out of our eyesight-I wish she was visible. Thankfully, co-founder Adrienne Becker attended making sure to call out the $40 billion big-budget Hollywood movie industry where only 3.4% of top movies are directed by women.

Grainne McNamara

Each year I attend this event I am privileged to converse with Grannie McNamara, a magnificently coiffed woman who is soft-spoken and kind. Tonight, I learned more about this dynamo who heads an audit form, is a mother to multiple children and is, unfortunately, a survivor of physical and mental abuse at the hands of her monstrous father. McNamara said this is the first time she has acknowledged her horrific history in public and told her kids the story over the weekend. McNamara used her platform to take something painful from the past and change the narrative of the future.

Marisol Rodriguez and Gina Hotaling

She asked the audience to help the Foundation reach its $100,000 target; and as she spoke the total went from $26,000 to more than $82,000 by the end of the dinner.  This was all painfully uplifting as we anxiously awaited one of the highlights of the evening: celebrating the one year anniversary of the #MeToo movement which began in full force October 15, 2017. Few are aware that Tarana Burke started the movement in 2006 to help survivors of sexual violence, particularly young women of color from low wealth communities.

Ted Bunch, Dawne Marie Grannum, Patricia Shah, and Grainne McNamara

While many attribute the inception of the movement to Alyssa Milano, Tarana praised Milano for giving her full credit and calling attention to Tarana's website on Twitter. She called Milano a "social justice warrior" and an open and generous ally. Tarana confessed that she had never told Milano she is her favorite actress in the world -- this was a lovefest. Milano accepted her award in an elegant white jumpsuit that she had no idea who designed; she asked me to check her label, but I declined not wanting to be included on the #MeToo list. Milano hasn't aged a day since her “Who’s The Boss” days and tearfully described her decision to begin the hashtag MeToo after being disgusted by the behavior of Harvey Weinstein and others with 53,000 women joining her on that fateful day.

Sasha Fraenkel, Laura Fruitman and Jackie Shafiroff

Milano used the hashtag to change the narrative from highlighting male predators as protagonists to telling the story of women who were heroes (Ted Bunch referred to women as “sheroes” throughout the evening.)  Milano said that the story of women should be part of every school's curriculum and wanted an Equal Rights Amendment passed guaranteeing women protection in the Constitution. I loved her idea of equipping housekeepers at hotels with panic buttons; citing a survey where over half had been victims of men exposing themselves. Milano said that #MeToo was a prayer for the future in which her daughter would experience a new set of norms and her son would have to abide by a new set of expectations.  Milano accepted her award with pride and humility as the crowd gave her a standing ovation. While Milano correctly remarked the movement wasn't going anywhere - I had to go somewhere, and that place was home.




- Lieba Nesis

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