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Shaping History: Vassar Pioneers Profiled in PBS Documentary

Narrated by Meryl Streep ’71, the PBS documentary Makers: Women Who Make America provides a fascinating overview of women trailblazers, including four Vassar alumnae—journalist Lynn Povich ’65, former sex crimes prosecutor Linda Fairstein ’69, yoga innovator Nevine Michaan ’76, and educator Rachel Simmons ’96. Their stories, along with 146 others, weave a historical tapestry of the feminist movement and its influence. Go to the Makers site or select a link below to watch the individual segments.

Lynn Povich ’65

When Lynn Povich ’65 started at Newsweek in 1969, there were no female writers or editors. Women’s jobs were restricted to researchers or secretaries. So, in 1970, when a co-worker asked her to join the ranks with other women at the magazine to file a sexual discrimination case served by the American Civil Liberties Union, she said yes. Newsweek settled the case, and in 1975, she became Newsweek’s first female senior editor. Povich went on to become editor-in-chief of Working Woman magazine and, later, the East Coast managing editor of MSNBC.com.

Her 2012 book The Good Girls Revolt: How the Women of Newsweek Sued Their Bosses and Changed the Workplace not only documents how this historic lawsuit unfolded but also includes discussions with women currently working at Newsweek.

Linda Fairstein ’69

As director of the first sex crimes unit of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office from 1976 to 2002, Linda Fairstein ’69 was a force for positive change in the lives of sexual assault survivors seeking justice. When she first began working with sexual assault victims, there were no special victim’s units in any prosecutor’s office in the country, and New York State laws made it difficult to prove sexual assault. That began to change  when activists started to hold rallies and demand new laws against sexual violence and prosecutors’ hands were untied. In the documentary, Fairstein talks about the evolution of laws on sexual assault and her career in the criminal justice system.

The author of the book Sexual Violence: Our War Against Rape (1993), named a New York Times Notable Book, Fairstein recently urged Congress to pass the Violence Against Women Act of 2013, a bill that expanded from established law to extend protections to LGBT and Native American people. She heads K2 Intelligence’s Sexual Misconduct Consulting Group, a multidisciplinary team that assist colleges, universities, and secondary schools in preventing and responding to sexual abuse.

Fairstein also writes the bestselling novels in the Alex Cooper crime series.

Nevine Michaan ’76

Nevine Michaan ’76 found her professional calling in yoga, which she uses as a way to empower women and teach them about their bodies. In 1991, she developed the Katonah Yoga method that combines traditional Hatha yoga postures and meditation with classical Taoist theory. The method focuses on improving the functioning organs and glands and increasing self-awareness.

Michaan’s 1998 video Yoga for Women was inspired by women who were confused about changes in their bodies during menopause. In the documentary, she explains that it was a group of women who were not being addressed at that time. The poses helped to balance hormones and alleviate hot flashes.

Teaching yoga, she says, allowed time to raise her children, but it also has provided her a sense of community and enables her to support others in finding their confidence and inner peace. “It’s about skill building,” she notes, “and the ultimate goal is to build skills to bring you joy.”

Rachel Simmons ’96

Educator and author Rachel Simmons ’96 specializes in helping girls develop self-awareness and personal authority. Her journey started when, at the age of eight, a friend alienated her at school and she couldn’t understand why. In college, Simmons realized most women had stories about mean girls and decided to research this topic. The research culminated in her first book, Odd Girl Out, a New York Times bestseller and the first volume to explore the psychological aggression between girls.

In order to help girls bolster their decision-making skills and navigate difficult relationships, Simmons founded the Girls Leadership Institute, a nonprofit organization that runs summer camps, workshops, and yearlong programs for middle and high school girls. The goal of the institute is to teach skills for assertive self-expression. Simmons’ third and latest book, The Curse of the Good Girl: Raising Authentic Girls with Courage and Confidence, reflects on her work with the girls at the institute and contains strategies and exercises that promote authenticity and personal authority.

—Nina Flanagan

Photos: Povich, courtesy of the subject; Fairstein, Randi Baird 2010; Michaan, courtesy of Katonah Yoga; Simmons, Russell Monk

Posted by Office of Communications Wednesday, June 19, 2013