This letter was published in Women’s Media Center’s memorial to Mary Thom on May 29, 2013, here.
The feminist community lost Mary Thom, an invaluable writer, thinker, and leader in the women’s movement. While I never met Thom, I worked with her on my first feature for WMC on anti-Islam advertising, the discourse of islamophobia, and several hate crimes that occurred last summer. With her guidance, I wrote my first feature-length piece on orientalism in post-9/11 advertising, a topic I never felt I had an outlet for. When Thom asked my social security number to put an invoice in for my fee (I had not asked to be paid), she said, “we don’t think promoting women’s voices in the media should include exploiting women writers.” Agreed.
Thom dedicated the ending of her life editing features at WMC, a non-profit organization with a goal to increase women’s influence in the media, and shape the way news is reported and issues are discussed.
WMC’s goal of shaping the way news is reported, particularly on violence against women, is particularly prescient today. Journalists at WMC and news consumers castigated CNN’s coverage of the Steubenville rape trial after the network sympathized with the two men who were found guilty of raping a young woman and emphasized the victim’s alleged alcohol consumption.
And despite the fact that rapes are often uncovered by the news all over the world, news consumers took to social media and traditional media outlets at the news of that six men brutally gang-raped a 23-year-old woman on a bus in Delhi, India.
At the same time that news consumers and mainstream outlets are increasingly covering violence against women and issues facing women (including The Atlantic’s new Sexes Channel), a crop of media monitoring organizations have emerged, including Miss Representation’s #NotBuyingIt campaign, that point out sexism in ad campaigns, news media, and journalism.
Thom died at a moment when mainstream media continues to castigate women, but when women and news consumers refuse to stand by idly and be castigated. She died after helping create the foundations of the conversation on women shaping the news at Ms. Magazine, and at the beginning of a time when the average news consumer can share their resounding opposition to sexism and violence against women through social media.
While it is impossible to measure the impact of women’s participation in news with how we talk about issues related to women, Thom’s death comes at a time of enormous potential. As an editor for two prolific feminist publications, and the author of two books, Thom leaves the feminist and journalist communities with a challenge: continue to empower women who work in media, and continue to empower women through fair and equal news coverage.