I recently attended a talk at the Fast Company Innovation Festival on “activism, pop culture and why unapologetic-boldness is the only way forward.” It was led by an unlikely pair of speakers: late-night talk show host Andy Cohen and Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards.
As they discussed what it means to be “bold” while shaping cultural conversation and elevating various voices, it became clear that they shared several interests and aspirations. Both the television personality and the pro-choice activist agreed on the importance of encouraging inclusivity and diverse perspectives.
Whether it’s generating buzz-worthy debate or mobilizing people to fight for women’s reproductive rights, Cohen and Richards have reached out to marginalized groups in their own unique ways. Here, we highlight how they turned their share of media attention into opportunities to galvanize public opinion.
The #MeToo campaign and the conversation surrounding sexual harassment and assault reminds Richards of another issue that has similarly been stigmatized: access to safe and legal abortion. Movies, songs and TV shows like Scandal have lately given women an eclectic platform for finding their voice and demanding equality in this world. “Now you have Shonda Rhimes literally putting stories about abortion in her shows that are not stigmatized,” she said.
For Cohen, being the only gay host on late-night TV means using it as a platform to shine a light on issues that he cares about. “If someone in Kansas doesn’t know any gay people, and I’m their gay best friend in their head, then maybe I can change that person’s mind by speaking from my heart,” he said. Richards and Cohen both allude to the significance of equal representation in mainstream media and how it affects the perception of minorities.
Cohen stresses that everyone with a Twitter or Facebook account has seen their influence quotient improve multifold. “You can start a grassroots movement on social media in a way you never could before,” he said. He loves how the internet makes fast and fun polling possible, and even uses Twitter as a spontaneous focus group of sorts to channel the zeitgeist. He fondly remembers the “Housewives Playbook” tweet series he started a few months ago to compare President Trump’s behaviors with posted by Real Housewives cast members. While this spoof obscures the line between entertainment and politics, it did spark a cultural conversation in relevant and authentic ways.
Richards also thanks the internet for all the lived experiences she now gets to learn about through social media, which has allowed her to focus on real problems in people’s lives. Technology and social platforms help Planned Parenthood remove barriers to information and access to care. With features like Chat/Text, women and girls with no one to turn to can use the web to discreetly ask their health educators questions.
Cohen proposes that chaos comforts people and offers them an escape from their own disorder. He is fascinated by how a modern-day soap opera like Real Housewives brings the country together and lets them engage in safe, guilt-free gossip about bickering on reality television.
Not unlike Real Housewives’ unifying influence, Planned Parenthood saw a 900% increase in the demand for IUDs since the election because women, afraid they might lose their access to affordable health care, are looking into birth control strategies that could outlast a Trump presidency.
When asked about being a female founder of a company that may have to engage politically at some point, Richards advises, “I don’t know where you are, but run for office…If more members of Congress could get pregnant, we wouldn’t be arguing about Planned Parenthood.” She was heartened to see a significant number of men at this year’s Women’s Marches, fighting for their daughters’ rights to enjoy equal opportunity. Richards insists that the deepest responses to movements and revolutions are born from the most personal of reasons. For a generational shift in conservative men’s attitudes away from misogyny, then, men need to inspire women to be leaders and public advocates. That way, everyone will have an equal opportunity to succeed.