It is the ultimate ladies-who-lunch Manhattan get-together: This week, the Matrix Awards were given out by New York Women in Communications, Inc. at the Waldorf-Astoria. Over 1,400 women and a scattering of men packed the grand ballroom, even filling tables on the two rarely used over-hanging balconies. The event raised more than $900,000, which funds the group’s activities. A portion goes to the New York Women in Communications Foundation, which awards scholarships to college students studying communication.
In the last few years the Matrix luncheon, which honors women in advertising, public relations, books, newspapers, online media, broadcasting, and arts and entertainment, has become a big box-office event, complete with TV crews, paparazzi, and gossip columnists.
In the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit that once upon a time I received a Matrix Award. But that was a while ago when it was a much sleepier affair, and you didn’t need to touch up your roots and have a professional make-up job before stepping out on the dais. In those simpler times the presenters were even less well known than the awardees, which is no longer true.
I received my award from my boss, a nice guy, who lived in Des Moines. This year the presenters were superstars, including both Hillary and Oprah, ex-editor Tina Brown, and Allison Pearson, the author of last year’s I Don’t Know How She Does It, a London-based lament about how hard it is to earn a six-figure salary and be married, have kids, and manage a nanny, a driver, and a potential dishy lover.
NYWICI has been distributing Matrix awards since 1970. And though I haven’t been to all of the ceremonies, I’ve been to enough lunches and listened to enough speeches through the years to observe the evolving attitudes of influential women in media. For years and years, Matrix winners were guaranteed to let loose with “I am woman, hear me roar” feminist salvos, and would typically complain about a world that was holding women–all women–down. But lately the speeches have morphed into more corporately correct utterances. In the last couple of years, winners have thanked their clients as often as they thanked their mothers or mentors. And, by the way, unlike practically any other award ceremony, nobody ever thanks God.
Of course, there has always been a fair amount of male-bashing, and that continues. On Monday, Tina Brown observed that there was “so much estrogen in the air” that the few men around were “practically levitating.” Giggle, giggle. And Linda Fairstein, who writes mystery novels and won an award for her books, recalled that on her first case as an assistant D.A. she felt so unprepared for the summation that she wept at her desk. Her boss told her to stop and behave like the men in the office. And how was that? “They go into the men’s room and throw up.” Guaranteed boffo laugh.
In the past, I have complained that the Matrix has always been a regular liberal ladies’ love-in, and that, to a great extent, is still true. The awards and the presenters have, year after year, included all the usual suspects–Katie Couric, Anna Quindlen, Rosie O’Donnell, Katie Marton, Helen Thomas, and Maureen Dowd. In fact, on one episode of The West Wing, C. J. Cregg, President Bartlet’s feminist press secretary, goes to New York to pick up her Matrix. I don’t think a woman well known for her conservative views has ever been honored.
But this year the speeches were quite mild, genial, and self satisfied. Only Christiane Amanpour used the stage to do more than acknowledge how much better off women are today than in the past. She took a few moments to warn, in her typical voice-of-doom intonations, against what she claimed is the current assault on the First Amendment.
If anyone expected Hillary to give another rip-snorting campaign speech like she gave last week in Minnesota, they were disappointed. Both Oprah and Hillary shrewdly kept their star power on dim as they presented their awards. In fact, it was Bill who was doing the Clinton politicking in New York that day. He criticized Arthur Finkelstein, a Republican strategist who had “married” his male partner in December, for launching a “Stop Her Now” campaign against Hillary. According to Bill, Finkelstein couldn’t possibly dislike She Who Must Be Elected; more likely, he concluded, is that “there’s some sort of self-loathing there.”
Now to take my own turn at some mild male-bashing, I have to admit it was the couple of guys on stage who contributed the least to the slickly staged program. Consultant Tom Peters blathered on about what a shame it was that there were still too few top women business executives, a sentiment that seemed to annoy Marjorie Scardino, to whom he gave the award. Scardino, allegedly, is having some trouble hanging on to her executive slot. Meanwhile, John Dooner, the CEO of McCann Worldgroup, was so befuddled that he misplaced his speech. Nina DiSesa, chairman of McCann-Erickson, advised him that in the future he should do what she does: “Pack your own parachute.” DiSesa went on to talk about encouraging men in their companies to embrace “their feminine side” while acknowledging that the best women in the organization are really kind of like guys.
She was close but not quite there in admitting what all these winners know: It isn’t really because of your sex that you win an award. Nowadays awards are won, billions made, and presidential campaign are undertaken by people–intelligent, hardworking, relentlessly ambitious people.
–Myrna Blyth, former long-time editor of Ladies Home Journal and founding editor of More, is author of Spin Sisters: How the Women of the Media Sell Unhappiness–and Liberalism–to the Women of America. Blyth is also an NRO contributor.