Women’s History Comes to Life with MAKERS
The celebration of Women's History takes up just 31 days according to our calendars, but for MAKERS, it's every minute of every day, year after year. MAKERS is the Oath media brand that captures the stories of history-makers and ceiling-breakers from Hollywood to Wall Street, tech labs to firehouses, sports arenas to legislative chambers and beyond. What's it like to see this history unfold right before your eyes? We turned to MAKERS Senior Producer Elizabeth Bohnel to get the inside story. For the past 4 years, she's been interviewing many of the amazing women (and men) featured on MAKERS, helping them share their stories and making women's history something to celebrate 365/24/7.
It's Women's History Month, and you have a job interviewing women who are making a lot of this history. How did that happen?
I have the best job in the entire world. And I say that every day. And I feel that every day. And that's not normal. I can't believe this is my job.
I came from a TV news network. A little bit of a boys' club there. Somebody from HuffPost connected with me and said, 'I think you'd be really good for this brand MAKERS.' And I started digging around online. I started binge-watching the MAKERS videos and thought 'I have to get this job.' I met Dyllan McGee [MAKERS founder] and the rest is history.
What makes a MAKER?
We have our guidelines: A MAKER can be a groundbreaker who's achieved a first, an activist who's dedicated their life to effect change for women, or a role model whose accomplishments have inspired others.
And then we have our meetings. We sit in this room and we have this long list. How's Beyoncé looking? How's our Meryl Streep ask? We have the people we're trying to get and then we're trying to find these unsung heroes. We research like crazy, see and feel the pulse of things. Read everything. Go to events. We want each person to have a good story. What's the arc? What happened? What makes your success story hit someone's heart enough to want to be inspired by it and to want to do something and make change?
How many history MAKERS have you met? Can you name some names?
I've met probably 40, 50, 60 in different contexts (video interviews, MAKERS events). John Legend, Joe Biden, Michelle Obama, Selena Gomez, Serena Williams, Abby Wambach, the 'Hidden Figures,' Caitlyn Jenner.
Elizabeth Bohnel and Abby Wambach
But we don't just look for celebrities. I love the interviews with Judaline Cassidy, she's a plumber, and Nadia Bolz-Weber, a Lutheran pastor. when I interviewed her I was just like mind blown. Don't stop talking. What else can we talk about? Teach me.
Who's been your favorite interview and why?
I fan girl over all of them. Everyone makes fun of me because every time I leave an interview, I say 'this is the greatest MAKER yet, this is the #1.'
Elizabeth isn't kidding. Over the course of an hour-long conversation, she lists dozens of favorite interviews. But one name came up more frequently than others.
Megan Smith, the former CTO of the US, she is MAKERS inner-inner family. She sent us this email: 'You have to find Margaret Hamilton.' None of us had heard of her. I did some research and found out she invented the code that got man on the moon. She told NASA they should have code backup just in case the astronauts made mistakes. NASA was like 'no, no, no' they don't make mistakes.' But she sneaks the code onto the computers anyway. And sure enough, three minutes before Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin land on the moon, they push a wrong button. Margaret's code saved the day.
I told a friend that story. He and I were waiting with his baby girl for his wife to come pick him up. The moment she showed up, he told her about Margaret Hamilton. Hearing him retell this story on the spot to his wife, to his baby. That spoke to me about the impact our stories have. That's why we do this.
Who's your dream interview?
Stevie Nicks is my person. My love for Stevie is so great. She's been through a lot, but at one point she swore off having to have a life everyone expected her to have.
But as a team, we want the women who'll be running for office this fall, Tarana Burke, Emma Gonzalez, too. There's this movement starting. They're what the future is.
What are some of the recurring themes in these interviews?
That turning point moment. All MAKERS have them. They know that they can fall, but that once they get past that they really come out on the other side of something that's so much greater and so much bigger.
And, there's heart in all these stories, too. When you sit with these people, everyone has a heartbreak moment when they don't think they're ever going to get through. But they do. Seeing all the strength in these people is incredible.
Mary J. Blige and Elizabeth Bohnel
A next generation women's movement has really emerged in the last year. How's that changing your MAKERS interviews?
When I started, the word "feminist" had this thing. People weren't wearing it on their t-shirts. It had a lot of baggage. Younger people especially were scared of that word, they thought that it meant that you were complaining. Some people would crawl around that word. Whereas now, it's 'hell ya, I'm a feminist.'
How have all these stories inspired you in your own career and life?
One of the first lessons I learned was from Dee Dee Myers [White House Press Secretary under President Clinton]. She talked about life being in sections. It's OK that during some parts of your life you're a workaholic. It's OK if you might have another few years in your life when you sit back a little bit and get to be with your family. That your life is going to keep changing and there will be all these different sections.
MAKERS started at AOL and continues to grow at Oath. What does that say to you about Oath and its commitment to women?
The commitment is so real here. I think a lot of media can be sort of male-dominated. But from the moment I came here, I have always been encouraged—if you have an idea, you can make it happen. I constantly feel lifted up. I see that companywide. The love for MAKERS. And the Oath Board of Advisors—Serena [Williams], Abby [Wambach], Carla [Harris], Regina [Wilson]—they're our MAKERS. Abby was just wandering around the office today.
Dyllan [McGee], Nancy [Armstrong], and Tim [Armstrong] were at the forefront of seeing the need for this, the hunger for this. And it just seems to be getting bigger and bigger.
To read more about our Women's History Month coverage, please see our feature on Oath engineer Alison Sonderegger.