Girl Power Grows Up: Dozens of Influential Women Explore the Meaning of Power

What does it mean to be a powerful woman? This is the question New York magazine’s Women and Power issue explores, interviewing and profiling some of the world’s most well-known women—and many who wield the power behind the scenes.


Published online in the magazine’s style section, the Cut, the issue features 12 covers—8 in print, and 4 digital only—and more than 70 powerful women discussing what power means to them. (Fun fact: at least one considers it “a male word.”)

In the mix? Many of our most influential and inspiring faces, including Anita Hill; Lena Waithe; Kamala Harris; Black Lives Matter founders Opal Tometi, Patrisse Cullors and Alicia Garza; 12-year-old activist Naomi Wadler; president of ABC Entertainment Group, Channing Dungey; director Dee Rees; Minnesota State Representative Ilhan Omar; Motown president Ethiopia Habtemariam; Michele Roberts, Executive Director of the National Basketball Players Association; Laverne Cox; Roxane Gay; NYSE’s only full-time female trader, Lauren Simmons and businesswoman Ursula Burns.

And, as expected with such a diverse group of exceptional personalities, there are gems aplenty dropped in this four-part series, including conversations on gender expression, intersectionality, representation, anger and the recent Kavanaugh hearings. The full interviews are available at the Cut, but we’ve included a few poignant excerpts here:

Anita Hill

“[W]atching the hearings was distressing. Not just for me. ... We need to think about why that feeling was so widespread: If you look at the numbers, we know that something like 50 percent of women experience workplace harassment. ...

What I really want people to understand is that everyone who comes forward is different. My experience had to do with race and with gender and with factors that might have actually improved my case, like that I was educated. But even that can be turned against women. The hierarchy of who is believed is complicated.

Everyone likes to remind me that I did not win. I like to say I won because I shared my story and people became much more aware of a problem that has been plaguing all of us.”


Lena Waithe

“People of color are in a very interesting position right now. We’re more than just in vogue. We are the culture. And so I think there’s a desire in the industry to tap into what we’ve known for a very long time, that our stories are universal, that our stories travel. ... I think you get more bang for your bank when you are your authentic self out in the world. I think I get a lot of credit for just being myself. ... But I guess very few people are like me in terms of being out. You’ve got Samira [Wiley]. You’ve got Wanda [Sykes] now. You’ve got me. Laverne Cox is out there. RuPaul. But that’s, like, five people. Think of how big Hollywood is. Think of how sizable black Hollywood is. Obviously, there are some people in the industry that are one way at home and a different way on the red carpet, but mind you, I can’t tell those people how to live. All I can do is lead by example.”


Patrisse Cullors

“Do I ever wish I didn’t have power? Abso-fucking-lutely. Mostly in connection to being a queer black woman. I feel the trickiness of what it means to have situational power but not institutional power. My Black Lives Matter co-founders and I have social-media followings, but visibility does not equal power. Melissa Harris-Perry and Jemele Hill, for example, do they get to make decisions over their own fate at the end of the day?”


Naomi Wadler

“I was about 5 when Trayvon Martin was shot, and my mom explained that some men thought he was scary because he was brown. That really confused me. Then I’d be reading my book and look up at the news and see people saying that he shouldn’t have been wearing that hoodie, that he wasn’t dressed appropriately — that confused me even more. When I was in preschool, a boy asked me why I was brown, and I’ve had derogatory terms thrown at me, so I’ve known these things my whole life.”


Dee Rees

“My strength is probably my downfall: I’m a straight shooter. So I kinda say what I think. You just understand that it’s gonna get received differently as a black woman. So for me, I don’t change how I am or the content of what I say, but you also know that it’s gonna get processed differently. Like with Serena, I don’t think she was wrong for standing up [at the U.S. Open], I was there. But because of the package she’s in, it gets received differently, it gets talked about differently. The language used to describe it is hyperbolic. I think we all have known that since kindergarten.”


Laverne Cox

“The month I was on the cover of Time magazine, five trans women were killed. So I felt a lot of survivors’ guilt. A feeling like, Why me? ... I realized in that moment that it’s an inside job. That there is nothing in the material world that is going to really fill my soul and heal me. I have to do that work. ...


People are obsessed with the artifices of femininity, and so certain kinds of trans women, who look a certain way, fit neatly into that. I am aware of that, but I don’t go into this uncritically. ... I am aware that with certain lighting or angles or whatever, I am able to embody cis-normative and arguably white-supremacist beauty standards. So I don’t make my aesthetic choices without that knowledge. But I also have the right to make them.”

Michele A. Roberts

“Power’s earned. You can get help along the way — people will try on some occasions to help open doors for you — but if you fail, it’s probably because of your own failures. I’m a black woman, so I know what it means to have people not only do nothing to help me but to affirmatively try to hurt me. I’ve lived through that, and I’m still living through that.


“They accuse any black woman as successful as me of being an angry black woman. And what I tell them is, ‘Sometimes I am an angry black woman, but not this time!’ [Laughs.] Everybody’s angry at some point or another. Not only does that not bother me, because that’s not my problem, but if someone wants to define me as that, then they’re missing out on a whole lot of what I can do—and what I will do.”

Maiysha Kai is managing editor of The Glow Up, host of The Root Presents: It's Lit! podcast and Big Beauty Tuesdays, and your average Grammy-nominated goddess next door. May I borrow some sugar?