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Vanity Fair's Radhika Jones on the 'incredible' female icons over the past 35 years

The #MeToo movement largely inspired the collection of profiles and essays about powerful women, said Jones.
Tina Brown & Radhika Jones In Conversation
Radhika Jones attends Vanity Fair's Women On Women at 92nd Street Y on Dec. 12, 2019 in New York.Arturo Holmes / Getty Images file

With the rise of the #MeToo movement and during a time when a record-breaking number of women are serving in Congress, women are making huge strides.

And to capture the landscape over the last four decades, Vanity Fair came out with a new book “Women on Women.” The publication highlights a dazzling collection of profiles and essays on famous women, written by very talented female writers. For example, there’s a 1985 essay on Princess Diana by Tina Brown, a 1992 piece on Hillary Clinton written by Gail Sheehy, a 1995 profile of Audrey Hepburn by Amy Fine Collins and more.

Know Your Value founder Mika Brzezinski and her husband and fellow “Morning Joe” co-host Joe Scarborough, recently spoke with Radhika Jones, editor-in-chief of Vanity Fair, about the inspiration behind “Women on Women.”

“It is incredible to look at this list of women but also the women who wrote about them,” Brzezinski said. “Some of the counterintuitive matchups, some of the spot on matchups as well.”

Jones, who edited the book, said one of her favorite pieces in the compilation is a profile about former First Lady Barbara Bush. “It’s really deeply reported and it just tells you a lot about the way that women of her generation exercised power, you could call it soft power,” Jones said. “And how that ended up playing into George H. W. Bush’s exercising of his own power in the White House and the choices and compromises that she makes about her ambition and how those catch up with her are really fascinating.”

A common theme of power runs throughout the book, which includes three profiles of first ladies, Barbara Bush, Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama. “What’s striking about reading the three of them in a row… somehow their husbands become these bit players in history—they are just not as important, and it’s a matter of flipping the script a little bit,” Jones said. “It doesn’t take you long to realize how powerful each of these three women are in their own ways.”

“One that’s fascinating for a variety of reasons is Monica Lewinsky’s post #MeToo essay,” Scarborough said. “For many years after the scandal, Monica Lewinsky was a punchline but never so inside the pages of Vanity Fair. You all always treated her with great respect.”

“I actually met Monica my first week on the job, and she has such a thoughtful and authentic vision of what is happening right now because she was there before. She endured so much and she is just incredibly generous with her experience,” Jones said.

The #MeToo movement largely inspired this book, said Jones. “I became very interested in thinking about how women’s stories are framed,” she said. “It was becoming clear through the #MeToo reporting that a lot of actresses, their personalities and their careers had been determined by men who were not always representing them in the right light, and you see that also in politics,” she added.

Jones is hopeful that younger women—and readers of any age or gender—will read the book and take away important lessons. A profile of Queen Elizabeth, who more people have become familiar with thanks to the popular television show "The Crown," which is now in Season 3, is also fascinating. “Often, through current cultural expressions, television shows like "The Crown," we come to meet someone who is very active and alive in the world right now but we see them at an earlier stage in their lives. For American audiences to rediscover the Queen in her younger years and to have that chance again through this profile, it is exciting,” Jones said.

“It’s really a testament to Vanity Fair recognizing the power of women perhaps before really society did,” Brzezinski said.

It’s especially interesting to consider how the collection of essays and profiles resonate today. For example, in one of the essays on Hillary Clinton from back in 1992, people commented that she should have been the candidate running for president, which was a revolutionary concept at the time.

“I love how these pieces change with the context that we bring to them here at the end of 2019… Just having been through months and months of a Democratic primary where we’re seeing a lot of women on stage with a lot of different ideas no longer having to bear the burden of being the one,” Jones said. “That brings me a lot of optimism.”