Last night at the Brooklyn Museum, Anita Hill waited patiently to take a group photo with Katy Perry, Gloria Steinem, Arianna Huffington, and Allison Williams. That sentence could have come straight from Mad Libs’ 2018 Feminism Edition; instead, it was the scene at the 10th annual Diane von Furstenberg Awards.
All were gathered inside the museum’s regal Beaux-Arts-Court, lounging on white leather love seats underneath a large brass chandelier, to fête the night’s award winners. Some of them, like Hill and Perry, were household names.
But the three main honorees—Susan Burton, who advocates for women reentering society after incarceration, Nadia Murad, an Iraqi activist and survivor of ISIS’ genocidal campaign, and Hadeel Mustafa Anabtawi, who runs an empowerment center for girls in Jordanian refugee camp and villages, are lesser-known.
That means the $50,000 given to each of their respective organizations by the Diller-von-Furstenberg Family Foundation will really make a difference. (Full disclosure: von Furstenberg’s husband, Barry Diller, owns IAC, The Daily Beast’s parent company.)
“Freedom ain’t free,” Burton told The Daily Beast. “I’m going to take that money and I’m going to buy some freedom for women.” Burton’s non-profit, A New Way of Life, provides housing, free legal services, and general support for women starting over after spending time in prison. An ex-con herself, Burton’s mission was forged when a prison guard told her, “You’ll be back, and I’ll save a bed for you” as she prepared for release.
The actress Julia Stiles presented Burton’s People’s Voice Award, and the two met for the first time on the red carpet. As Stiles, wearing a scarlet pantsuit, stepped and repeated for photographers, Burton called out a supportive “Work it!”
“She got me to laugh in such a stressful situation,” Stiles said. “What she has done in her life and accomplished for other women is very remarkable, very important, and outside of what we celebrate in everyday pop culture. I’m so used to being focused on hair and makeup and clothes that I sometimes forget there are more important things out there.”
That said, Burton did give a shout out to the transformative nature of fashion, citing how good an old pair of DVF jeans made her feel, even during her darkest days. “Those were the only thing I could hold on to help me get up,” she said, adding, “Bring back those jeans, Diane!”
Backstage, von Furstenberg told The Daily Beast that since starting her awards ten years ago, she has helped 51 women continue to advance their causes. “Each one of these women is a novel,” the 72 year-old designer said. “They have the strength to fight, the courage to survive, and the leadership to inspire.”
Fresh off of another star-studded bash—her own 85th birthday party, hosted by Universal Music Group—Gloria Steinem reveled in her octogenarian status. “Shocking, isn’t it? I keep telling everybody my age because I’m trying to believe it myself. I can’t believe it.”
Neither could just about anyone at the event. As Steinem spoke with The Daily Beast, a reporter for a women’s magazine popped into the conversation, gushing, “I just have to say—you look all kinds of good.”
Steinem, a no-brainer invite for any feminist event, said that the DVF Awards stand out in her calendar because the night champions a diverse group of causes that otherwise might get ignored.
“It identifies these women in a way that means they will be noticed by not only the rest of the media, but also introduced to other women who are here tonight. It is way more important to get us together than it is to go to each person individually,” she said.
It was a sentiment echoed by Inspiration Award winner Katy Perry, who began her acceptance speech by adjusting her Spanx (“I’m nervous because [they] have rolled all the way up and are really hurting my thighs”) and ended with, “Intersectional feminism is the only kind of feminism.”
Perry's duality was emblematic of the night’s spirit: a place where unabashed, glittering glamour and serious advocacy can exist side by side. As Perry put it, “The goddess energy in this room is undeniable.”
Steinem introduced Hill as “My favorite, favorite word: fan-fucking-tastic.” Hill, who did not take interviews before her speech, let her Lifetime Achievement comments speak for themselves.
At 62, she could not believe she was already up for a retrospective award. “I really do feel like I’m just getting started,” Hill began.
Looking out on the glittering crowd (Coco Rocha, Annie Leibovitz, Olivia Palermo in a cow-printed harness), Hill acknowledged the astronomical amount of privilege in the room. “Advocating for equality is a noble endeavor, but I believe that unfortunately today the high price of demanding change and equality often falls on the most vulnerable.”
Hill did not linger on the indignities she sat through in front of the all-male panel that questioned the credibility of the sexual-misconduct allegations she made against then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas during his confirmation hearings in 1991. But she did say, “Our government process fail when they do not recognize women’s voices,” making it clear that she was referring to last year’s Kavanaugh hearings.
“This is not a political statement,” Hill insisted. “It is a statement about human decency. . .When we see the government fail, I want you to commit to standing with the women who need to be heard, deserve to be heard, and have the right to be heard.”
The line was met with a standing ovation led by a very clap-happy Katy Perry. As the model Coco Rocha put it, “For some reason, these awards make you want to go create a new business, a new non-profit, save the children. I always leave here wanting to do something.”
Rocha's husband James Conran then quipped, “I just hold the purse tonight,” at which the model lifted up her mini satchel.
“I'm doing a good job holding it myself tonight,” she said, thank you very much.