2014 was a difficult year for women with many setbacks, but in the face of adversity we also saw so many new and old faces who stepped forward as leaders, rebel rousers, activists and more. Here’s a list of men and women who made a difference in the lives of women; and if they’re making a difference for women then that naturally includes men too. Everyone benefits by the ascension of women. Here’s a collection of incredible people in no particular order, and of course if you think someone is missing, feel free to suggest someone.
Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina, former members of Pussy Riot and human rights activists for prison reform. After their prison ordeal in Russia by Putin for hooliganism, both women have been working to bring attention to the need for prison reform. While they’ve experienced much resistance from pro-Putin supporters, the women have not backed down on their convictions and their efforts. They are true role models who prove that even the face of adversity, women are powerful and capable.
Elizabeth Warren, D-Senator for Massachusetts, is an amazing role model when it comes to fiscal responsibility from Wall Street to student loan reform, not to mention her attention towards women’s rights, like the importance of overcoming the wage gap. She speaks intelligently and clearly, she cuts through the political BS that often clouds up results. Her leadership and hutzpah is so unequivocal some have even whispered her chances to one day run for president.
Laverne Cox, actress from Orange Is The New Black, is having a great professional year, but it’s not her onscreen performance alone that has turned heads. Her work as a role model for transgender people and an advocate for the LGBTQ movement that has really made a difference in people’s lives this year. If you click watch the video, you’ll see how powerful and inspiring her words and work are when you hear her speak on the importance of listening and acceptance of diversity. Brava!
Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO and author of the 2013 book, Lean In, has continued to speak on behalf of women and their opportunity for gains in the workforce. On top of tackling such hard issues like seeing more women in top management positions, reducing the wage gap and the working-mom, she started the Lean In organization, which aims to help connect ambitious women.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, actor, appeared on Ellen earlier this year explaining how courtesy of his mother was an earnest feminist. In addition, his production company hitRECord is making efforts to produce feminist content. I think this is a great step towards promoting equality and I look forward to what other pro-feminist efforts he will make in the future!
Gabrielle Giffords (D), former Arizona representative and the third woman in Arizona’s history to be elected to the U.S. Congress, Giffords has not faded from important social issues since her assassination attempt in 2011. She and her spouse founded Americans for Responsible Solutions that asks for better gun policies. She’s an active voice when gun violence occurs especially when Elliot Rodger’s misogynistic killing spree in Isla Vista occurred earlier this year.
Emma Sulkowicz, artist, gained national attention when Columbia University failed to bring justice to herself and other female students when they reported their on-campus rapes. In turn, in an activist-styled art performance, she grabbed her mattress on which she was raped and will carry it with her until her rapist leaves campus. This act of defiance and awareness has brought national attention to the poor US college campus policies that have failed to protect victims, punish rapists and essentially cover ups incidences in violation of Title IX.
Barack Obama, US President, has worked hard for women’s equality during his tenure, even if not everything has worked out. First, we can thank him electing US Supreme Justice Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor. Secondly, when he first took office he approved Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and just this year tried valiantly to get the Paycheck Fairness Act approved several times, even though Republicans blocked it. Oh ya, and there’s the whole – get women free birth control thing and then later affordable healthcare.
Joe Biden, US Vice President, should be seriously renown for his work towards women’s equality and health. Not only did he introduce the Violence Against Women Act in 1990 when he was senator, but he got Obama to renew it. He has a long-standing history of reducing violence against women and went to task when it became apparent US colleges needed to protect students against sexual assault better by assigning a White House task force on the issue.
Sarah Silverman, comedian and writer, is not only dedicated to putting the funny in feminism, but she’s hardcore about raising awareness about issues like abortion and the wage gap. Early this year she teamed with Lady Parts Justice and then the Equal Pay Back Project. She’s not afraid to take some hard-hitting issues and make them not only humorous but relatable and reasonable, which is where I think her real power as a feminism and writer lie.
Mo’ne Davis is first women to win and throw a shutout in the Little League World Series and only one of two women to play in the 2014 World Series. She’s also the first Little League to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Since few women have been highlighted in baseball to such an extent since the movie 1992 movie A League of Their Own, it’s safe to say that some of this attention comes from people still being surprised women can play ball like the boys… That said, her efforts and accomplishments are super important and will hopefully inspire more women and young girls to hit the field alongside the men.
Maya Angelou‘s, author (1928-2014), death left a hole in women’s lives this year, but she also left behind an incredible library of written works that will hopefully continue to feed the minds and hearts of generations to come. Without her, we’re reminded of how important it is to have women like her working towards equality and awareness and understanding. She’s left incredibly big shoes to fill, but she’s also empowered so many by leaving behind the tools on how to fill them.
Tina Fey is sorta like women’s feminist guardian angel, she’s always around giving us small but hugely important feminist moments. As a constant role model, she’s made the list because she inspires women every day to be smart and themselves and to not be ashamed about loving night cheese or snarfing. Even her American Express commercial highlighted how hard everyday is for women, “where do you put the books?” Sometimes she teams up with Amy Pohler to have super powered moments like hosting the Golden Globes to remind everyone women are not just funny, they’re hilarious, smart and bold.
Wendy Davis, former Texas Senator, became legendary after her 2013 11-hour filibuster to block anti-abortion efforts. A year later, she revealed in her memoir, Forgetting to Be Afraid that revealed she had two medical-related abortions in the 1990s. Not only has her efforts to preserve abortions right been huge for women, but sharing her experiences with abortion speaks volumes about how sharing such stories can have powerful effects when humanizing the need for safe abortion access. Hopefully her courage and personal stories will inspire others to not treat the subject as taboo either.
Mindy Kahling, actor and writer, is not afraid to speak her mind when it comes to body issues and she’s totally unapologetic about it, which is both badass and empowering towards women. She’s a great role model on embracing what ya got and confronting people who say otherwise. In addition, she often incorporates a strong sense of feminism into her work and contributes a great sense of humor as well.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, US Supreme Court Justices, are probably the only justices that really have women’s back. First they helped bring marriage equality to the US, but when it came to crippling women’s rights a la the Hobby Lobby verdict, the women justices made sure everyone knew what a horrible idea it was to give corporations religious rights that superseded women’s. Not only should we hold them in esteem for occupying a job that historically only men have held, but for being themselves and taking no guff.
Amy Schumer, comedian, helped bring women’s comedy to a new level. Not only does she headline her own show, The Amy Schumer Show, but few woman comedians have enjoyed their own show let alone one of the more successful ones on the typically boy’s club, Comedy Central. She unabashed when it comes to talking about sex and the absurdity that is often women’s culture, something all women should strive to be like.
Rebecca Gomperts, MD, is taking a new approach to overcoming women’s ever-shrinking abortion rights. She founded Women on Waves, a medical ship that sales to ports in countries where abortion is illegal to legally distribute Medical Abortion, which includes taking mifepristone and misoprostol. She later founded, Women on Web, a “telemedicine support service” for women around the world who are seeking medical abortions. Gomperts is leading the next type of abortion services as a result of stricter rules under the simple belief that women need safe access to abortion.
Beyonce, singer, has embraced the F-word wholeheartedly. Despite, whether or not you agree with Beyonce’s type of feminism, the bottom line is that she’s done a hell of a lot for it this year in terms of positive PR. Something, in all honesty, feminism needs.
Jessica Valenti, writer, has been bringing us witty, intelligent and strong feminist writing for years through her own books and by founding Feministing.com. Though this year she boldly went where no feminist had gone before by building on what other medical products deserve to get for free – feminine products! Valenti did not waver as the unprecedented backlash unfolded, bringing to light how people still won’t embrace or protect many of women’s basic and everyday health issues.
Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, artist, broke new ground on the constant battle against street harassment with her street art project, Stop Telling Women to Smile. Her written word highlighted the difficult nuances of how women must navigate the streets daily by facing male entitlement and modern sexism. One could argue that this project, along with older Cards Against Harassment, spearheaded the massive amounts of attention as people awoke to mass amount of sexual harassment women face on the pavement and on college campuses.
Gillian Robespierre, writer and director, and Jenny Slate, actor, brought us the award-winning film, Obvious Child this year. Not only is it written and directed by women and features a woman as the main character (which is a rare trifecta onto itself) it’s the only movie that attempts to put the subject of abortion in comedic light. It’s also groundbreaking because it shows that women can have an abortion and be all right in the end. There’s no tragedy in this storyline.
Hillary Clinton, former Secretary of State, not only dodged a shoe on stage earlier this year, she responded with adept and calm wit proving she’s got all the right moves (and responses) to potentially become the first female US president. While she has taken the year to potentially gear up for the Democratic presidential nomination, she also published her book, Hard Choices. Her intelligence and leadership have been a great source of inspiration, especially as she has made a place for herself in patriarchal Washington.
Belinda Luscombe, writer, is often digesting important women’s studies or cultural events and writing on them in a compelling and succinct way. When I find myself engrossed in a women’s article and take a brief moment to see who wrote it, it’s usually Luscombe. So for her dedication to women’s issues in her writing, she’s made this list! Keep it up.
Amy Poehler, actor and writer, does so much for women. First, she runs Smart Girls with friends Amy Mile and Meredith Walker that is a place for all women to get empowered. Secondly, she stars in Parks and Recreation, a TV show with that rare female lead that has made HIllary-obsessed women with gusto cool. And third, she came out with her book, Yes Please that’s an honest account of her life and career, that also let’s women know it’s okay to like porn and not to breastfeed (she does not combine the two). Poehler has inspired so many women for her hardcore Boston and feminist values, while showing that we can do it all while being funny.
Gloria Steinem, leader of the second-wave feminist movement, Ms. magazine and NOW, received one of the highest civilian honors in the United States this year, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Her resume list on what she’s done for this country and for women is a miles long, though it’s amazing to see her work recognized this year.
Kacy Catanzaro, athlete, broke new ground when she became the first woman to qualify for the finals of the television sports challenge American Ninja Warrior. In a TV show and athletic competition that has been dominated by men, 100-lb, 4′ 11″ frame proved that size does not matter when it comes to being a top Ninja Warrior. While Kacy did not ultimately win, she broke through the glass ceiling obstacle and hopefully inspired other women to follow in her steps.
Emma Watson, actor and UN Women Goodwill Ambassador, helped launched the He for She Campaign. In what became a viral sensation, her speech at the UN asking for better women’s rights, but also asking men to become part of the solution countered years of man-hating stereotypes of the women’s movement. The pro-feminism speech came at a crucial time when many women were publicly expressing anti-feminist sentiments, while clearing not understanding the movement. Watson was there to set the record straight and to invite everyone to end gender inequality together.
Chelsea Handler, comedian and actor, might be the most direct in calling out the double standards that exist in Hollywood, media and social media. As one of the few women talk show hosts, who is actually open for a new job, she was passed up this year multiple times as a host for the late night talk show circuit. The entertainment industry opted for more male successors in what has always been a boys club. She’s also directly challenge nudity rules on social media by posting photos of herself topless on Instagram in mock photos inspired by a topless Vladmir Putin. Putin, Russian President and world bully was never censored, but Handler’s photos were eventually removed. Luckily for women everywhere, Handler continues to challenge double standards and unfair, sexist censor rules.