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14 Important Battles Won by Women in 2014

You thought the last 12 months was just a plague of misogynist assholes? Think again.

by Eleanor Morgan
Dec 18 2014, 2:55pm

Malala Yousafzai with the Obamas in the Oval Office. Image via the White House

This post originally appeared in VICE UK

All told, 2014 hasn't been the greatest year for women. If you picked up any newspaper on any day of the week, evidence of violence and abuse against women would be found on every other page.

Consider the following: the Pistorius verdict, Ray Rice, Gamergate, Boko Haram's kidnapping of more than 200 schoolgirls, Elliot Rodger, Ched Evans, Julien Blanc, Dapper Laughs, Bill Cosby; the Rolling Stone rape fiasco, abortion politics across the US, and the UK's aggressive pursuit of cases against rape complainants. And on and on

But there is hope. There is. There have been some great moments for women in 2014 and it's important that we remember them, even when—especially when—it feels like we're constantly skidding along a dog shit–covered pavement. There are 22 female world leaders currently in power. Good women doing good things everywhere.

Here are some of last year's standout moments.

MALALA WON THE NOBEL PEACE PRIZE
17-year-old Malala Yousafzai has shown the world the violence that women can face if they assert their human right to be educated, but also the power of dedicated, defiant activism. It's only been five years since the Pakistani schoolgirl's anonymous diary about life under the Taliban ruling in northwest Pakistan first captured the public's imagination. Since then, she's experienced highs and lows. On the downside, she was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman on her school bus—but more positively, she became the youngest person ever to win the Nobel Peace Prize for her continued campaigning for better education for women and girls across the world. Her response to journalists on the day? That it wouldn't "help with exams" and that she needed to get back to her chemistry class.

Image via Wikipedia

ANGELINA JOLIE HELD THE WORLD'S FIRST EVER SUMMIT TO END SEXUAL VIOLENCE IN WAR
Angelina Jolie and Brain from Pinky and the Brain, sorry, bald macaque, sorry, Foreign Secretary William Hague, made history in June with the first global summit to address the sexual violence that is so prevalent in conflicts around the world. The summit brought together 900 experts, survivors, faith leaders, and NGOs from 100 countries, all of whom pledged their commitment to pragmatically tackling the use of rape as a weapon of war.

Image via Wikipedia

THERE'S OVER 100 WOMEN IN US CONGRESS FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER
After the news that Maryland and Massachusetts had both elected Republican governors in the 2014 midterms, liberal analysts labelled the midterms as "shellacking, the sequel." But while the Democrats may have taken a hit, women from both sides were victorious. The 114th Congress will see 100 women serving—a landmark in US politics. This includes the youngest woman ever elected (30-year-old Elise Stefanik) and female politicians who talk openly about having abortions—making female reproductive rights a central issue across several states. Progress, then, if not radical overhaul.

AN ENGLISH SCHOOLGIRL BULLIED MICHAEL GOVE INTO INCREASING AWARENESS OF FEMALE GENITAL MUTILATION IN SCHOOLS
In February, the Guardian launched their EndFGM campaign, calling on then education secretary Michael Gove to write to all teachers in England and Wales warning them of the dangers of female genital mutilation. The face of the campaign was 17-year-old Fahma Mohamed. Within just three weeks, her petition had more than 230,000 signatures and was publicly supported by Yousafzai and Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general. Under the increasing public pressure generated by Mohamed, Gove—who, when under pressure, always wears the look of a graying PE teacher spying a scuffle on the basketball court—eventually met her and her fellow campaigners from Integrate Bristol and did what she wanted. He wrote to the teachers about FGM. The subject was lifted from the shadows and into public discourse. The lesson here, as with Malala, is that neither youth or gender are a barrier to successful campaigning. Not if you fight hard enough.

Some of The E15 Mums. Photo via Facebook

SOME MOMS FROM EAST LONDON TORE THE POLITICAL ELITE A NEW ONE
The occupation of the Carpenters estate in Stratford, East London, showed the true worth of grassroots protest. A group of 29 single working-class mothers—who'd been evicted from the local mother-and-baby hostel after its funding was cut, and then encouraged to move miles away to places like Birmingham and Hastings—occupied vacant East London flats in September in protest at Newham Council's plans to demolish a housing estate, in a campaign that has come to be seen as illustrating London's housing crisis in microcosm. That it was led by a social group so routinely written off as anonymous, apolitical, scrounging "benefit mums" (a Focus E15 Mothers Leader, Jasmin Stone, said, "We've been called sluts, told to shut our legs"), cruising between one sheltered accommodation to another, made it electric. These women proved everyone—Daily Mail headline writers, suited council officials, and red-nosed old cabinet members—so spectacularly wrong. They were articulate, measured, successful activists who supported one another, got results, and are an inspiration for any disenfranchised young woman who doesn't believe she has any power.

EMMA SULKOWICZ'S CARRY THAT WEIGHT MIGHT BE THE GREATEST PROTEST PIECE OF OUR TIME
The Columbia student vowed to carry her 50-pound dorm mattress around with her as long as her attacker—who, according to the police report, anally raped her in her dorm room—remained a student there, too. Then it turned into an international movement. Carry That Weight exposed a private scene in a (very) public sphere, forcing the acknowledgement that most college sexual assaults are committed by people who know the victims – often in their own rooms. It was protest art of, as the New York Times suggested, last resorts.

It's such a simple premise—just a girl, with a mattress. Yet everyone knows, and can see, where it took place. The wider effect on public consciousness surrounding on-campus sexual assaults remains to be seen. But when Sulkowicz took the microphone after the final rally and said, "I don't need to say his name, you know who it is," before being helped by students—women and men—to carry 28 mattresses to the home of Columbia President Lee Bollinger and stack them outside his door, it rang like a gong. They taped a list of demands to Bollinger's door, ending with a personal appeal for the university to re-open Sulkowicz's case.

BEYONCE PERFORMED IN FRONT OF THE WORD "FEMINIST" ALL YEAR
I've heard so many conversations about Beyoncé's muddled "feminist credentials" and how Beyoncé wasn't as feminist an album "as the media made out" this year, it made me want to dig a hole in a cauliflower and climb inside. Yes, the words in Jay-Z's rap on "Drunk in Love" are jarring within the album's sentiment and yes, people are within their rights to question a major public figure having a "feminist awakening," but we should all be able to come to a base agreement that the absolute bare fucking minimum definition of "feminism" is the public advocacy of economic and political rights for women. That's it.

What Beyoncé did for feminism, on television, on stages, in magazines, across the ENTIRE GLOBE is, as Roxane Gay said, a "reach WAY more than anything we've seen." I met an 11-year-old boy at a friend's birthday recently who said he was inspired to "look into" feminism after seeing all the pictures of Beyoncé stood in front of the word on stage, in giant, illuminated letters. This kid was wearing a homemade T-shirt with the feminist fist symbol sprayed on.

ROXANE GAY CALLED BULLSHIT ON ELITIST FEMINISM
2014 saw Gay becoming one of the most formidable voices in the feminist sphere. "I would rather be a bad feminist than no feminist at all," she wrote in her collection of essays, Bad Feminist, which basically handed elitist feminism a hand mirror and said: "Have a good look at yourself, hon." Her prevailing message is that, while there are plenty of different kinds of feminists, the most important thing is to accept all our differences and work together towards the same goal—gender equality.

She delivers astute insight on race, politics, sexual violence and popular culture (on Netflix's Orange Is the New Black, a show widely touted for its diversity, she says, "It is diverse in the shallowest, most tokenistic ways... This is the famine from which we must imagine feast") that manages to be both devastating and, often—crucially—funny. That there is a tattooed, sarcastic, self-aware, highly intelligent black woman at the forefront of zeitgeist-y feminist discourse is something to treasure going into 2015. I trust her so-called "messiness" as a feminist because it's realistic. It stops me from losing track, from feeling like I'm not getting it anymore.

AMY POEHLER WROTE A REALLY, REALLY GOOD BOOK
Poehler put out an absolute stonker of a book this year and if I had a teenage daughter I'd be thrusting it into her face every single day. Yes Please is basically a memoir of how Poehler came to be the engine of some of the best US comedy shows in decades (SNL, Parks and Recreation) but feels more important for its lessons in how to get far as a woman—basically: Be nice, but fight every single fucking second of the way. Throughout, Poehler speaks defiantly about ambition and, of all the big feminist advice tomes (How to Be a Woman, Not That Kind of Girl, Bossypants), hers feels like the biggest call to arms. Her points are rigid and unflinching. "Let me take a minute to say I love bossy women," she writes. "Some people hate the word, and I understand how 'bossy' can seem like a shitty way to describe a woman with a determined point of view, but for me, a bossy woman is someone to search out and celebrate." In a world where so many are still threatened by the so-called "hysterical woman," by "internet girls" with "snarky" tones (hey, Aaron Sorkin!) Yes Please was—is—an oasis.

SCOTLAND MADE A WOMAN FIRST MINISTER FOR THE FIRST TIME
Nicola Sturgeon became Scottish National Party (SNP) leader and first minister of Scotland after Alex Salmond decided to stand down. First becoming an SNP member at 16 after being galvanized by the sense of social injustice she felt watching Thatcherism play out, she knew it was wrong for Scotland to be governed by a Tory government they hadn't elected. She bucked the dominant Labour leaning of the country, though, believing that only through true independence would Scotland prosper. Following the narrow referendum defeat, Sturgeon has spoke defiantly on how "further devolution is the route to independence", believing that Scottish independence is a "when," not an "if."

EMILY WATSON TOLD THE UN THAT GENDER INEQUALITY IS EVERYONE'S ISSUE
The actor and newly-appointed UN Women Goodwill Ambassador delivered a passionate speech on gender and feminism at the motherfucking UN HQ in New York this September. Watson was there to launch the "HeForShe" campaign, which hopes to motivate a billion boys and men to become advocates for ending the day-to-day inequality that girls and women face across the world. Met with a roaring standing ovation, she said, "Why is the word [feminist] such an uncomfortable one? I am from Britain and think it is right that as a woman I am paid the same as my male counterparts. I think it is right that I should be able to make decisions about my own body. I think it is right that women be involved on my behalf in the policies and decision-making of my country. I think it is right that socially I am afforded the same respect as men. But sadly I can say that there is no one country in the world where all women can expect to receive these rights." By involving both genders in her campaign, she said she hopes to do away with the "us vs. them" mentality, the idea that feminism is a "man-hating" cause.

A PREGNANT WOMAN TOOK ANTI-ABORTION PROTESTERS TO CHURCH
Pregnant women shouting, as my esteemed colleague points out, are wicked. Even more so when they're taking down abortion protesters who shove film cameras and huge placards depicting tiny, bloodied foetuses into the faces of women stepping into a clinic—women who could be, for all they know, seeking help after being raped. In a video that quickly went viral (it raced to 2 million YouTube views in one day), a heavily pregnant woman who works for Kids Company said to anti-abortion protesters (the controversial Abort 67 group) outside a Southwark clinic that "making women feel guilty is so wrong, so fucking wrong." The crux of her rage was that Kids Company was just around the corner, and that the people—children—using their services should not have to see the images. "Many people have been been abused—you don't know what their reasons are," she says. "This is just so wrong on so many levels." From her, "No, madame, what? I'm talking," it's three minutes of pure fire that cuts through pro-life shaming like a knife through butter.

LAVERNE COX HELPED CHANGE THE LANDSCAPE FOR TRANS PEOPLE
In addition to her role in Orange Is the New Black as transgender inmate Sophia Burset, Cox has spent 2014 not just nudging, but trampling barriers for the transgender community. While OITNB's casting was thought by some (like Roxanne Gay) to be tokenistic, a trans woman playing a trans woman was a Big Deal. It just doesn't happen. Amazon Prime's mega 2014 success story, Transparent, featuring the dad from Arrested Development playing a trans woman who finally starts to live as who she is, probably owes a lot to Cox's visibility in Hollywood. 2014 saw her receiving an Emmy nomination for OITNB and a knockout cover of TIME Magazine, talking at length about being bullied growing up, activism, and how visibility saves lives.

JENNIFER LAWRENCE SAID FUCK YOU TO INTERNET TROLLS
Jennifer Lawrence beat the internet's shittiest trolls at their own game. The 4chan celebrity nude scandal was, naturally, targeted pretty exclusively at female celebrities—including Lawrence, who woke one day to find that someone had leaked nude images of her for public viewing and sharing. The exploitation of female sexuality became one of the most surefire ways of putting a woman down in 2014, but Lawrence did a precise, middle finger flick to it all when she told Vanity Fair that it's those who chastise women for taking intimate photos that should be ashamed of themselves: "I started to write an apology, but I don't have anything to say I'm sorry for."

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