2014: THE YEAR OF THE FEMINIST?
Perhaps it was a feeling in the air, or the fact that it was the year of my own feminist awakening, but it seemed to me that 2014 was incredibly significant for women. To identify as a feminist was suddenly fashionable, celebrities were speaking out, media exposure began highlighting solidarity and intersectionality. Countless campaigns spread through Twitter and Facebook like bushfire. Although there were plenty of setbacks, there were innumerable reasons to be proud to be a feminist.
However, 2014 wasn’t without its disappointments. The US Supreme Court ruled in favour of Hobby Lobby’s decision to refuse their female employees access to contraception. Victims of violence and sexual assault were frequently shunned and blamed for their trauma; one Washington Post columnist suggested that being a victim of sexual assault was a “coveted status” at colleges, the editor of the Wall Street Journal blamed female alcohol consumption on rape cases and Rush Limbaugh announced on air that “no means yes if you know how to spot it”. The justice system failed victims of domestic abuse, such as Reeva Steenkamp, whilst the media covering the trial scarcely remembered to mention her name. Despite glaring statistics, high profile personalities such as Dennis Prager denied the existence of ‘campus rape culture’ and Glenn Beck mocked rape victims in a skit on his own show. One aspect of women’s lives the media in America failed to mention, however, was the constant attack on access to abortion all throughout the US. NRO’s Kevin D. Williamson wrote an article detailing all of the reasons young women are ‘too dumb’ to vote, and Bill O’Reilly rejected the idea of a Hillary Clinton 2016 run for presidency merely because she was a woman. 273 young girls were abducted from their schools in Nigeria, of which only 57 have returned home.
It’s also important not to forget the victories that we shared. After making a storm last year with his hit, Blurred Lines, and its insufferably objectifying video, Robin Thicke’s newest album literally fell flat on its face- selling only 2% of his previous release, and less than 54 copies in Australia in the opening week. A debate on abortion rights due to be held at Oxford was shut down after protests, teaching those involved that, although freedom of speech is a right, a platform is not. Tireless campaigning resulted in ‘pickup artist’ Julien Blanc, whose dating advice clearly encourages sexual violence and abuse, being barred from entering and performing in several countries such as Australia, the United Kingdom and Singapore. The unbearably unfunny vine star Dapper Laughs was dropped from his ITV show after the hashtag #CancelDapper went viral.
Keeping on that positive note, 2014 was also the year we got to know some truly super duper individuals. Malala Yousfzai, the Pakistani activist for human rights and female education was celebrated throughout the world when she became the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, aged just 17. Libby Lane became the Church of England’s first female bishop. Shonda Rhimes dominated prime time TV with shows like ‘Scandal’ and ‘How to Get Away With Murder’; both featuring amazing African-American leads. In Nigeria, Dr. Stella Ameya Adadevoh lead the fight against one of the biggest outbreaks of Ebola in human history. Adadevoh became one of the 20 fatalities linked to the first case of Ebola in Nigeria, her dedication saved hundreds of lives and quite possibly saved Nigeria from a catastrophic outbreak. Leading the fight against Ebola on the international front was Dr. Joanne Liu, the International President of Doctors Without Borders. Dr. Hawa Abdi continued her amazing work in providing shelter for the women and children of Somalia and fighting for sustainability, often whilst battling the constant threat her sanctuary faces from drug lords and terrorists. In May, Latifa Ibn Ziaten also received a Moral Courage Award for her work countering terrorism, following her own son’s murder in France two years ago.
There were also some sporting victories; Chinese tennis player Li Na became a national hero when she ranked world No.2 on the WTA tour. Back in America, baseball pitcher Mo’ne Davis proved that ‘throwing like a girl’ wasn’t such a bad thing, becoming the first ever girl to earn a win and pitch shutout in the Little League World Series history. A couple of hours away, fourth year Colombia University student Emma Sulkowicz’s performance art piece ‘Carry That Weight’ was a triumph, speaking out for sexual assault victims everywhere. Rinelle Harper, a 16 year old aboriginal student who barely escaped death after being attacked by two men, called for a national enquiry in Canada to “end violence against young women”. Roxane Gay taught us that there is no such thing as a ‘good’ feminist and broke down barriers across the so-called ‘sisterhood’.
2014 was also a year of solidarity. Mutual support became one of the world’s most powerful weapons against injustice. Black women held the front-line in Ferguson and other protests against police violence all around America. Peace-keepers and leaders like Shermale Humphrey were pictured standing up in Missouri and New York, or standing in between young men and police officers. Erica Garner, daughter of the recently murdered Eric Garner held a die-in on the spot where her father died, sparking similar protests all around the globe. Senator Maria Chappelle-Nadal voiced her own support for the movement, despite the heavy criticism around it. It wasn’t long before the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter was trending worldwide, resurrected two years since its first use after the death of Trayvon Martin. In Nigeria, the mothers of nearly 300 kidnapped girls led marches to the National Assembly, hoping to pressure the federal government into doing more to help them bring back their daughters, some of whom were being tortured, raped and sold into slavery. Over 1,200 kilometres away from their home and in pouring rain and thunder, several hundred women marched together on the streets of Abuja to protest the media and government blackout on the incident. The social media campaign and protests were organised by Nigerian activists and politicians Hadiza Bala Usman and Maryam Uwais. It wasn’t until three weeks later that Michelle Obama began to raise pressure in the US, popularising the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls, and taking over her husband’s weekly presidential address for the first time.
In the middle east, an unlikely opponent to the rise of ISIS emerged; the Women’s Protection Unit (YPJ), a group of Kurdish women who decided to join the fight against the terrorists, militantly. They were first set up in 2012, and have grown massively since with over 7,000 volunteers between the ages of 18 and 40. They are reliant on their own community’s support; they do not ask for charity or international support and yet they are a force to be reckoned with. They have become such a threat to ISIS that they are now being targeted personally. Whilst women under 18 aren’t allowed to fight on the front line, many younger women in the community also get involved too. They often fight amongst the Kurdish men, providing support and extra fire-power. When asked why they wanted to join the force, women such as General Zelal stated that she wanted to be “free”, and not sit in the house all day. Across war zones all around the world, the Executive Director of Crisis Action, Gemma Mortensen has been working on providing extensive protection for civilians. On a less militant front, and back in America, a group of mothers decided to combat discrimination in California by creating a girl group for their daughters; the ‘Radical Brownies’, whose aim is to ’empower young girls of colour’ and where they earn badges for subjects such as ‘Black Lives Matter’, ‘Food Justice’, ‘Radical Self-Love’ and ‘LGTB Ally’.
Despite recent uproar regarding the announcement of 2015’s Oscar nominations, and the still rampant under-representation of women in Hollywood, 2014 still provided some truly wonderful moments from the world of celebrity, film and music. We’ve already touched upon the powerhouse of Shonda Rhimes, but there are some other truly notable mentions. The beautiful Laverne Cox graced the cover of TIME magazine and became the first transgender woman to be nominated for an Emmy for her role in Orange is the New Black. Ellen Page inspired young women all around the world when she revealed she was a lesbian in a highly emotional speech for the human rights campaign and Time-to-Thrive conference. Lupita Nyong’o wowed the world with her amazing acting and her eloquent speeches on black beauty and black women in Hollywood. Amy Poehler and Tina Fey continued to lead Smart Girls everywhere, Scandal’s leading lady, Olivia Pope, officially came out as a feminist, as did singer Taylor Swift. Kira Isabella’s remarkably emotional song ‘Quarterback’ addressed the issue of revenge porn, Nicki Minaj spoke out about her abortion and Miley Cyrus excited riot grrrls everywhere when she sparked rumours of a collaboration with the legendary Kathleen Hanna. Perhaps the most iconic moment, however, belonged to Beyonce. As if her song ‘Run the World’ wasn’t enough to fill us with glee, Queen Bey performed her epic song ‘Flawless’ with the word ‘Feminist’ blazoned across the screen at the August VMAs and a sample of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s remarkable speech.
Just so, there were some wonderful female driven films released this year, too. Scandal trail blazed American TV screens, Claire Underwood’s character in the Netflix original House of Cards remained incredibly powerful and Homeland continued it’s four season run. Another newcomer, and now Golden Globe winner, was Jane the Virgin; although not without its imperfections, it’s a TV show that finally addresses Latino culture in America and female sexuality as its key themes. The documentary She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry chronicled the second wave feminist movement, and films like Maleficent, Wild, Tracks and The Babdook provided strong leading female roles. The Polish film Ida focuses on women and religion, Still Alice on mental health, We are the Best on the 1980s punk movement, Obvious Child on abortion, 1000 times goodnight on women in war zones and journalism, and The Tale of Princess Kaguya was a triumph in the anime world. Not to mention, the world was still completely obsessed with Frozen.Edward Snowden found an unlikely ally in filmmaker Laura Poitras, whose documentary Citizen Four came out in November and Amma Asante’s film Belle was an absolute triumph.
2014 was also the year Social Media showed just how powerful it was. Websites like Facebook and Twitter give even the most everyday people a voice and a worldwide platform for their campaigns. This, however, does result in a soapbox for those who don’t have such nice things to say. After receiving race and death threats from young boys on Facebook and Twitter, game reviewer Alanah Pearce took matters into her own hands and decided the contact the boy’s mothers with screenshots of what they had said to her. Another video that went viral was taken outside an abortion clinic in London where two protesters, members of Abort67 lead a demonstration, intimidating and threatening people coming in and out of the clinic. A pregnant woman then confronted the pair, accusing them of “making other women feel guilty” and called them out on their hypocrisy for taking advantage of the choice that was given to them, yet trying to take it away from other people.
In news of combating body-shaming, a North Carolina mother wore her daughter’s dress to her graduation ceremony after she was told it was ‘inappropriate’ and the pictures went viral. Crohn’s disease sufferer Bethany Townsend made waves on Instagram after posing with colostomy bags in a bikini picture, encouraging others to do the same. Facebook stopped censoring breastfeeding, despite the ridiculous opposition to letting women breastfeed in public, not just in Claridges, but all around the world. The blog scene was dominated by influential and young activists like Yas Necati, who began her own campaign for better sex education in the UK, and Jennifer Lawrence’s response to the hackers who stole and published nude photos of her online beat the trolls to their own game. Youtuber Laci Green continued her series of sex-positive and sex-education videos, whilst debuting her own MTV webseries ‘Braless’. 2014 was also the year of hashtags, on twitter trends like #YesAllWomen and #BeenRapedNeverReported drew significant exposure to certain issues and created a place for people to discuss and share their own experiences. Hashtags were also used in political campaigns; the hashtag #DirenKahKaha protested against the Turkish Prime Minister’s claims that women shouldn’t laugh out loud and thousands of Turkish women responded by posting pictures of themselves laughing.
Speaking of campaigns, there were plenty to get excited about in 2014. The ‘It’s On Us’ Campaign, with videos including celebrities like Jon Hamm and Kerry Washington, and even being backed by Obama, encouraged people to take a pledge to keep women and men safe from sexual assault by recognising what sexual assault is, identifying situations in which sexual assault may occur and to intervene and create a safer environment. The HelloFlo campaign broke down the barriers surrounging women’s menstruation, which is often seen as a taboo subject and one very few are correctly informed about. FBombs for feminism presented the question, why are you more offended by children swearing than by the sexism they are likely to face later in their lives? Powered by Girl created a blogging platform for girls, and by girls to combat the ‘sexist, racist, classist and homophobic’ media in all its forms, as did the website Purple Drum; aimed at women under the age of 30. Girl Guides in the UK started the campaign ‘Girls Matter’, setting out eight main goals they wanted to see tackled in the next election, including listening to young girls, tackling sexual harassment and guaranteeing an equally represented parliament.
However, even 200 years after Mary Wollstonecraft’s game changing series of essays; Right’s of a Woman was published, the majority of industries still remain dominated by men. This section is dedicated to the women, men and companies who tried to combat this problem in 2014. GoldieBlox aimed to create building toys that weren’t just aimed at boys, with the greater goal of encouraging more young girls to become interested in technology, engineering, maths and science. Dr. Ellen Kooijman, a Swedish geochemist, lobbied for Lego to release a series of female scientist figures, completely devoid of the colour pink. Nickolay Lamm created a barbie doll with more realistic measurements, complete with stretch marks and no makeup and seven year old Maggie Cole
wrote to Tesco, demanding that they change a sign she saw labelling a Marvel Comics Clock as a ‘gift for boys’. Karen Crespo inspired the fashion industry when she became the first quadruple amputee to walk the catwalk at the New York Fashion Show.
In mathematics field, Dr. Maryam Mirzakhani became the first woman to win the Fields Medal. The Gamergate affair highlighted the appalling way women in the gaming industry are often treated, whilst comic books centred around the female Thor and Muslim superhero Kamala Khan provided girls and women with some new kick-ass characters. In India, Arundhati Bhattacharya became first woman to be nominated as the Chairperson of the State Bank of India, and was listed as one of the worlds most powerful women by Forbes. Alibaba, the second largest Internet company in the world, after Google, outperformed all of its rivals on one ground; the number of women in power-positions. A third of its 18 founding partners are female, and women account for 9 of the 30 partners who controlled management decisions.
Politics was also a breakthrough area for women in 2014. There are now at least 100 women in US congress. The scene in America this year was dominated by female politicians like Elizabeth Warren, Wendy Davis and Hillary Clinton, whilst Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg literally rose to notoriety as she became the subject of an Internet meme- and known as The Notorious R.B.G. Canadian politician Kathleen Wynne pushed education on sexual consent being introduced into school curriculums, and revenge porn finally became illegal in several countries such as the US and UK. First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon played a vital role in the Scottish referendum and is continuing to rise through Scottish politics. Also in the UK, Fahma Mohamed and Muna Hassan successfully petitioned the government to start taking the issue of Female Genital Mutilation seriously whilst Meltem Avcil brought to light the issues asylum seekers face.
Across the world, Retno Marsudi became the first female Minister of Foreign Affairs in Indonesia, and Catherine Samba-Panza became the first woman to hold the post of interim President of the Central-African Republic. Marina Silva, a politician and environmentalist became a key figure in Brazilian politics. Also in Indonesia, Susi Pudjiastuti, a successful entrepreneur involved heavily in humanitarian aid, became the Minister of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries. Thuli Madonsela took on South African politics, exposing the abuse of public funds after becoming a ‘Public Protector’. In Iraq, Vian Dakhil became the only Yazidi in Parliament. In 2014, the Vatican also finally backed down from the enquiry into three feminist nuns with little more than mild rebuke. And of course, who could forget Emma Watson’s speech as the UN’s Ambassador for women on encouraging men to support the movement for equal rights.
He for She
So how successful was the speech? Despite the fact that our own Prime Minister refuses to call himself a feminist – and thus suggests that he doesn’t believe women should have equal rights or opportunities- there was increasing support from politicians like Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband. Most male support for feminism, however, came from Hollywood and the media. Joseph Gordon Levitt became a spokesperson for male feminists everywhere when he spoke out on the Ellen show and in his own YouTube video. American comedian Aziz Ansari also spoke out on social media numerous time in support of the feminist movement. Scores of celebrities came out in support of the He for She campaign that Emma Watson launched, including Harry Styles, Benedict Cumberbatch, Chris Colfer, James Van Der Beek, Simon Pegg and Russell Crowe.
If you’ve managed to make it this far, I commend you. I’m not going to complain that this post turned out a lot longer than expected, I think that only proves how positive 2014 has been. I guess that all there’s left to say now, is here’s hoping the New Year is just as good!