Highlights of the Largest Feminist Moments and Key Numbers of 2018

Highlights of the best feminist moments of 2018 - Openlet Cover.jpg

The textbook definition of a feminist is someone who supports equal rights for women. Despite all the intramural battles over the different waves of feminism (which right wing conservatives love, by the way), the definition is, has been and always will be naught else but equal rights. And 2018, as it happens, was a banner year in the struggle for the ever-elusive equality between the sexes. There are many reasons why that was the case last year, not the least of which was the boiling point of election day 2018, reached after years of recurrent misogynistic remarks by the President, the contentious Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court hearings and — at the macrocosmic level — pushback against the rise of misogynistic authoritarian leaders across the globe.

Here is a wrap-up of some of the larger moments in context and key numbers in the so-called Year of the Woman, 2018:

Congress Women

The 116th Congress, elected in 2018, took office this last week. It was the culmination of a campaign begun at Trump’s inauguration and reached its boiling point on Election Day. What are some of the changes in the diversity of this Congress? Over 100 women were elected last November. The first Muslim women (Rashida Tlaib, of Palestinian descent and Ilhan Omar, of Somali descent) as well as Native American women (Deb Haaland and Sharice Davids) were elected; Texas is sending the state's first two Latina members to Congress. Sharice Davids is the first openly LGBTQ person elected to Congress from Kansas; Michelle Lujan Grisham is the first Democrat Latina Governor of New Mexico. 19 African American women elected judges in Texas, which has come a long way since Clayton Williams, the rape jokey candidate for Governor in 1990, who said about sexual abuse: “If it’s inevitable, just relax and enjoy it.” Two black women from New England (Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Jahana Hayes of Connecticut) will also make history by coming to Washington. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat, turned 29 in October, is the youngest woman ever elected to Congress. And Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona is the first openly bisexual person elected to Senate.

The UN Baby

New England's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, became the first female world leader at the United Nations general assembly meeting with a baby in tow. Here is baby Neve’s UN ID. "I wish I could have captured the startled look on a Japanese delegation inside UN yesterday who walked into a meeting room in the middle of a nappy change," Neve's father, Clarke Gayford, Tweeted. "Great yarn for her 21st."

Elizabeth Warren for President

As 2018 and 2019 began Elizabeth Warren announced her candidacy to run for President in 2020. It is, of course, very early in the game but it is significant in that she is not just the (prohibitively early) frontrunner, she is also the choice of Harry Reid. Reid, the former Senate Majority Leader, is a pretty reliable source for recruiting Senators to run for President as he was the earliest backer of the Obama candidacy way back in 2006. So there’s that …

TV and Feminism

How would television circa 2018 survive a Bechdel TestMarie-Claire Chappet of Glamour says that 2018 was “the most feminist year we’ve ever seen on TV.” “Cut this show open and it bleeds feminist, simmering with a righteous female fury that, finally, bubbled to the top this year as Offred found both her voice and her name,” Chappet starts with observations on The Handmaid’s Tale. "Political protests from Repeal the Eight in Ireland to the Women’s March on Washington saw women donning the handmaid’s iconic red robes to make a statement this year, and who can forget the split screen image that did the rounds on the internet during the Brett Kavanaugh hearing: asking you to spot the difference between a Gilead council meeting and the US Senate Judiciary Committee. Spoiler: there was none.” Marie Claire-Chappet also mentions BBC's Bodyguard, Black Earth Rising, The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina for Netflix, House of Cards, Killing Eve and HBO's exquisite Sharp Objects.

Margaret Atwood: The Handmaid’s Tale

Literary icon Margaret Atwood stunned the world in 2018 by announcing that she is writing a sequel to The Handmaid's Tale, her prescient 1985 novel turned into one of the most relevant shows on television. “The news has become so much more extreme,” Atwood told The Australian Financial Review. “What about these people in Ohio that are saying motherhood should be mandatory? They haven't done it yet, they're talking about it. But when people talk about things like that, being the age I am, I'm remembering that Hitler said it all in Mein Kampf and then he did it. If they had the power, they would do it. These ideas have been tried before.” The full interview is here.

SheDecides Movement

The SheDecides Movement picked up great steam this year. The SheDecides movement began after Trump signed the global gag rule into effect three days after his inauguration. The global gag rule bans overseas Non-Governmental Organizations from receiving US federal funding if they provide any abortion service. Because of Washington's outsized role on the world stage, this ruling meant that an $8.8bn (£7bn) budget hole was opened to nations in need of those monies. Enter: SheDecides. "A pledging conference in Brussels followed two months later, attended by more than 50 countries, which raised $200m for some of the major organizations that had refused to sign up to the gag order, such as the International Planned Parenthood Federation and Marie Stopes International," wrote Liz Ford in The Guardian. Read the SheDecides Manifesto here. More than 50,000 individuals and 300 organizations have registered their support for the movement with funding pledges topping $450 million in new funding in support of women’s sexual health and reproductive rights NGOs impacted by the gag rule.

#MeToo Accused Men

The list of men who were caught in the #MeToo web was vast in 2018, including photographer Patrick Demarchelier, who had at least 25 photographers, agents, stylists, casting directors and other industry professionals coming forward with sexual misconduct allegations and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who resigned his position after he was accused by four women.

Why is it that it took so long for sexual harassment stories in the press on Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Bill Cosby and Les MoonvesBuzzFeed ran a long form piece explaining why the press was so far behind the curve. "Entertainment reporters operate in something of a unique position compared to journalists covering other industries; the actors, celebrities, executives, and even the content at the heart of their stories are controlled by a high-priced army of publicists who serve as the gatekeepers in Hollywood, doling out access as they see fit,” Krystie Lee Yandoli writes. “Fairly or unfairly, there is a perception that outlets that cover entertainment may be too closely connected to — or even starstruck by — the people they’re writing about, or that they may be too deferential to the PR machine.” It is a fascinating story, including the cascade of tips that came about after the initial reporting, and how they had to adopt a war room,” complete with a whiteboard that featured the names of women who worked at Weinstein’s companies.” The full story here.

Politics and Gender Equality Goals

Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has set for his new administration a 50% female representative goal for cabinet participation. This happened in October, following in the footsteps of Rwanda, which actually has gender equality quotas on the books. Also, closer to home, more than half of those picked to lead Minnesota departments and agencies by Governor-elect Tim Walz are women. Is this a new political trend at home and abroad?

Is America's Year of the Woman going global? Rachel Vogelstein and Alexandra Bro believe so. “Take Lebanon, for example, where a record 113 women registered as candidates in the parliamentary elections this spring — more than an eightfold increase over the 12 women who registered to run in 2009,” they argue on CNN.com. “In Mexico, an unprecedented nearly 3,000 women ran in the June elections earlier this year, which resulted in the election of the first female mayor of Mexico City — and full gender parity in parliament.” Vogelstein and Bro also mention an electoral quota law in Sri Lanka that resulted in a stunning 2,340% increase in 2016 over the 82 women elected in that country in 2011. Are electoral quotas an answer? "Gender diversity in leadership correlates with higher performance, improved policy outcomes, and less corrupt societies," they conclude. The full, well-argued post is here.

Nigeria’s Bolanle Ashabi Sarumi-Aliyu

Bolanle Ashabi Sarumi-Aliyu aka BASA is the first ever female governorship candidate in Oyo state under the National Interest Party (NIP). Basa has been a grassroots campaigner in Nigeria since she was a little girl working with her father. As a result, she has a deep understanding of how money is corrupting the politics of Nigeria. "We all had to live a tough life including my English mum, guess this made me stronger and more determined that one day I will end money politics and I would also ensure the system works and provide an enabling environment for the people of Oyo state to thrive in," she tells Blueprint. Nigeria is perceived as one of the most corrupt countries in the world, along with Russia, Uzbekistan and Venezuela.

Cover image via Garn Press