If it’s December, it’s time for “year in review” posts and this probably will not be our last round-up but it is one we are pretty excited about. While publications like Time pick just one “Person of the Year”, we see no reason to limit our list of female news-makers of 2012 to just one woman. What we have assembled below is a list of just a few of the women who have inspired us this year. We believe many of them will continue making news, shaping policies, and representing us well, long after 2012 is over.
Malala Yousafzai – Until October of this year, schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai was best known in the West for the blog she wrote for the BBC detailing her life under Taliban rule in her home in Mingora, Pakistan. She criticized the Taliban’s policies of denying education to girls, both in the blog and in a later documentary for the New York Times. Then, on October 9, Malala was shot in the head and neck by a Taliban-affiliated gunman as she rode the bus home from school. She survived the attack and is currently recuperating in a British hospital. The Taliban has vowed to repeat their attempt on her life calling her a “symbol of the infidels and obscenity.” Did we mention she is 15?
To the rest of the world, however, Malala Yousafzai has become a symbol of courage and determination, and of the need to demand education opportunities for all children, regardless of gender. UN Special Envoy for Global Education Gordon Brown declared November 10, 2012 “Malala Day” in support of a UN petition that demanding that all children worldwide be in school by the end of 2015. In addition, Malala has been nominated for a International Children’s Peace Prize by Desmond Tutu and there is a petition for her nomination for a Nobel Peace Prize. As of the time of this writing, Malala was third in Time Magazine’s online poll for its Person of the Year 2012 distinction.
Women of the 2012 Olympics – By the end of the 2012 Olympic Games in London, some in the media might have gotten sidetracked in covering the non-troversy around Gabby Douglas’ hair or the beach volleyball uniforms and missed some legitimately important milestones for women in sports. For the first time in the history of the modern games, every participating nation sent at least one female athlete, an achievement made possible by increased pressure on Saudi Arabia in the final weeks before the Games. For the Saudi women (and women in other countries where the government or religious leaders actively prevent women from participating in sports), participation in the Olympics was politically significant. Sarah Attar, the 19-year old Saudi athlete who ran the 800 meter track event in London, said she hopes her presence will encourage other Saudi women to become more athletic. If that happens, Saudi Arabia may follow a path followed by Western nations, where increased participation by women in sports happens in tandem with advancement in other areas. The Saudi government plans to allow women’s suffrage for the first time, starting in 2015.
For American women, the London Games were a time to celebrate the accomplishments of Title IX, the article of the Higher Education Act that demands equal funding and opportunities in college, including (but not limited to) sports. Nowhere was that more clear than in the makeup of the team. For the first time, female athletes outnumbered males on the team. Performance-wise, the women delivered as well, winning the majority of the gold medals and the majority of the overall medals won by the U.S. team. The best part of all, it happened with billions of people watching.
Women of the 113th Congress – Starting in January 2013, record numbers of female legislators will serve in the U.S. Senate, the House of Representatives and in state legislatures nationwide. While even these numbers of female lawmakers in the U.s still leaves us embarrassingly low ranked when compared to other nations and are far from gender parity given the U.S. population, it is a definite step in the right direction. (No shoe jokes, please. We’re already have enough on our hands clearing the traffic jam in the Senate ladies room!) Seeing the female candidates we supported break through, especially after the two years of misogynistic legislative Hell that began in 2010, made for an especially sweet election night. Beyond that, though, we view the 2012 election and the class of legislators it produced as something far more important than numbers. It was the logical next step in what should become the “new” normal. Now that there are 20 female United States Senators, and nearly 80 female members of the House, why should we settle for anything less? As recently as 1992, there were only two female U.S. Senators. Starting in January, the entire Congressional delegation from New Hampshire and its governor will be female. More importantly, female lawmakers are gaining power, influence and the ability to lift each other up and build a deep bench of candidates who could someday rise even higher. Why should we wring our hands wondering who will be the “next Hillary Clinton” when we have the power to develop the next TEN Hillary Clintons? Or more? Women are 53 percent of the American electorate! The answer is that we shouldn’t settle. The direction was made clear. We’re moving forward. Is our nation’s first female President a member of the 113th Congress? It’s impossible to know that now but one thing is certain, whoever she is, she will benefit from it.
So, Liz Warren, Tammy Baldwin, Tulsi Gabbard, Tammy Duckworth, Heidi Heitkamp, Kyrsten Sinema, Mazie Hirono and the rest of the Class of 2012, no pressure or anything, but it’s time to get to work.
Cecile Richards and Planned Parenthood Supporters – The Susan G. Komen Foundation learned a costly lesson this year: Do not mess with Cecile Richards and Planned Parenthood. In February of this year, the Komen Foundation, the big kid in the breast cancer funding sandbox, announced that it would stop giving financial support for cancer screenings performed at Planned Parenthood clinics, citing controversy over Planned Parenthood’s (unrelated) reproductive health services. Komen quickly learned that while it may own the pink ribbon logo, Cecile Richards has a pink army and that army was more than willing to go to work for Planned Parenthood. They took to Twitter, Facebook, online forums and the phones, calling their elected officials, signing petitions, and – most embarrassing for Komen – pulling out of its Race for the Cure events and donating that money to Planned Parenthood instead. In just two days following Komen’s funding announcement, Planned Parenthood raised over $3 million for its breast care screening program, more than three times the amount of funding it would have gotten from Komen. But it wasn’t about the money. By that time the backlash against Komen was too much, regional Komen affiliates were speaking out against the decision and at least 26 U.S. Senators had publicly called on Komen to reverse what they called a “politically-motivated” decision. On February 3, just three days after it announced it would pull funding, Komen CEO Nancy Brinker reversed course, and pledged to fund all existing grants to Planned Parenthood and to maintain the group’s eligibility for future grants. The incident proved politically embarrassing to Komen, and some argue that it has yet to fully recover its reputation.
For Richards and Planned Parenthood, the clash proved to be a key test of their political, media and social muscle. They were able to leverage their reputation with women, their social media presence, and their political power to score a victory on the national stage. (Actual quote: “Will Planned Parenthood please give Twitter back?”) Planned Parenthood would spend the rest of 2012 using these lessons in other funding battles with states and in the November elections. While their battles with states like Arizona and Texas wear on, the numbers from the election don’t lie: the Sunlight Foundation calculated that Planned Parenthood’s PAC got the highest ROI on its campaign spending of any U.S. PAC in the 2012 cycle – with 97% of its spending on races achieving their desired outcomes. Memo to Komen, Cecile Richards and her supporters are wearing the new pink.
Sandra Fluke – Of all the things that we learned in 2011 and 2012 from the war on women, none was more irritating than this: when misogynists are faced with an articulate, educated women who has facts on her side, they will fall back on the time honored tradition of calling her a slut. Some things never change. As part of W:RUN’s long-standing policy of not referring to certain media blowhards by name, we will not say who actually called Georgetown law-student (and now women’s rights activist) Sandra Fluke a series of derogatory names but you certainly know who it is. It’s not worth the keystrokes to type his name. It almost doesn’t even matter because ever since her Congressional testimony, and especially since her appearance at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, most of the other right-wing media talking heads and even some candidates have piled on with their criticism of Fluke for…for….being someone they really don’t like, we guess. It’s hard to tell exactly what they don’t like about Sandra Fluke except that they think she’s got some nerve talking about birth control out loud like that. In the end, Fluke had the last laugh. Mitt Romney, who famously could not muster the energy to defend her against the worst slurs, lost big in November and took many of Fluke’s harshest critics down with him. And as for He-who-shall-not-be-named? The advertiser exodus from his show following this incident has the stations that carry it reporting heavy losses. And for the record, karma probably doesn’t like being called names either…but you get our drift.
The Moderators: Candy Crowley and Martha Raddatz – After a twenty-year gap, the Commission on Presidential Debates finally selected two women to moderate debates this election cycle: awarding Martha Raddatz the Vice Presidential debate and Candy Crowley the (often maligned) town-hall debate. Jim Lehrer and Bob Schieffer were given the remaining Presidential debates. Leading up to the debates, former debate moderator Carole Simpson publicly worried that in giving women these “lesser” contests, they might still be marginalized, and others in the chattering classes shared that worry. Then we watched the debates. and gave each other giant estrogen fueled high-gives because – to be frank – Raddatz and Crowley Kicked. Ass.
Raddatz, charged with moderating the Vice Presidential debate between two high energy candidates (and after most observers agreed that Lehrer pretty much lost control of the first Obama/Romney debate) drew high praise. Seated onstage between Biden and Ryan, Raddatz was a calm yet decisive force between two notoriously explosive personalities. She challenged Biden on Benghazi intelligence and demanded “specifics” and “math” from Ryan on his budget. She didn’t always get straight answers but she didn’t back down. While we took issue at her framing her abortion question in religion, we can hardly think of another moderator – male or female – who could have kept order between these two candidates better than Raddatz did.
Crowley, in particular, took heat from the right for fact-checking Romney’s claims on Benghazi but it is often overlooked that she did not handle the President with kid gloves either. She challenged him on unemployment and several times sharpened the audience’s questions about the economy with tougher numbers. In short, she heeded Simpson’s advice and refused to allow herself to be marginalized. Both Raddatz and Crowley did what journalists are supposed to do: lead with the facts. That’s the whole point of giving the roles of debate moderators to journalists in the first place, isn’t it? This year, two extraordinary women got their chance to do it and they certainly made the most of it.
Rachel Maddow – In TV news, election night coverage – especially presidential election night coverage – goes to the “A” team. To the undisputed stars of the networks. It’s not a perk, it’s a right. You rise to the top of a given news team and that’s your prize. You get to tell the viewing audience the results of all the races, especially the top one. In 2008, MSNBC gave the honor of reporting that the nation had elected Barack Obama to Keith Olbermann, then its top star. In 2012, it was Rachel Maddow who made the network’s official call that Obama had been re-elected. Maddow, the first openly gay anchor of a prime time news program, readily announces herself as a liberal nerd – something that instantly endears her to the younger demographics that are increasingly hard to reach for cable news networks.
That Maddow is the now MSNBC’s top star says a lot about the network’s plan to reach a generation of Americans who’d rather get their news from Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. (Insert your own joke about the hipster glasses here.) To that end, Maddow’s biggest 2012 moment actually came after November 6, when her eloquent summary of the results and “other real stuff” went viral two days after the election. It was nearly impossible to be online without running into versions of the clip on social media, blogs, and even in liberal fundraising emails. It was popping up in our newsfeeds days, even weeks after the election. That clip did exactly what MSNBC is hoping Maddow’s geeky brand of gravitas will do: expand the reach of their news onto different platforms. In a quieter way, Maddow may be able to help MSNBC do what CBS tried to do with Katie Couric: win with a woman at the wheel.
Savita Halappanavar – Tragically, Savita Halappanavar did not live to see the end of 2012 but her life, and death, may become a watershed moment for the Irish government and its traditionally strong (some say, inextricable) tie to the Roman Catholic Church. Savita Halappanavar was a 31-year old dentist from India who moved to Ireland with her husband. This past October, when 17 weeks pregnant with her first child, she went to a Galway hospital complaining of severe back pain. According to Savita’s husband, the hospital concluded that she was having a miscarriage. Savita’s condition worsened steadily over but when she requested an abortion to end the pregnancy, the hospital allegedly refused, stating that Ireland was “a Catholic country.” Finally, when the fetus’ heartbeat could no longer be detected, doctors removed it but by then Savita had developed septicemia, and she later died. Her death prompted demonstrations throughout Ireland and England, outrage from Indian officials, demands that the Irish government clarify its abortion laws, and most recently, a possible hearing before the European Court of Human Rights.
Given that multiple inquiries are also ongoing in Ireland, it does not seem that the question of whether the hospital bears legal responsibility for Savita Halappanavar’s death will be settled anytime soon. However, the discussion about women’s reproductive freedom that it has sparked in Ireland and in other countries was clearly long overdue. Welcome or not, it now has to happen.
Who else should be on this list? Tell us in the comments here or on our Facebook page.