Megyn Kelly, Netflix, John Legend & 16 Other Unexpected Feminists of 2013

The word "feminist" has been thrown around the internet quite a bit in 2013. We've used it to debate Beyonce's values and to choose yoga pants purveyors. At times, "feminism" was used as a battle cry as we rallied behind heroes like 16-year-old activist Malala Yousafzai, but in 2013, the most intriguing exhibitions of feminism came from unexpected sources.

Young women, girls, actors, musicians, millenials, Fortune 500 companies, and even Fox News correspondents came out waving the flag of feminist values in 2013 -- many, against all odds or expectations.

The U.S. Military. Yes, Really.

January, in a move that was a ridiculously long time coming, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta lifted a 1994 ban on women in the military serving in combat positions. The new ruling allows women greater professional freedom by opening up front-line and elite commando positions that were previously closed to them.

Of course, the lifting of the old ban doesn’t mean total equality. Military services have until January 2016 to protest the opening of certain positions to women. Still, seeing the relatively recent ban on women serving in combat positions lifted in any capacity was certainly an unexpected victory for equality in 2013.

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The F.D.A.

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Over the summer, the Food and Drug Administration approved the over-the-counter sale of morning after pills to women of all ages with child-bearing potential. Prior to the decision, women under 17 needed a prescription to purchase Plan B and all women needed a prescription to purchase alternative morning-after contraception ella.

In a press release, director of the F.D.A.’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, Janet Woodcock explained the decision. ”Over-the-counter access to emergency contraceptive products has the potential to further decrease the rate of unintended pregnancies in the United States,” she said.

Though this decision was a long time coming, many doubted whether it would ever actually happen, especially since the measure was rejected in 2011 by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. Now, the change in policy will hopefully lower the number of unwanted pregnancies while giving women much needed control over their own bodies.

Netflix. Yeah, That Netflix.

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Over the summer, Netflix released Orange is the New Black, a series about women in prison guided by the recent incarceration of privileged Brooklynite Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling). While the series certainly offers a landscape of intriguing and complex female characters, the standout was Sophia, a transgender inmate played by transgender actress Laverne Cox.

Her heartbreaking role as a trans woman striving to earn back her son’s approval and affection not only grounds the series, but represents a point of view that’s criminally underrepresented in film and television and earns Cox a well-deserved moment in the limelight.

Fox News Anchor Megyn Kelly

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While she may not always express opinions worth celebrating, Megyn Kelly took Lou Dobbs and Erick Erickson to task over their judgement of female breadwinners in 2013. Right out of the gate, Kelly demanded “Who died and made you scientist in chief?” when speaking to Erickson, who claimed in a piece on RedState.com that women are scientifically built to be nurturers and not breadwinners. Kelly combated Erickson and Dobbs’ “judgmental” commentary and “Erick Erickson science” with her own expansive list of facts and studies that blew her guests’ claims out of the water. It’s basically eleven minutes of completely unexpected awesome.

And Greta Van Susteren, Too

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Adding to Kelly’s blaze of reason in the face of nonsense, fellow Fox News host Greta van Susteren took to her blog to condemn Dobbs and Erickson for their misguided assertions that women breadwinners are somehow destroying America. While she didn’t win a televised debate with the duo like Kelly did, she did scold them pretty significantly for all her Fox News-loving fans to see.

”Have these men lost their minds? (and these are my colleagues??!! oh brother… maybe I need to have a little chat with them) (next thing they will have a segment to discuss eliminating women’s right to vote?),” she wrote on Gretawire. And yes, Ms. van Susteren, loss of brain matter just might be the only explanation for such misguided assertions.

Mallika Sherawat

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When Bollywood actress Mallika Sherawat spoke at a press conference in November, one female reporter confronted her about a previous interview in which she’d called India “regressive” and asked how she could look for love in India and feel that way about the country. Sherawat took the reporter to task, saying that her quote was referring to the state of women in India (“With female feticide, infanticide happening on an almost daily basis; with gang rapes making the headlines of almost every newspaper; with honor killings…”) and that she’s not going to be silent.

When the reporter fought back, suggesting that Sherawat’s remarks paint India, as a whole, as a backwards country, the actress shut the argument down: “As a woman, I should lie about the state of women that’s in our country? So I didn’t lie. I said the truth,” she said. Sherawat certainly wasn’t displaying the usual level of starlet decorum, but we couldn’t be more thankful for that fact.

Watch the full interview here.

Anna Gunn Vs. Bad Fans

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Breaking Bad might just be the best television show ever, depending on who you talk to. Any way you slice it, it’s up there, and 2013 Best Actress Emmy winner Anna Gunn is a big part of that success. Yet, in August, Gunn had to defend her Albuquerque wife and mother, Skylar White, from legions of fans who claimed she was nothing more than a “bitch” who kept getting in the way of Walter White’s adventures in meth.

Her New York Times op-ed fully opened up the notion of the Skylar White issue that plagues so many wives of male anti-heroes. Like Skylar, whose strength and bravado in the face of Walt’s meth dealings was greeted with ire, many wives become the “bitch” for simply denying the protagonist an open playing field sans rules. Gunn’s editorial perfectly responds to such hateful fans with such eloquence that it’s hard to believe there are any Skylar haters left out there.

John Legend

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Legend’s ideas aren’t exactly revolutionary, but they’re worth repeating. At a time when some folks still believe “feminist” is a dirty word, it’s important to encounter men who are quick to embrace the ideology and the world that comes along with it.

At a press conference in June, Legend decried that “All men should be feminists. If men care about women’s rights, the world will be a better place.” He added, “…we are better off when women are empowered — it leads to a better society.” No arguments here. Keep spreading the good word, Mr. Legend.

An 8-Year-Old Girl

In Berkeley, Calif. Constance Cooper took her daughter shopping at a local bookstore, only to find her 8-year-old KC in tears. KC found two books called How to Survive (Almost) Anything in “Boys Only” and “Girls Only” varieties. While the boys’ version includes “How to Survive a Shark Attack” or “How to Survive the Desert,” the girls’ option was decidedly milder with topics such as “How to Survive a BFF Fight” or “How to Survive Camping.” KC was particularly upset about the camping chapter, according to her mother, and when an employee at the bookstore saw how upset she was, she removed the books from the shelf.

Cooper recounted the entire experience on her website, proving that no voice — especially not her daughter’s — is too small to affect change.

Image: Flickr/D@LY3D

Microsoft and the Surface

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In a commercial for its new Surface tablet, Microsoft depicted a young woman EMT explaining why the product would be such a helpful device: she’s an EMT with crazy hours, she’s in medical school, and she likes to make time for wind down with a little Xbox.

xoJane’s Joanna Schroeder posited that the commercial might just be the most feminist TV ad out there, pointing out that not only is the woman driven without adhering to typical stereotypes of busy women, she’s also beautiful without playing into the relentless commercial depiction of feminine beauty. Even if you’re an iPad sort of gal, you’ve got to admit that’s pretty wonderful.

Texas Teens

After Texas school Richardson High hired Justin Lookadoo as a school assembly speaker on dating — which is a whole other can o’ worms — a concerned parent came to the school with her concerns about his sexist message and resultant support of rape culture.

The school kept the speaker and simply made the assembly optional, but when the students of Richardson High attended the talk and heard messages such as ”Dateable girls know how to shut up” and “God made guys as leaders. Dateable girls get that and let him do guy things. … Which means they don’t ask him out!!!” they took matters into their own hands, creating the hashtag #lookadouche in protest and walking out in the middle of his presentation.

Image: Flickr/Spirit-Fire

'Newshour' and PBS

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In August, PBS broke a barrier so steeped in “tradition” that it almost seemed as if it’d go on standing forever: the unwritten rule that a news anchor team must always be one woman and one man. But in August, PBS ended the notion that there must be a man on an anchor team, pairing Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff together to host the channel’s nightly news show, Newshour.

It may seem strange to think that in 2013, this breakthrough didn’t seem possible, but now Woodruff and Ifill have torn down the last glaring obstacle to women in broadcast journalism.

This Fit Guy Vs. Lululemon

As many women who’ve purchased Lululemon yoga pants have discovered, the bottoms often become somewhat sheer when they’re worn and sometimes, rip quite easily. The founder of Lululemon, Chip Wilson, responded to these widespread issues by blaming “some women’s” bodies for not being made to wear yoga pants. I’ll pause here for a little moment of outrage.

In response, blogger and fit guy The Anti-Jared embarked on his own yoga pants journey. In his blog, he writes about visiting multiple stores to find yoga pants that fit him, only to wind up at a plus sized clothing store where he is told he’s a size 20 in women’s sizes – despite being only a medium in men. “There is a double standard for men and women. Chip Wilson is way wrong about his pants. They are made wrong; it has nothing to do with the thighs or the hips…Take it from me. I am a plus size women who has never ripped a pair of pants,” he writes.

We all knew Lululemon’s Wilson was in the wrong, but it certainly felt good to see someone prove him wrong so resolutely.

Image: Flickr/ sushizumi

The "Skirt The Issue" Guys

At the start of 2013, a group of men in India banded together to protest the country’s rape culture, which largely puts the task of prevention on women and their choice of clothing. In response to a ban on skirts in schools in order to prevent lustful gazes, men in skirts gathered on Jan. 12, 2013 in Bangalore in protest.

The event’s Facebook page explains the mission: ”It’s a satirical take on the issue to draw attention to the absurd idea that what a woman wears invites sexual assault. Wear that skirt as a symbol of your support to a woman’s right to wear what she wants, be who she is, exercise her rights, and be safe in her city. Nothing shows more solidarity with women than breaking barriers and boundaries of ‘his’ and ‘hers’”

For a more in-depth look at these awesome men and women behind the protest, check out a video of local news coverage from India.

Image: YouTube

Ellen and "Fitch, Please"

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While the rest of us were reacting to Abercrombie & Fitch’s decision not to sell clothes above a size 10 with fire and brimstone, Ellen DeGeneres achieved what seemed impossible: she eviscerated A&F in the most positive, delightful way possible.

Using her signature brand of light, playful humor, DeGeneres pulled out examples of A&F’s sizes – a tiny size 10 shirt and a replica made to fit a Barbie doll. She then mused at the mind-boggling meaning of a size 00 – “Honey, does this make my butt look invisible?”

While we should have expected a response from DeGeneres on this issue, the fact that she was able to keep her cool while the rest of us were swinging metaphorical torches was a delightful, refreshing surprise.

Saudi Men

In October, women in Saudi Arabia embarked on a wave of civil disobedience, driving cars in the face of a new ban on women drivers in the kingdom. Naturally, the protests were stopped by Saudi police, but up until that time, some female protesters found some support from men living in the kingdom.

One of the demonstrators, a Saudi woman and blogger named Eman Al Nafjan, recorded video of men showing support for her protest, including one video in which men and women are waving at Nafjan and giving the thumbs up.

While the law in Saudi Arabia may aim to curb Saudi women’s freedom, it’s delightfully clear that in Saudi Arabia there is civilian support for combating the oppressive restrictions.

Image: YouTube

Wendy Davis

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Prior to June 25, 2013, most Americans had probably never heard of Wendy Davis, the state senator from Texas whose remarkable 13-hour filibuster aimed to curb a bill that could “virtually ban” abortion in Texas, according to Planned Parenthood Action fund president Cecile Richards. Since Davis’ literal stand, she’s become an icon and her pink sneakers, which she wore throughout the filibuster, are now a symbol.

Those who knew of Davis before June likely expected this of the senator, but for most of the U.S. watching this woman stand up to the long tradition of policing women’s bodies in a conservative state like Texas was a unexpected sight worth celebrating.

The 'Defined Lines' Ladies

When Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” continued to succeed as the song of the summer, despite what many referred to as “rapey” overtones, most people groaned. The catchy song seemed insurmountable and damnit, was I really just dancing to it without even thinking about it? (Yep.) Enter this well-produced video from New Zealand called “Defined Lines.”

In it, three feminists sing about the patriarchal values that dictate behavior in both pop culture and everyday activity, eventually flipping the “Blurred Lines” model of objectification onto men instead of women. This swap eventually got the video banned for a hot minute, but the creators appealed and the powers that be reinstated the video.

At a time when practically everyone threw in the towel on the sexist hit song, these three ladies came out of the woodwork with an equally catchy retort, an unexpected and entirely necessary response.

Image: Youtube

Future Head of the Federal Reserve, Janet Yellen

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Just before the close of 2013, President Barack Obama’s nominee to replace Ben Bernake as the head of the Federal Reserve, current vice-chair of the Reserve Janet Yellen, appears all but confirmed to take on the leadership position in 2014. Barring any major changes the path the Washington Post marks as “smooth sailing,” Yellen will be the first woman in history to head up the Federal Reserve.