2015 was a busy year. A lot has happened in the span of 12 months — like, a lot. In January, it was a different world: No one had ever heard of Lenny Letter, Jon Snow was still alive, and nobody paid any attention to what Donald Trump had to say. Now, looking back on the year, it's astonishing how quickly things have started to change. In fact, no year in recent memory has done as much to move feminism forward than 2015.
It's been a great year for the movement, thanks in large part to high-powered ladies in the entertainment industry. The introduction of initiatives like Lenny Letter and #HeForShe have provided high-profile platforms for open discussions about women’s rights and gender equality. We’ve begun to see more women making headlines in the movie business, whether they're actresses, directors or producers, for speaking out about discrimination. Women in Saudi Arabia were finally granted the right to vote this year. Progress is slowly but surely being made. In 2015, female celebrities decided to stop being polite about women’s rights and use their status to effect some change, and it's already paying off.
Let's take a look back over 2015, and the women who tried to move feminism forward.
Feminism in 2015 started off with a bold speech by Maggie Gyllenhaal, who gracefully and politely made some great points about roles for women. The actress said that the media seemed fixated on how many "roles for powerful women" there were on television, but what she was seeing were roles for "actual women" on television. It was beautiful and simple, and it provided a gentle beginning to a year chockfull of conversations about gender.
Gyllenhaal wasn't the only one to shake things up during awards season. Patricia Arquette gave a speech that caused quite a stir when she snagged an Oscar for her role in Boyhood. For a few moments after she won, Arquette had the attention of the nation and, boy, did she take it. She declared that it was time for women to have wage equality and "equal rights for women in the United States of America." Not only did the speech spur a national conversation, it also prompted an amazing reaction from Meryl Streep.
Emma Watson has become an international advocate for gender equality, specifically with the #HeForShe campaign she sparked in 2014, which aims to include men in the fight for women's rights. In March 2015, Watson sat down with Facebook on International Women's Day to talk about women's issues and her feminist journey. It's an empowering speech, and it's great to see a young woman take such a stand and use her platform to make the world better.
It's hard to believe that seven months have already passed since Hillary Clinton announced her bid for president. The self-proclaimed feminist has been using the early stages of her campaign to make bold statements about issues that effect women, like the wage gap, Planned Parenthood, and extending paid family leave. Clinton, like so many other notable women this year, is demanding to be heard.
Amy Schumer owned 2015. She dominated it. Between the success of her Golden Globe nominated film Trainwreck and taking on gun control, Schumer has wasted no time becoming one of the most beloved and admirable actresses in the country. But, back before she was revealed to be the full-fledged movie star that she is, her show Inside Amy Schumer was making strides for women's issues. The show addressed uncomfortable truths about confidence, body image, ageism, rape culture and, yes, whether she was actually hot enough to have a TV show. The episode "12 Angry Men Inside Amy Schumer," which aired in May, while hilarious, brought to light the very real standards of beauty that women are held to by men.
In June, pop star Katy Perry graced the cover of Forbes magazine and, in doing so, highlighted that it was OK for women to be proud of their financial success. "Hopefully this cover can be an inspiration to women out there that it's okay to be proud of hard earned success and that there is no shame in being a boss," Perry wrote on her Instagram. Perry emphasized that she was saddened when she was told that women had previously turned down the chance to be on the cover. So many women have been conditioned to make light of their accomplishments out of a fear of alienating men. It was wonderful that Perry set this example, and for that reason.
On July 5, the U.S. women's soccer team beat Japan and brought home the World Cup. It was a very big deal. But their victory and hard work led to the realization that the women would be receiving only $2 million in prize money, while their male counterparts had been awarded $35 million in previous tournaments. This information spurred international outrage and prompted FIFA to address the issue within a few weeks. We hear a lot about the gender wage gap, but it wasn't until this year that it became abundantly clear that pay inequality reached into every industry. Though indirectly, the U.S. women's soccer team brought the issue to the forefront of a global conversation on women's rights.
In early August, tons of famous ladies took to social media to stand with Planned Parenthood. Republicans had forced a vote in the U.S. Senate to cancel the approximately $500 million that Planned Parenthood receives annually from the federal government to provide reproductive health services to low-income women. The bill ultimately was not passed, but it was amazing to see the outcry of support that women had for the organization. Actresses like Kristen Bell, Kathleen Turner, Gabby Hoffman, Kerry Washington, Elizabeth Banks, Scarlett Johansson, and many more posted sentiments of support for PP. Access to health care is just one step towards gender equality, but it's an important one and the support of powerful people helps a great deal.
In September, after months of anticipation, Lenny Letter, a feminist and arts centric newsletter, debuted. Created by Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner, the team behind Girls, the weekly letter features long-form essays and interviews for and by women. In the past three months alone, Lenny has featured articles by Jenny Slate, Jennifer Lawrence, Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards, and an interview with presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. It's already generating great feminist content and sparking national conversations.
Shortly after it launched, Lenny Letter featured an essay on the gender wage gap by Oscar winning actress Jennifer Lawrence. In the 2014 Sony hack, it was revealed that Lawrence had been paid far less than her male co-stars on films like American Hustle. In the powerful essay, Lawrence said that she was "over trying to find the ‘adorable’ way" to state her opinion and "still be likable." The essay drew widespread praise and came out around the same time that the federal government announced an investigation into discrimination in Hollywood. Comedian Sasheer Zamata also put out this amazing video about women's rights in October. It was basically a great month for feminism.
In late November, The New York Times Magazine did an in-depth feature article about female directors in the movie industry. They spoke to dozens of women, some of whom have been working in Hollywood for decades and some who are struggling to make their second or third projects. Women like Geena Davis, Shonda Rimes, and Nancy Meyers discussed the blatant discrimination that they have faced because of their gender. The article seemed like the culmination of a year in which women in entertainment had finally had enough and were willing to talk about the dire state of inequality. It was a moving piece and a broad reflection of an industry that's plagued with misogyny.
Perhaps the most perfect thing to round out the progress that feminism has made this year is the debut of an Ava DuVernay Barbie. Barbie dolls have always represented things that children should aspire to, things that they could imagine being when they grew up — whether it was being a flight attendant, a veterinarian, or just owning a kick-ass beach house. With this doll, now we're telling kids that, despite a system plagued with racial and gender inequity, they can grow up to be successful film directors like DuVernay.
2015 really was an amazing year for feminism. So many women came forward and expressed frustrations with the way things are working and proposed ways to fix them. The groundwork is being laid for a bright future.