With 2015 on its way out, and 2016 rapidly approaching, feminism remains in the anterior of our collective mind. As predicted, no year in recent memory has done so much to move feminism forward as 2015, and we have many fabulously talented and devoted women (and men) to thank for that. Gender equality is now a household term, as we've heard from the red carpet to American and global politics, regardless of where on the spectrum the opinions of the movement fall. No matter, because as second-wave guru Gloria Steinem put it, "The only thing worse than trying is not trying."
Through Academy Award equality speeches, celebrity-endorsed feminist campaigns, a two major female presidential runs, a World Cup-winning U.S. women's soccer team, the advent of Lenny Letter, and even more celebrity endorsements of feminism, 2015 has proven itself as a year of progress. And although celebrities often get the statements out there for the general public to hear, feminists like the exceptional women below are the ones who persistently drive the message of gender equality. This is the time of year where we reflect on the wonderful women who played a substantial part in feminism of 2015, and whom we should watch in 2016.
As the CEO of Xerox Corp., Ursula Burns says she is "always learning." Not only is she a female CEO of a multibillion dollar corporation, she is a woman of color. She became CEO in 2009, and made the largest purchase in Xerox history, that is, of affiliated computer services. President Obama appointed Burns to help with the White House national program on Science Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM). Additionally, she was made chair of the President's Export Council in 2015, after her role as vice chair. Xerox is doing extremely well, and it looks like Burns is just getting started.
The executive director of the United Nations World Food Programme since 2012, Ertharin Cousin worked for over 25 years in international non-profit, government, and corporate sectors. She was appointed to the position of U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Agencies for Food and Agriculture under President Obama from 2009 to 2012. She now serves as leader of the world's largest humanitarian organization, helping over 90 million people in over 80 countries. If that isn't inspirational, what is?
Novelist, editor, professor, and still-active academic, Toni Morrison helped shape literature and feminism, whether she intended to or not. Although she does not identify as a feminist, since she feels labels will hinder her work, she says, "I don't subscribe to patriarchy, and I don't think it should be substituted with matriarchy. I think it's a question of equitable access, and opening doors to all sorts of things." That is, in fact, what feminism stands for, and her numerous novels — like The Bluest Eye, Sula, and Beloved — have earned her both a Pulitzer Prize and a Nobel Prize. Her papers are permanently a part of Princeton University, and she is still active, even in her 80s.
Christina Hoff Sommers
A regular critic of modern-day feminism — but still a feminist — Christina Hoff Sommers strives to purify the logic within the feminist movement. This serves some really positive purposes, especially since no organization or movement is immune to criticism and growth. Dissenting voices help to strengthen the whole, and Sommers has no qualms about her role in doing so.
She was a professor of philosophy at Clark University, as well as a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research and a member of the board of advisors of the nonpartisan Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. She has appeared on various television programs, like 60 Minutes, The Oprah Winfrey Show, and The Daily Show, and she has written for numerous publications, such as Slate, The Atlantic, The Huffington Post, The New York Times, and Time Magazine. This is all secondary to her own publications, Who Stole Feminism? and The War Against Boys, which support feminism as a movement, but criticize aspects of modern feminism. In other words, she's pretty qualified.
A sweetheart of today's intersectional feminist movement, bell hooks, is an American author, feminist, and activist. She never capitalizes her name and she always speaks her mind. Her writing focuses on race, capitalism, and gender, and how the three intersect. She has published over 30 books, and many academic articles, and she founded the bell hooks Institute in 2014.
Some of her books include, Ain't I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism, Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center, All About Love: New Visions, We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity, and belonging: a culture of place. She has held residency at University of California, Santa Cruz — where she had previously completed her doctorate in literature with a dissertation on Toni Morrison — as well as numerous other reputable institutions, such as University of Southern California, San Francisco State University, Yale University, Oberlin College, and City College of New York. Her works cover a wide range of topics, from patriarchy and masculinity, to self-help and the media.
An American blogger and feminist writer, Jessica Valenti founded the popular feminist blog, Feministing, back in 2004, while she was employed at the National Organization for Women. She co-authored four books on women's issues, including Full Frontal Feminism, He's a Stud, She's A Slut, and The Purity Myth. She is an active writer, and her work has appeared in publications, such as The Nation, The Washington Post, and Ms., and she is currently a columnist at The Guardian.
Tracie Egan Morrissey
The cool chick from Jezebel who concocted the idea for Broadly, Vice's female-centric channel, Tracie Egan Morrissey started at Jezebel in 2007, and is now the editor-in-chief for Broadly. The source focuses on political issues that affect women, rape on college campuses, reproductive rights, history, travel, and even fashion and beauty — but the latter two are covered in an intelligent manner. Even better, she takes pitches from some small-name writers, so long as the idea and writing are solid, which is really awesome.
She's an attorney, a feminist author, and she writes for Cosmopolitan, as well as publications like Feministe and The Guardian. Jill Filipovic has written on subjects like Boko Haram in Nigeria and women's reproductive rights. She's young, and she's already getting the word out there. We need more people like her!
In 2005, a documentary about her campaign for comprehensive sex education was released. It is called, The Education of Shelby Knox, and it tells the true story of a girl who wanted to make a change when she realized that abstinence is not comprehensive sexual education. Even better, she is still a public speaker and organizer to this day.
Jennifer L. Pozner
Jennifer L. Pozner is the executive director of Women In Media and News (WIMN), which works to increase women's presence in the public forum, including women of color, disabled women, low-income women, the youth, the elderly, and non-heteronormative women. The platform analyzes the roles of women in media, and prepares women to hold media accountable for their representations of women.
Her feminist writing is extensive, but she has contributed to many publications, like Ms., Salon, Newsday, AlterNet.org, WomensENews.com, and has also taken part in television interviews on ABC's Top Priority, Comedy Central's The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, Good Day New York, Pacifica Radio's Democracy Now, and various others. She is also a public speaker and an intersectional feminist, if her myriad credentials weren't revealing enough!
Roxane Gay is a writer, professor, editor, blogger, and commentator. She teaches English at the Purdue University, and she has written for The New York Times, and other publications. Her essay collection, Bad Feminist, and her novel, An Untamed State, discuss identity and privilege. Many enjoy her approach because it is simple and accessible, which proves extremely effective time and again.
Where does one begin? She's a politician, a senator, an academic, a lawyer, and one of the biggest proponents of women's rights the U.S. has ever elected to office. She also covers other worthy topics, such as income inequality. Instead of listing her credentials, watch this video of this brilliant woman in action, and rejoice that she has our backs.
As the role of president of Planned Parenthood must unfortunately entail, Cecile Richards is a person of great strength and will. She is a lifelong activist and the president of the helpful organization since 2006. Likewise, she is a Democrat, and in 2010, she was elected to the Ford Foundation Board of Trustees. Women and men around the United States have much for which to thank this brave soul.
Tressie McMillan Cottom
A writer for Slate and The Atlantic, and assistant professor of sociology at Virginia Commonwealth University, Tressie McMillan Cottom is a woman of color who has written on subjects like race, education, and socioeconomics. She has a passion in her writing that makes it very worth reading.
A senior front page editor of Huffington Post, and formerly of Feministing, Chloe Angyal has also written about feminism, politics, popular culture, and women's issues for publications like Medium, Reuters, and BuzzFeed. Feminists should look forward to what she writes in the coming year.
Hillary Clinton's second daughter and secret weapon, Huma Abedin is a long-time friend of Clinton, as well as a long-time political staffer. She was also Clinton's deputy chief of staff at the State Department. Fun facts: she speaks Arabic and it is said that people cannot help but love her. She is admired for the responsible way she handled some personal issues that arose in her marriage, but more so for her brilliant political mind and her elegant — but always kind — manner. Her work with Hillary speaks to her own feminism, and she'll be a big name in 2016.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Coming in at five feet tall and maybe 100 pounds, the second female justice to the United State Supreme Court, Ruth Bader Ginsburg (better known in the hip hop world as Notorious RBG), has single-handedly transformed the perspective of gender issues within the Supreme Court. She is the current court's most accomplished litigator, and just this year, she was involved in two landmark rulings. The first was the decision that allows the federal government to continue providing subsidies to Americans who purchase healthcare through exchanges, whether federal or state-backed. The second was her role in the 5-4 ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage in all fifty states — in case anyone was wondering who made that happen. Basically, she's the best.
She is the most famous Pakistani activist in the history of that country, and one of the biggest names in female education and rights in the world. Malala Yousafzai is the proverbial bulldozer; whenever there's an injustice in female or human rights, the world collectively looks to the youngest Nobel Prize laureate for her view. She is always on the scene. Oh, and she's only 18. There's no telling what great accomplishments will fill her life and help our world.
If the above women are our Luke Skywalkers and Reys, then Gloria Steinem is our Yoda. She is 81 years old, more active now than at any other time in her life, and such a huge component to the lives modern-day women lead. She began in the late '60s, and she is still writing, speaking, and influencing our culture — and cultures around the globe — with her smart prose and her thoughtful ideas. Can't wait to see what she brings us in 2016.
Well done, ladies! We cannot wait to see what is to come next year. Thank you for all that you do.