9 Women Who Made 2017 A Safer Space For Us
For American liberals, 2017 will be remembered by a number of depressing events — health care uncertainty, particularly regarding the battle to fund children's health care; legal clashes over a travel ban that seemed to target Muslims; an uptick in non-criminal deportations; the first term of a president who bragged on tape about sexual assault; and, of course, said president's continued tweeting. Despite the circumstances, however, there were plenty of women who managed to make 2017 a safer space — for all of us.
The term "safe space" is triggering for some, especially those in the alt-right camp and of alt-right-adjacent persuasions. Like the word "feminist," the idea of a safe space had become, in the not-so-distant past, a phrase many avoided — no one wanted to be slapped with the "manhater" or "snowflake" label.
That was before Congress put children's health care funding in jeopardy, before immigrants became the scapegoat du jour, before the nation elected a man accused by more than a dozen women of sexual assault (accusations he denies) — before 2017.
The final three months of this year were dominated by a deluge of #MeToo stories that didn't just topple high-profile men in Hollywood, media, and politics; they also gave voice to millions of women while stripping away the chimera that sexual harassment and assault are rare occurrences.
That revelation is just one of the ways women pushed the country toward a more equal and just — which is to say, safe — space in 2017.
1. Tarana Burke Brought "Me Too" To 2017
Before it became a hashtag phenomenon, Me Too existed because of Tarana Burke. The activist launched the phrase back in 2007, as a way to talk about her own survival from sexual assault, and to help young people who had suffered sexual abuse to speak up, speak out, and heal from their experiences.
Burke probably didn't foresee #MeToo becoming a viral sensation, showing up in millions of posts in 2017. But the power and clarity of the phrase made Burke's work ideal for social media.
2. Sen. Kamala Harris Advocated Against Revenge Porn
Sen. Kamala Harris introduced a bill in 2017, known as the ENOUGH Act, to criminalize so-called "revenge porn" at the federal level. While 38 states and the District of Columbia have already passed local laws making it illegal to share sensitive images of someone else without their permission, the geographically unbounded nature of the internet made such cases sometimes difficult to prosecute.
Protecting victims of revenge porn, who are disproportionately female, recognizes the unique 21st century threats posed by technology. As Harris told Bustle in November, "It is long past time for the federal government to take action to give law enforcement the tools they need to crack down on these crimes. Perpetrators of exploitation who seek to humiliate and shame their victims must be held accountable."
3. Jodi Kantor And Megan Twohey Took On Weinstein
Without the reporting of New York Times journalists Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, it's impossible to imagine the #MeToo movement achieving its subsequent reach and impact. Kantor and Twohey took on Harvey Weinstein, one of Hollywood's most powerful — and, as the public came to discover, notorious — producers, and built a rock solid case against the media mogul.
Successfully taking down Weinstein broke the stranglehold many men in power had over their sexual harassment victims. If Weinstein could be held accountable, so too could most anyone else. And if the free press' best function is to speak truth to power, Kantor and Twohey are inspirations for all would-be journalists.
And their reporting is proof that allegations of misconduct against women deserve to be taken seriously.
4. Natalia Margolis Gave Detained Immigrants A Lifeline
In the wake of Trump's election, Natalia Margolis wanted to do something to help the immigrant population cope with the new president's dismissal of protections President Obama had offered DREAMers. So she worked to develop Notifica, an app that allows users to pre-write text messages to several people. Should one find themselves in the hands of an ICE agent, a single button push on the app immediately sends the messages out.
That ability to let family, friends, lawyers, schools, employers, and other important contacts know what's going on can provide at least a modicum of peace of mind. And offering some measure of control in such a powerless situation is valuable indeed.
5. Rep. Jackie Speier Challenged Sexual Assault
On Oct. 27, Rep. Jackie Speier took to Twitter and wrote, "I'm sharing my #MeToo moment in the hope that my colleagues, [and] current/former staff who feel safe to do so, will join me. #MeTooCongress." In an attached video, Speier said that when she was a congressional staffer, the chief of staff "held my face, kissed me, and stuck his tongue in my mouth."
After asking members of Congress to open up about their own experiences, Speier went after the Office of Compliance, the department where victims of sexual harassment and discrimination are supposed to report. Appearing on Face the Nation, Speier said,
We have a system in place that allows for the harasser to go unchecked. Doesn't pay for the settlement himself and is never identified. So the Office of Compliance, to which a victim must apply or complain, is a place that has really been an enabler of sexual harassment for these many years because of the way it's constructed.
6. Itzel Guillen Fought For Immigrants' Rights
A recent graduate of San Diego State University, Itzel Guillen was recognized as a community leader by the San Diego Union-Tribune. That's because Guillen has been working for the last four years to help the Latino community of San Diego become more civically engaged.
It's a risk for Guillen, since she was born in Mexico. Though she's been living in the United States since a young age, Guillen could still be deported under Trump's rollback of Obama-era protections (known as DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). Guillen told the San Diego Union-Tribune, "At this time, politicians hold my life and that of my peers in their hands. Our futures and our dreams are currently in limbo and awaiting a decision from Congress."
7. Rose McGowan Showed Us Why We Need To Be Fearless
In the struggle to oust Hollywood's sexual harassers and assaulters — and their enablers — no one took more of a take-no-prisoners approach than Rose McGowan. Her Twitter feed called out everyone she saw as complicit— Matt Damon, Ben and Casey Affleck, Jeff Bezos, Bob Weinstein (Harvey's brother), and Russell Crowe, among others. McGowan left no doubt as to whose side she was on, and she reserved plenty of oppobrium for the bystanders who profited from men like Weinstein.
It was a reminder that ending egregiously sexist and abusive working environments requires candor and involvement from everyone. In McGowan's world, nobody gets a free pass.
8. Adama Iwu Stood Up To Sexual Harassment
After a male colleague publicly touched her inappropriately, lobbyist Adama Iwu had had enough. Iwu wrote a letter calling out the toxic culture of politics in California's capital of Sacramento, and it was signed by almost 150 women who felt similarly threatened by the atmosphere they have to work in.
For her efforts, Iwu was featured alongside several other women on the cover of Time's 2017 "Person of the Year" issue. It takes courage to speak out, but Iwu showed you don't have to be a big-time celebrity or elected official in order to do so.
9. Sally Yates Took A Stand
"The acting Attorney General, Sally Yates, has betrayed the Department of Justice by refusing to enforce a legal order designed to protect the citizens of the United States." So read the White House statement explaining why Yates had been fired.
Before his first month in office had transpired, Trump had already fired Yates over a letter she wrote to the Justice Department encouraging them not to follow the president's controversial travel ban. Yates objected to it on the basis that, as she saw it, the ban discriminated against travelers based on their race, nationality, or place of birth.
These nine women have made 2017 a year worth remembering. They've made the nation a safer, more welcoming place for all. So if 2017 has got you down, just remember: There's still a lot of good going on and getting done out there.