As 2014 comes to a close, women have a whole lot to cheer about in pop culture, politics, sports, and art. Of course, this year, like every other year in human history, was ripe with misogyny, sexism, discrimination, and a long list of other terrible things. But since it's the season of holiday giving, here's a list of groundbreaking female accomplishments, notable achievements of brilliant and creative women, and heartwarming feminist bright spots. In no particular order, 20 things you can feel good about toasting to on New Year's Eve:
1. Malala Yousafzai Wins the Nobel Peace Prize
Malala, a young woman so famous she's widely referred to by just one name (kind of like Madonna or Bono), became the youngest-ever winner of the Nobel Peace Prizethis year, for her work fighting for girls' education around the world. She shared the prize with Kailash Satyarthi, an Indian children's rights activist. Malala was a proponent of literacy and education in her home country of Pakistan, and a member of the Taliban shot her in the face in retaliation for her efforts. She recovered, gave a speech to the UN on her 16th birthday calling for universal girls' education, started the Malala Fundfor girls' education, released a memoir, and won a litany of prizes, including an International Children's Peace Prize, an honorary Master of Arts degree from the University of Edinburgh, an Anne Frank Award for Moral Courage, and was shortlisted for TIME magazine's Person of the Year in 2012. At 17, she's a Nobel Prize winner, a human rights icon, and a living reminder that you have done very, very little with your life.
2. Beyoncé Gave a Feminist VMA Performance
This year was Queen B's year. She dropped her album Beyoncé without warning just before the close of 2013, and everyone went wild. She opened the 2014 Grammy Awards with an incredibly sexy performance of "Drunk in Love," spent much of the year on her sold-out "On the Run" tour with her husband, Jay Z, paused to attend her sister Solange'sgorgeous wedding (Wedding jumpsuit! Wedding cape!), and topped TIME magazine's list of the 100 Most Influential People (and had her profile penned by Sheryl Sandberg, no less). But Bey's biggest moment in 2014 was no doubt her 16-minute, 14-track medley performance at MTV's Video Music Awards, where she stood silhouetted in front of a giant lit-up sign reading "FEMINIST." Even better: She performed part of her track "***Flawless" with the voice of famous Nigerian feminist author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie reading the definition of the word ("feminist: a person who believes in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes") and bringing feminism into more than 13 million American households. At the end of her performance, Jay Z and daughter Blue Ivy came onstage to present her with the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award. Yoncé may not be advocating for every feminist issue, but she's normalizing feminism and making gender equality a top priority — as it should be. And 2014 was the perfect encapsulation of Beyoncé Feminism: a woman killing it in her career who unapologetically calls herself a boss and who also has a talented, hardworking partner who seems to be her equal in work and at home; a baby they both unabashedly adore; a tight-knit family; and a team of close, lifelong girlfriends. Queen B's kingdom seems like a pretty nice place to live.
3. Mo'ne Davis Wins the Little League World Series
Thirteen-year-old Mo'ne Davis spent 2014 throwing like a girl — a really, really talented girl. She threw a shutout game in the Little League World Series, the first girl to do so, and is one of only 18 girls to ever play in the Series (some 9,000 players have competed). She graced the cover of Sports Illustrated and was named Sports Illustrated Kids Sport Kid of the Year. On their cover, Sports Illustrated implored readers to "Remember Her Name." How could anyone forget?
4. Maryam Mirzakhani is Awarded Math's Highest Honor
Stanford professor Maryam Mirzakhani was the first woman ever to win a Fields Medal, the highest honor in her field of mathematics. Upon accepting the award, Mirzakhani, an Iranian-born mathematician, said, "I will be happy if it encourages young female scientists and mathematicians."
5. Women Speak Out About Their Abortions
Abortion story-sharing has a long and rich feminist history, but in 2014, it reached critical mass, with women around the world standing up and saying, in public, "I had an abortion." The story-sharing came on the heels of three years of radical restrictions on abortion, with more anti-abortion laws passed in that short period than in the entire previous decade. Although 1 in 3 American women will have an abortion in her lifetime, relatively few speak publicly about the procedure — and that silence, some abortion rights advocates say, allows stigma to flourish, creating an environment where many Americans think they don't know anyone who has terminated a pregnancy and where politicians feel comfortable restricting access to a common, safe medical procedure. Many women are working to change that, including Texas politician Wendy Davis, who told the story of terminating a much-wanted pregnancy that went tragically wrong, and Nevada lieutenant governor candidate Lucy Flores, who said she had an abortion at 16 because she wasn't ready to be a mother. This year also saw the publication of feminist writer Katha Pollitt's book Pro, a thorough and thoughtful defense of abortion rights, wherein Pollitt encouraged women to share their abortion experiences. Advocates for Youth's "1 in 3" campaign did the same, posting abortion stories and hosting a public speakout. SeaChange, an organization dedicated to combating abortion stigma, released a collection of the sexual and reproductive experiences of 17 people and launched a campaign for readers to get together in person to read, share, and discuss.Exhale Pro-Voice continued to be a nonjudgmental resource for after-abortion support and also encouraged story-sharing to take abortion out of the political realm. Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richardstold her story; feminist leader Jessica Valenti told hers; ELLE magazine's Laurie Abraham told hers; Emily Letts filmed her abortion to demystify the process; and scores of other women joined in, talking about having abortions when they were already mothers, having abortions because they weren't ready, having abortions because they had abusive partners, having abortions because something went wrong with their pregnancies, and even being refused abortions they needed. Many of the stories were unapologetic, illustrating the various ways in which terminating a pregnancy allows so many women to achieve their goals, build their families, and live the lives they want. Others were sad but steadfast that the choice made was the right one. And still others revealed a complicated web of emotions and what-ifs. Most important, the stories were honest, complex and myriad — just like the millions of American women who have an abortion story to tell.
6. Shonda Rhimes Dominated Television
Viewers are still happily living in ShondaLand, as Shonda Rhimes's small-screen domination only seems to be widening: Grey's Anatomy remains wildly popular, ambitious young women across the country fantasize about growing up to be Scandal's Olivia Pope, and Oscar-nominated Viola Davis plays the lead in How to Get Away With Murder. Rhimes's shows are characterized by their diverse casts, black women in leading roles, characters with depth beyond their external identities, and hot, hot gay sex.
7. Michelle Howard Becomes the First Four-Star Admiral in Navy History
In its 238-year history, the U.S. Navy never had a female four-star officer. In July, Michelle Howard became the first woman and the first African-American woman to achieve that rank; she was also the first African-American woman to command a Navy ship. Admiral Howard is now the vice chief of Naval operations.
8. Laverne Cox Was on the Cover of TIME magazine
Cox, who plays a leading character on Orange Is the New Black, was on the cover of TIME and,in its pages, she talked about her experience as a transgender woman of color, what America needs to know about trans people, and how she found happiness.
9. Gabourey Sidibe Writes the Best Tweet of the Year
Gabourey Sidibe attended the 2014 Golden Globes looking amazing. But of course, Twitter haters gonna hate, and a bunch of cruel comments about Gabby's body were lobbed her direction. Her response? Perhaps the greatest Twitter comeback of all time:
10. Emma Watson Goes to the UN for Gender Equality
United Nations Women Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson doesn't take her role lightly: The actress used her platform at the UN to speak specifically to men about how gender equality is good for them too. "I want men to take up this mantle," Watson said, "so their daughters, sisters, and mothers can be free from prejudice, but also so that their sons have permission to be vulnerable and human too — reclaim those parts of themselves they abandoned and in doing so be a more true and complete version of themselves." She also launched the "HeForShe" campaign, "a solidarity movement for gender equality" that encourages men to stand up and speak out, and pushes everyone to commit to take action against discrimination and violence against women and girls.
11. The Midterm Elections Brought Female Firsts
The midterms were hardly a watershed moment for women — lots of female candidates, including some of the most feminist, lost their races. But there are now 100 women in Congress for the first time ever, including the first female senator from Iowa and West Virginia, the first female governor of Rhode Island, the first African-American Republican congresswoman, and a 30-year-old making history as the youngest woman ever elected to Congress. The elections brought us female politicians who talked openly about having abortions, reproductive rights as a front-and-center issue in several states, no candidates who ran loudly on their anti-abortion platforms, a marked dearth of sexist gaffes (and the only candidate who made one lost). And feminist issues won on November 4, with voters rejecting radical anti-abortion laws and voting in minimum wage increases.
12. Feminist Anti-Violence Hashtags Ruled Twitter
Some of the most important and informative trending hashtags this year unfortunately came on the tails of tragedy. After Elliot Roger went on a misogyny-fueled shooting rampage in Isla Vista, California, tweeters united under the #YesAllWomen hashtag to illustrate the injustices, sexism, harassment, and acts of violence women around the world deal with every day. And after the release of a video of football playerRay Rice punching out his then-fiance Janay in a hotel elevator, women and men who survived intimate partner violence tweeted under the #WhyIStayed and #WhyILeft hashtags, offering insight into why people stay with abusive partners and what pushes them to finally get out of the relationship.
13. Gender Studies Took Over Your Bookshelf
Some of the greatest feminist triumphs of 2014 came in hardcover (or at least on Kindle). The year's must-reads weren't just books by women, but feminist- and social-justice-minded books, including Roxane Gay's Bad Feminist, Janet Mock's Redefining Realness, Katha Pollitt's Pro, Amy Poehler's Yes Please, Caitlin Moran's How to Build a Girl, and Lena Dunham's Not That Kind of Girl. There's never been a better winter for staying in with a good book.
14. Women Competed in Olympic Ski Jumping
In 2014, the International Olympic Committee finally allowed women, including three Americans, to compete in the ski jumping competition (men have been competing for 90 years). Why did it take so long? Well, because for a long time, men thought it would make women's uteruses fall out. Even in 2014, ski jumping coaches were saying things like, "If a man gets a serious injury, it's still not fatal, but for women it could end much more seriously. Women have another purpose — to have children, to do housework, to create hearth and home." Female ski jumpers indeed competed in the Sochi Olympics, and exactly zero uteruses ended up in the snow.
15. The NBA Gets Its First Full-Time Female Coach
Becky Hammon was hired as an assistant coach with the San Antonio Spurs, leaving a 16-year career as a WNBA player to become the first woman to coach an NBA team full-time. While Hammon called her groundbreaking hire "a tremendous honor," she also said of head coach Gregg Popovich: "Honestly, I don't think he gives two cents that I'm a woman. And I don't want to be hired because I'm a woman." What matters, she said, was that "I'm getting hired because I'm capable."
16. Female Superheroes Fight the Bad Guys
Their movies won't be out for a while, but Marvel Studios announced this year that three female superheroes will get the big screen treatment in 2017. Among them are Wonder Woman; a yet-unannounced female character from the Spider-Man comics; and Captain Marvel, a hero written by Kelly Sue DeConnick. In the comic books the movie will be based on, Captain Marvel has half-alien DNA, resembles Gloria Steinem, and is a fighter pilot and feminist force of nature. "The test that I always give young writers is if you can take out your female character and replace her with a sexy lamp and your plot still functions, you're doing it wrong," DeConnick says about her work. "You would be surprised how many times this is actually done. These women are purely there to inspire or motivate or reward or sometimes decorate. I don't want all of our female characters to be good or to be role models. I just want them to have an interior life. If you can't answer for me what does this character want in this scene, you're not writing a woman, you're writing a lamp. Start over." Also not a lamp: The new Thor, a Marvel comic character who will be a woman for the first time ever. Previous Thors have been "a horse-faced alien guy who picked up the hammer," according to writer Jason Aaron, who added, "At one point Thor was a frog. So I think if we can accept Thor as a frog and a horse-faced alien, we should be able to accept a woman being able to pick up that hammer and wield it for a while, which surprisingly we've never really seen before."
17. The Fight Against Online Harassment Goes IRL
Here's another "wish it didn't happen, glad something good came out of it" item on the best of 2014 list: Women kept talking about the harassment they face online, and change started happening. Bills regulating "revenge porn" have been introduced or enacted in 28 states; Twitter teamed up with Women, Action and Media to create more efficient ways to report abuse; law professor Danielle Keats Citron published a bookon Internet harassment that has the potential to totally shift the legal landscape; the stealing and publication of nude celebrity photos had some of the violated women rightly outraged instead of ashamed or contrite, and may lead to a series of lawsuits; and articles proliferated on experiences with harassment and how to stop it. Advocates for women were even able to get the issue in front of the Supreme Court, which heard oral arguments on a case about the limits of free speech and threatening behavior online. This year was a year in which women and men tried to shine a light into the darkest corners of the Internet. Will they succeed in making the Internet a less hostile place for women? Fingers crossed for 2015.
18. Celebrities Take Up the Feminist Mantle
Girls don't quite run the world yet, but more of them are calling themselves feminists. In 2014, Taylor Swift took up the title, telling British Cosmopolitan, "My girlfriends and I talk a lot about feminism and the inequality between the way men and women are talked about. The kind of things we say are: 'Why is it mischievous, fun and sexy if a guy has a string of lovers that he's cast aside, loved and left? Yet if a woman dates three or four people in an eight-year period she is a serial dater and it gives some 12-year-old the idea to call her a slut on the Internet?' It's not the same for boys, it just isn't and that's a fact." Other out-and-proud celebrity feminists of 2014 include Beyoncé, Ellen Page, Lena Dunham, Emma Watson, and Amy Poehler, who told ELLE magazine that she doesn't understand people who back away from the feminist label: "That's like someone being like, 'I don't really believe in cars, but I drive one every day and I love that it gets me places and makes life so much easier and faster and I don't know what I would do without it,'" Poehler said. And it wasn't just celebrity women embracing the term: Joseph Gordon-Levitt said he "absolutely" calls himself a feminist, adding, "There's a long, long history of women suffering abuse, injustice, and not having the same opportunities as men, and I think that's been very detrimental to the human race as a whole." And Aziz Ansari told David Letterman, "If you believe that men and women have equal rights, if someone asks if you're a feminist, you have to say yes. Because that is how words work."
19. Janet Yellen Becomes the First Female Chair of the Federal Reserve
Janet Yellen assumed the office of Chair of Federal Reserve in February, the 15th person and first woman to hold the post. The Brooklyn native and Yale grad has a long résumé of high-level positions in government and academia, and currently holds what some call the toughest job in Washington. The only woman in her Yale graduating class, she was one of just two women when she joined the Harvard economics faculty. And her groundbreaking career shattered another glass ceiling with her appointment as chair — not "chairwoman," she has instructed staff — of the Fed.
20. The Fight Against Campus Sexual Assault Goes National
Women's rights activists have been battling sexual violence on campus for decades, and the federal government has made intermittent attempts to deal with it. But 2014 brought the most progress in years, with the Obama administration convening a White House Task Force on Sexual Assault, which released a comprehensive report outlining the direness of the situation and proposing remarkably feminist solutions. Among them: Bystander intervention programs to encourage onlookers to step in before an assault happens, and efforts to engage men in ending sexual violence. The White House also launchedNotAlone.gov, a comprehensive website laying out national and local options for sexual assault survivors, survivors' rights on college campuses, and research on sexual and gender-based violence. They also started the "It's On Us" campaign to change the culture that enables and abets rape and sexual assault. And the victories extend beyond D.C.: This year, California became the first state to enact a "yes means yes" standard of affirmative consent for sex on campus, something feminists have been pushing for years. And exposés of campuses badly mishandling sexual assault claims have made headlines in the New York Times, Rolling Stone, and dozens of other publications. Not only are campus assaults coming out of the shadows, but the most powerful people in the country are finally taking them seriously.
Here's to an even brighter and more feminist 2015.