If 2012 was the year of the “War on Women,” 2013 was the year of the “Movement Against Mansplaining.” Sadly for conservatives, their anti-uterine tirades did not lead to a litany of new laws restricting women’s rights. It did lead to a revived generation of fierce and fervent feminists. When Beyoncé joins your choir, you know you’re winning.
I’m not going to summarize the greatest feminist hits of 2013. PolicyMic’s Elizabeth Plank has already done so, quite brilliantly—from millions protesting against rape in India and worldwide to Elizabeth Warren “bringing her milkshake to the Republican yard.” Instead, what I’d like to do is offer my own re-cap of the 2013 explosion of frothy feminism—and what it means for the future of culture and politics—through three trends.
Women Voters Rise Up
Women have always been an important part of the electorate, but in 2013 they continued to define and assert themselves as a political force. Consider the Virginia gubernatorial election, in which a well-known Republican with a history of political service in the state (Ken Cuccinelli) was defeated by a slimy outsider Democrat (Terry McAulife). How did this happen? Women.
Cuccinelli attacked women’s reproductive rights, including trying to ban all abortion services even in cases of rape and even cut off access to some forms of infertility treatments. And so women, who made up 51 percent of the voters in the Virginia race, handed the election to McAuliffe. Overall, women supported McAuliffe over Cucinelli by nine percentage points. Unmarried women in particular favored McAuliffe by 42 points. This wasn’t no crazy-uncle-off-his-meds Todd Akin situation. Cuccinelli was strongly backed by the Republican establishment, who implicitly endorsed his extreme stances against reproductive freedom, in addition to Cuccinelli’s assertion that gay people are destroying their souls. Women led the opposition to conservative extremism and yet again revealed that repeatedly trouncing on the rights of women, gay people and immigrants will only repeatedly doom Republicans at the ballot box.
Women's Wages Fall Down
A little-covered report from Pew Research this year revealed that, according to 2011 data, in 40 percent of American households women are the sole or primary providers. While this is largely due to single-mom households (25.3 percent of the 40.4 percent), as of 2011 15 percent of households had a married mother as the primary breadwinner. This is up from 3.5 percent in 1960. Now, one might think this would lead our elected officials to finally address the gender wage gap—or even raise the minimum wage, which disproportionately affects women workers. Women are twice as likely to be earning the minimum wage than men. But sadly, one can conjecture the opposite—that the dramatic rise in economic inequality in America is causally linked with the rise in women workers being paid more poorly than their male counterparts. The Bureau of Economic Research reports that the income gap between middle-income women and low-wage women during the last several decades has risen more for women than for men during the same period. Women are becoming more important parts of our nation’s economic engine. And yet our nation, which generally doesn’t value low-wage and middle-class workers enough, is significantly neglecting women workers.
This is a dark asterisk on the general rising power and influence of women—when women finally start to grab the brass ring, the ring is suddenly, structurally devalued.
Women Activists Spread Out
Which brings us back to Beyoncé. By announcing herself as a feminist and then producing a visual album that sparked a vibrant debate about modern-day feminism, Beyoncé provided the perfect coda to a year of women worldwide reacting to and rejecting the strictures of patriarchy. From 25 women getting behind the wheel to protest Saudi Arabia’s ban on women drivers, to 10,000 women joining Wendy Davis to protest extreme anti-abortion laws in Texas. From the 140,000 copies of Lean In purchased in the book’s first week of publication alone, to the three members of the Russian punk group Pussy Riot who continue to protest against totalitarian repression. From the tens of thousands of women and men who protested against government inaction in the face of atrocious rapes in India, to Sinead O’Connor and Amanda Palmer and Miley Cyrus debating the objectification of women in popular culture.
In numbers big and small, from the prominent to the unnoticed, online and offline, women all around the globe stood up and spoke out against a society that in spite of the incredible progress we’ve made, systematically and flagrantly attempts to degrade women—our bodies, our work, our voices and our power. As women have, sometimes slowly and sometimes in great leaps, pressed ever forward to achieve equal treatment in the United States and around the globe, the repressive forces of the status quo have whipped up into a backlash. But even the biggest well-organized backlash (say, one that has an entire political party at its disposal) cannot and will not stop a movement of women and men pushing for freedom with the winds of justice at their backs.
In The Art of War, Sun Tzu writes: “Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.” The push to further constrain and constrict the rights of women in the United States and around the globe was a backlash-induced last gasp of the defeated culture warriors. In fact, the battle for the equality of women is already won—in the hearts and minds of the liberated next generation and the sense of inevitability that fills the air all around us. Women have already won. We are the victorious warriors. This year, we fought the battles to prove it. The future is clear. Who runs the world? That’s right, Beyoncé: Girls!