Let’s celebrate the women who broke boundaries, pushed for change and made a difference this year.
From the formation of the Time’s Up movement to Christine Blasey Ford’s powerful testimony against Brett Kavanaugh, women all around the world have been doing remarkable things this year. In celebration, we’re casting our minds back to all the applause-worthy women of 2018.
1 Jan: Time’s Up is formed
On New Year’s Day, 2018, more than 300 female actors, writers, directors, producers and filmmakers banded together to fight institutionalised sexism and end harassment in the film industry. The Time’s Up group, which included Natalie Portman, Emma Stone, Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington, raised £10 million initially as part of a legal defense fund for women facing harassment in other professions. (Today, the fund is worth £16.4 million).
Clad in all black ensembles, many of the women of Time’s Up were joined by key activists including #MeToo’s founder Tarana Burke on the red carpet at the Golden Globes, less than a week after the organisation’s launch.
“We’re here to stand up for all women and men who have been silenced by abuse and harassment and discrimination within their industries,” Witherspoon told Ryan Seacrest on the red carpet. “Not just Hollywood. All industries.”
6 February: the 100th anniversary of women gaining the right to vote in the UK
On this day in 1918 women in the UK were given the right to vote. Women, that is, who were over the age of 30 and passes a property ownership test. (About 8.5 million women, or two in every five women in the UK at the time). Full voting rights for all women wouldn’t come until a decade later in 2028.
Women across the UK celebrated the centenary since this landmark achievement. Writing for Stylist.co.uk, Helen Pankhurst – great granddaughter of key suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst – said: “Undoubtedly, overall – in terms of the most basic statistics around equality – we have moved on significantly. However, we’re talking about 100 years. If the measure is an understanding not just of equality, but of difference and the transformative contribution from a world that values women and men equally, we have a long way to go.”
24 March: Emma González delivers a powerful speech advocating for a change to gun laws
On Valentine’s Day, 2018, a gunman opened fire at a high school in Florida, killing 17 students and staff, injured 17 others.
Emma González, 19, was one of the survivors of the shooting and emerged as a key figure in the wake of the event, organising the March for Our Lives protest in Washington advocating for gun ownership reform.
Speaking at the rally, González delivered a powerful speech, naming all 17 of the gunman’s victims before standing in silence at the podium for four minutes and 26 seconds, tears rolling down her face.
The end of her silent protest marked six minutes and 20 seconds since her speech had began: the length of time it took for the gunman to discard his rifle and leave the school. “Fight for your lives, before it’s someone else’s job,” González finished.
26 May: Ireland votes to repeal the eighth amendment
After a gruelling campaign, Ireland’s referendum to change its abortion laws was won, with 66.4% voting to finally decriminalise abortion. The news came after a record turnout from voters, with 64.5% of Ireland’s voting population heading to the polls to have their say.
“Yes, Yes, Yes. A resounding, emphatic Yes,” journalist Miriam Lord wrote in the Irish Times. “And what a way to say it – the only way to say it: with conviction and clarity. This massive vote to repeal the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution leaves no doubt. The Irish people have taken ownership of their abortion issue.”
20 June: Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette was released, changing the landscape of comedy forever
Australian comedian Hannah Gadsby’s stand up special was like nothing the comedy genre had ever seen before. Clever, yes, and immensely funny, of course, it was also sad, introspective, philosophical and full of insights about the way women have used humour and art – and had humour and art used against them – since the dawn of time immemorial.
Monica Lewinsky, Roxane Gay, Lily Allen, Thandie Newton and more are all fans. (“You moved me and have really made me think about humour, the self, self-deprecation and the uses of anger,” Gay wrote to Gadsby on Twitter.)
Talking about her childhood in Tasmania, experiencing homophobia and sexual violence, her relationships with her family, her experience of mental illness and her problems with self-deprecating humour, the show was a masterclass in the power of comedy to interrogate, keenly, the ways in which society has been found wanting, building to a point of immense anger and rage from which there is no point of return.
“I’ve had psychiatrists reach out to me, saying: ‘You know, there’s no precedent for what you’re doing,’” Gadsby told the Guardian about the aftermath of her show. “It’s been a strange old ride and I think it’s going to take a long time before I know what I’ve done to myself.”
21 June: Gina Martin’s campaign to criminalise upskirting is passed into law
Writer Gina Martin was at a music festival when she noticed two men “acting really creepy,” she has said. An hour later, she saw one of the men WhatsApping a picture up a woman’s skirt, which Martin knew was her because of the outfit. She went to the security team who called the police, who asked the man to delete the picture and promptly closed the case.
Martin discovered that there isn’t a law against upskirting in England and Wales. So she started a campaign to criminalise the act, with more than 100,000 people signing her petition in support. On 15 June the bill was blocked by Conservative MP Christopher Chope in parliament on a technicality, but less than a week later it had been tabled and passed.
“I am proud that the Government has today introduced a Bill in the Commons which will make this a criminal offence,” Martin told Sky News. “It feels weird to know I’ve changed the law. It’s all I’ve thought about for a year.”
21 June: Jacinda Ardern becomes only second elected leader in history to give birth in office
21 June was a good day for women around the world, clearly. Along with Martin’s upskirting bill, this was the day that New Zealand’s prime minister Jacinda Ardern gave birth to a baby girl, making her only the second elected leader in history to give birth in office.
In September, after her maternity leave was over, Ardern travelled to New York with baby Neve in tow to deliver a blistering speech denouncing President Donald Trump.
““We can use the environment to blame nameless, faceless ‘other’, to feed the sense of insecurity, to retreat into greater levels of isolationism. Or we can acknowledge the problems we have and seek to fix them,” Ardern said in her speech. “Me Too must become We Too. We are all in this together.”
24 June: Saudi Arabian women win the right to drive
After years of protest, Saudi Arabia – the last country in the world to forbid women from driving – finally lifted its female driving ban at midnight local time. Earlier in the month, the country issued driving licenses to ten women. All up, authorities estimated around 2,000 licenses would be handed out to women over the course of the month.
Speaking to the Guardian, Samar Almogren, a talkshow host and writer, said: “I always knew this day would come. But it came fast. Sudden. I feel free like a bird.”
26 September: Christine Blasey Ford delivers powerful testimony at the Brett Kavanaugh hearings
“I am here today not because I want to be,” Christine Blasey Ford began, addressing a packed hearing room in Capitol Hill. “I am terrified. I am here because I believe it is my civic duty to tell you what happened to me while Brett Kavanaugh and I were in high school.”
What followed was the account of the 51-year-old university professor’s testimony about her recollection of assault at the hands of Brett Kavanaugh, then a nominee for the Supreme Court, when they were in high school.
Trump mocked Ford after her testimony and, ultimately, Kavanaugh was appointed to the position of Supreme Court Justice. But Ford’s words rang loud and clear. She was hailed as a hero on social media and her testimony was graffitied onto the walls of Yale Law School, where Kavanaugh had studied law.
In November, Ford announced that she would be donating all excess money from her GoFundMe page, which raised more than £508,000 to help cover costs of protecting Ford and her family from death threats and abuse, to victims of trauma and assault.
“Words are not adequate to thank all of you who supported me since I came forward to tell the Senate that I had been sexually assaulted by Brett Kavanaugh,” she said. “Your tremendous outpouring of support and kind letters have made it possible for us to cope with the immeasurable stress, particularly the disruption to our safety and privacy.”
7 October: Jodie Whittaker becomes the first female Doctor Who
Since it was launched in 1963 there have been an astonishing 37 seasons of Doctor Who. That’s 848 episodes, 284 stories and 12 Doctors, all of them men. Until now.
On 7 October Jodie Whittaker stepped into the surprisingly roomy interior of the Tardis and became the 13th Doctor and the first woman to hold that role. Her first episode was the most-watched Doctor Who launch in a decade, with an average of 8.2 million people tuning in to watch the first female Doctor.
Speaking to Stylist.co.uk, Whittaker said: “What an extraordinary thing [to be the first female Doctor]. Let it be a moment in history, but let it move forward to the extent that it never gets talked about… that’d be ace.”
7 November: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez becomes youngest woman ever elected to Congress
Barely a year ago, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was pouring drinks behind the bar at a New York watering hole. But on 7 November, at 29, she became the youngest woman in history to be elected to the America’s House of Congress, representing the Bronx and Queens district.
The mid-term elections proved a banner year for women, with a record number of female representatives elected to office. Alongside Ocasio-Cortez were Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, the first Muslim women elected to Congress. Deb Haaland and Sharice Davis are the first Native American women elected to Congress. South Dakota elected its first female governor and Tennessee its first female senator. Kyrsten Sinema is the first openly bisexual senator.
“In my opinion, if women and gender-expanding people want to run for office we can’t knock on anybody’s doors; we have to build our own house,” Ocasio-Cortez said.
13 November: Michelle Obama’s memoir is released, becoming the fastest selling adult book of the year
Ever since Michelle Obama left the office of First Lady in January, 2017, the world had been eagerly awaiting what she would do next. And what that ended up being was something truly remarkable: a memoir of her life and time in the White House, yes, but also the story of her childhood, her law career, meeting her husband Barack, their struggles as a married couple and their difficulty to conceive. It’s title? Becoming.
The book has been a critical darling, selling more than 1.4 million copies after just seven days on bookstands, making it the highest-selling first week for a book released this year. That translates to about nine copies sold around the world every single second.
It’s no surprise that the book has resonated, considering the love for the Obamas and the deeply personal nature of Michelle’s writing. Discussing everything from her early dates with Barack to her disappointment with the way Trump talks about her husband, the book is also an ode to the power of speaking up, of always learning and striving to do better.
As Michelle writes: “If there’s one thing I’ve learned in life, it’s the power of using your voice.”
Hannah-Rose Yee is a writer, podcaster and recent Australian transplant in London. You can find her on the internet talking about pop culture, food and travel.