Visible Women

10 inspiring women who changed the world in 2018

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Stylist Team
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Through Stylist’s Visible Women campaign this year, we have made sure important stories are told and, more importantly, never forgotten. Here, we look back on a year of celebrating women’s achievements. 

“Women in history shouldn’t be a mystery.” 

That was the Stylist motto for 2018, a year in which we pledged to help raise the profile of women now and from throughout history. Our goal was to commemorate the centenary of women first winning the right to vote by celebrating the work of the suffragists and suffragettes, but as we started researching, we got thinking about all the women whose work we should know more about. 

And how poorly represented women still are. Women make up only 32% of MPs, 32% of all speaking roles in Hollywood, just 24% of global news stories and a horrifying 2.7% of British statues, when royals and mythical women are removed. 

In short, our world doesn’t reflect the fact that we make up 51% of the population and we deserve an equal force. When you also consider that research has proven women are more successful when they can see female role models around them, we knew we needed to redress the balance. So we decided to do something about this, and in January we pledged to:

  • Celebrate real women from history within Stylist
  • Feature the work of brilliant women we should all know more about
  • Work with schools to raise the profile of women in history and modern-day role models
  • Team up with MPs and working groups to raise the profile – and number – of women in parliament

A statue of Emmeline Pankhurst is unveiled in Manchester in December, 2018

What we achieved 

We think it’s important to hold ourselves to account, so as 2018 draws to a close, we wanted to take stock of what we’ve achieved this year. And we are proud to say we hit our goals… and much more. In 2018 Stylist:

  • Created a new regular article, Forgotten Women, which celebrated the work of 32 women from history
  • Joined forces with #March4Women and rallied readers to take to the streets, which they did in their thousands
  • Created a statement T-shirt with Être Cécile with our motto: “Women in history shouldn’t be a mystery”, which sold out
  • Gave our magazine and website an aged suffragette takeover for the anniversary of the women’s vote centenary, and took suffragettes to the street to distribute the magazine
  • Teamed up with The Fawcett Society to teach pupils about the struggle to gain the vote, with the Stylist team going into schools to give lessons
  • Held a round table with cross-party MPs to discuss representation in parliament, secured their support for growing representation in the major political parties and supported the #askhertostand initiative
  • Created a TV show, Women Of The House, discussing gender politics in parliament with prominent female MPs
  • Asked you to nominate your unsung heroes through our Instagram #womanoftheweek initiative
  • Allowed a group of girls to take over an entire issue of Stylist to give the future generation a voice

The result has been a real celebration of women, and one we are truly proud of. But the work doesn’t stop there… over the next eight pages, the Stylist team have nominated their 2018 women of the year – from present and past – and we’re also asking you to nominate the remarkable women you want to celebrate in 2019. As we said in February, “It’s time to finish what the suffragettes started…” and we refuse to stop until we can all say we have the equality that’s rightfully ours.

Stylist’s Women of 2018

The Stylist team nominate the women who inspired, spoke up and made a positive difference to the world this year.

Millicent Fawcett by Lisa Smosarski, Stylist’s editor-in-chief

Millicent Fawcett

We owe everything about how we live today to the leader of the women’s suffrage movement.

Have you ever stopped to consider what your life might be like without Millicent Garrett Fawcett? What you might be doing right now had she not existed? My guess is we’d either be sat at home darning, waiting for our husbands to get back to talk at us about how important they are, or, more optimistically, we’d be in a secret WhatsApp group planning our own route to equality.

We wouldn’t be running businesses, owning homes, living independently and we certainly would not be negotiating a Brexit deal (I didn’t say every consequence was good), because without Millicent Fawcett we wouldn’t have the right to vote. And that vote didn’t just give us a chance to say who runs our country, it gave us legitimacy – a right to equality on the grounds of equal intelligence. From that pivotal decision the path was laid that led to the independence we have in 2018.

Born in 1847, Millicent Fawcett dedicated her life to women’s suffrage. As a suffragist she was able to do what her stone-throwing suffragette sisters could not: negotiate and seal a genuine deal for women. While the suffragettes raised awareness and made life for the men in power difficult, Fawcett’s movement took a more traditional approach (their slogan was the slightly unsexy, but very Ronseal, Law-Abiding Suffragists) and she fought for the women’s vote with the power of words, logic and intelligence.

Her first brush with suffrage came, age 19, when she attended a talk by the legendary economist and philosopher John Stuart Mill, the first British MP to call for women’s suffrage in parliament. She joined his campaign and was inspired to collect signatures for the first petition for women’s suffrage, despite being too young to actually sign it herself. Fawcett said, “I cannot say I became a suffragist. I always was one, from the time I was old enough to think at all about the principles of Representative Government.” 

A statue of Millicent Fawcett

After marrying Liberal MP Henry Fawcett, Millicent’s work continued, but this time as one half of a feminist political power couple, and she eventually became the President of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) in 1897. She remained there until 1919, a year after women aged over 30 were given the right to vote, having amassed 50,000 loyal followers (by comparison the suffragettes’ WSPU had 2,000). She gave speeches, wrote essays, sat in parliament, challenged MPs and proved through her intellect that the rights of women were worth fighting for.

There was no doubt that the suffragettes were having an impact and weakening resolve, but like many in the political sphere, Fawcett distanced herself from their activities. She believed their actions were harming the suffrage movement and alienating MPs who were engaged. So, with divisions marked, she proceeded, knowing no MP could ever do a deal with a “terrorist”. Fawcett was the essential, acceptable, intelligent and persistent face of suffrage – and the person who ultimately secured our fate.

When women were finally granted full equality with equal voting rights to men in 1928, Fawcett was in Parliament to witness it. She said, “It is almost exactly 61 years ago since I heard John Stuart Mill introduce his suffrage amendment to the Reform Bill on 20 May 1867. So I have had extraordinary good luck in having seen the struggle from the beginning.”

Fawcett’s suffrage work is enough for her to be held up as Woman of the Year every year from 1918 to eternity… but she didn’t stop there. She also campaigned to raise the age of consent, criminalise incest, prevent child marriage in India and, alongside notable women such as Florence Nightingale and Josephine Butler, to repeal the Contagious Diseases Act, which stated that a sex worker could be charged for passing an STI to a client, but a male client would not be prosecuted for passing an STI to a sex worker. To be campaigning for the sexual and human rights of sex workers in 1866 makes her a deity in my book. 

The fight for equality is still being fought

It has been almost 90 years since Millicent Fawcett died, but in 2018 she made headlines again. This year she had the posthumous honour of being immortalised in bronze by artist Gillian Wearing, becoming the first female statue to grace Parliament Square. And in February, the Today programme listeners voted her the most influential woman of the past 100 years in a poll to coincide with the centenary of the partial enfranchisement of women, an anniversary which has given us all a reason to remember.

So, remember we must. Remember that women gave their entire lives so we could live ours freely. Remember that we have the equality – and the lifestyle – that so many women before us craved. Remember that by using our voices we can change the lives of other women, both now and in the future. As Fawcett famously said: “Courage calls to courage everywhere, and its voice cannot be denied.”

We are living through a time of change and, thanks to Fawcett, we have a chance to be part of it. Now that’s what makes a woman of the year.

Jameela Jamil by Helen Bownass, Stylist’s entertainment director

Jameela Jamil - Stylist cover star

How do we love thee, Jameela? Let us count the ways

Her fight against impossible beauty standards may not be to everyone’s tastes, but we love her for speaking up.

What do you stand for, Helen? That’s the question that’s been circling in my head since I interviewed Jameela Jamil this summer. The star of The Good Place has made it her personal mission to shine a light on the untenable beauty and body ideals that are so detrimental to women. As well as calling out celebrities who promote diet teas and backing a ban on airbrushing, Jamil set up iWeigh, a campaign encouraging us to see our value in things other than the way we look. She doesn’t have to do this and it might affect her career, and yet she keeps on shouting. 

Can I say the same? I know there have been people coming for Jamil – over her criticism of other female celebrities and the fact that she is deemed “conventionally beautiful”, making it “easy” for her to condemn beauty ideals.

But what should she be doing? She may not always get it right, but she always acts with heart. Should she shut up and sit in her corner, like women have always been told to? I hope she never does – and I hope I don’t either.

The women of the Irish abortion vote by Anna Fielding, Stylist’s associate editor

The Yes vote is passed and women celebrate

There’s a photograph from 2018 that still makes me well up every time I see it. It’s of the London-Irish Abortion Rights campaigners starting their journey back to Ireland to vote in the abortion referendum on 25 May. A whole line of them, walking two abreast, looking quietly determined in the late spring sunshine. It’s the wheelie suitcases that get me. I’m not used to seeing pictures of historical moments where everyone seems so contemporary, so ordinary. Not all heroes wear capes, as the saying goes – now we know some of them shop in Zara.

On 26 September 2017, Ireland’s government promised a referendum on article 40.3.3 of the Irish Constitution, aka the eighth amendment. It gave women and foetuses the same right to life, effectively banning abortion. Women had died because they couldn’t access abortion. The campaign to overturn the amendment began.

When thinking about my woman of the year, there were many people I could have chosen. Irish politician Clare Daly, who tabled motion after motion in the Dáil and kept the debate on the political agenda. Grainne Griffin, Orla O’Connor and Ailbhe Smyth who co-chaired the Together for Yes campaign. Hannah Little and Cara Sanquest who founded the London-Irish Abortion Rights Campaign. 

The novelists, poets and journalists, including Sinéad Gleeson in the pages of this magazine, who explained what was needed so eloquently. The doctors and scientists who used their knowledge to talk about a procedure they were not allowed to perform. And Savita Halappanavar, who died in 2012 in Galway after a septic miscarriage, but who became an icon of the Yes movement. Her parents campaigned for a Yes vote, and, when the results of the referendum started to come through, the crowds outside Dublin Castle chanted her name.

Irish women celebrate the Yes vote

But one individual couldn’t have changed that law alone. They needed numbers. Repealing the eighth was an enormous group effort.

On the morning of 26 May I read the news on my phone and started to cry with happiness. Even though I am not Irish. Even though I have never had to deal with a crisis pregnancy. Because all that work, all that organising, all that resistance had paid off. They’d done it. One badge, one debate, one vote at a time.

Back in May, when I spoke to Sinéad via email, she mentioned that it was “heartening to see all the support from overseas.” They deserved that support, and not just because they were fighting for life to be fairer and safer for women in their own country, but because they were working for all of us. Their win was a giant step along the road towards equality for women everywhere. 

The Repeal the Eighth campaigners are all heroes, and every one of them is my woman of the year.

Jodie Whittaker by Kayleigh Dray, Stylist’s digital editor

Malorie Blackman is also writing an episode of the new Doctor Who, starring Jodie Whittaker 

She’s defied critics to win over audiences as the first female Doctor Who in the show’s 55-year history.

What do you call a female doctor? This isn’t a sexist joke, it’s a trick question. The term ‘doctor’ is genderless. Yet despite this, a large number of (largely male) Doctor Who fans completely lost their sh*t when they found out that Jodie Whittaker – the critically acclaimed Black Mirror and Broadchurch star – would be stepping into Peter Capaldi’s shoes as the Time Lord in 2018. An alien with two hearts is completely believable, sure, but an alien with two hearts who can switch gender? Ridiculous!

Thankfully, Whittaker has more than proven her haters wrong with her refreshing take on the Doctor. Ratings are up and children have fallen in love with her capable heroine. Most inspiring is the fact that she has used her position to fight the feminist fight. She insisted that her Doctor wear a practical costume, negotiated equal pay with her predecessor and reminded us that “women are not a genre, we’re the other half of the population”.  Now that’s what I call a female doctor.

Ariana Grande by Moya Lothian-McLean, Stylist’s editorial assistant

Ariana Grande

The singer reflected the anxieties and struggles of women in 2018. 

There are three topics of conversation I can guarantee will crop up whichever friends I’m with: money, Brexit and Ariana Grande.

The records alone could tell a story. In 2018, the 25-year-old was the most listened to female artist on Spotify and the video for her latest single, thank u, next, was the most watched YouTube video in 24 hours ever. Her net worth is an estimated £40 million.

Behind this dominance, though, lies a high-profile terrorist tragedy, a wrenching break-up and the drug-related death of a former boyfriend, all played out under the unrelenting glare of the paparazzi bulb. And through it all, Grande has conducted herself so openly, so publicly and yet with such unwavering control of her own narrative that young women the world over have taken her fully to heart. Through the conduit of social media, Grande’s wry tweets about her struggles with anxiety and her deep reactions to the biggest blows possible have made her a quasi-friend. She’s one of us.

She’s exemplified what it is to be a young woman today, grappling to balance the stress of juggling personal problems with the weight of the world. And to 2018 we say: thank u, next.

Dr Christine Blasey Ford by Lucy Mangan, Stylist columnist

Dr Christine Blasey Ford

Thanks to Blasey Ford, the stories of thousands of sexual assault survivors are being heard.

When Brett Kavanaugh was shortlisted by President Donald Trump as a possible nominee for appointment to the highest court in the US, Christine Blasey Ford, research psychologist and professor of psychology, felt she could stay silent no longer. Though she very much feared that her identity could be made public, she contacted her congresswoman Anna Eshoo, who took the matter to senator Dianne Feinstein, to tell her about her experiences with the 17-year-old Kavanaugh when she was 15, in the summer of 1982.

When it became clear that her identity was going to be revealed by the media, she gave an interview to the Washington Post making those experiences public. She described a party at which a drunk Kavanaugh held her down on a bed, groping her, covering her mouth when she screamed and trying to pull her clothes off. She feared, she said, that he was going to rape and accidentally suffocate her. She said they were watched by Kavanaugh’s friend, Mike Judge. When he sat down on the bed, making it bounce, she was able to escape – unlocking the door one of the boys had locked behind them.

Ford passed a polygraph test and had notes from therapist sessions in 2012 and 2013 discussing the incident.

No matter. Republicans condemned her as a Democrat stooge, part of a hoax intended to defame Kavanaugh. Trump tweeted against her and the White House refused to allow a full FBI investigation into the matter. But Ford was eventually allowed to testify in front of the Senate Judicial Committee that was preparing to accept Kavanaugh’s nomination. 

By that point, Ford had been hounded from her job and home. Her address had been posted on Twitter and she received death threats. When she spoke, her words were heard and her courage seen around the world.

Blasey Ford testifies at the hearing

And how her words resonated with us. Almost every woman could identify with her in some way. Who hasn’t felt that fear, at one time or another, of a ‘situation’ getting out of hand? Who hasn’t had that moment of realisation – in your teens, in your 20s, earlier or later but coming at you one day – that you are in some way always vulnerable to a man who decides that what you want doesn’t matter? Who doesn’t know, through her own experience or those of friends and family, that if you’re lucky – because this counts as luck – you learn it during a forcible snog at a nightclub or a flasher in the park and if you’re not, you learn it during something very much worse.

And who, then, didn’t recognise the bravery it took to stand up and say, “You probably won’t believe me, but this happened. It happened to me, at the hands of this man, and he should not be allowed to get away with it.”

Ford had the support of every survivor who saw themselves in her and of those who didn’t but could, by virtue of common humanity, appreciate her actions rather than condemning her as a liar out to ruin an innocent man.

It was not, alas, enough to convince the committee. Despite Republican claims that Kavanaugh’s life hung in tatters as a result of her allegations, he was confirmed as a Supreme Court Justice and his life appears to have resumed tempo. Ford has had to move house four times and remains unable to return to her job. She still needs a security detail to ensure her safety. Over $800,000 has poured in from supporters via GoFundMe to pay for this – more than is needed, and Ford is donating the surplus to charities that support the survivors of sexual assault and violence.

But it is her public stance that is the most valuable gift to us. To see someone refuse to be silenced gives us all courage, and makes the world that perpetrators of violence want – a world in which we are all too accepting of the lot society has given us to fight back – a little bit more impossible.

In 1991 another woman, Anita Hill, came forward and testified before another Senate Judicial Committee about another Supreme Court Justice nominee, Clarence Thomas, whom she accused of sexually harassing her. In 2011 she said, “I know that testimony, no matter who sits on the bench today, I know that testimony was not in vain. I have lived with the issues of the hearings for 20 years now. I know the work that is being done and, as I hear it, I am encouraged.” May the same – sooner – be true for Christine Blasey Ford.

Nadia Murad by Hannah Keegan, Stylist’s features writer

Nadia Murad receiving her Nobel peace prize

The human rights activist who won this year’s Nobel Peace Prize gives courage new meaning. 

At the beginning of this year, Nadia Murad was looking forward to a break. Since 2014, the 25- year-old had travelled non-stop around the globe, meeting world leaders and journalists to share her story of being sold into sexual slavery by Isis. It was a draining experience every single time. In interviews, she would break down in tears, totally inconsolable.

She’d tell of her family’s screams as the militant group invaded her village of Kocho in Sinjar, northern Iraq. Of hearing the word sabaya (sex slave) for the first time as she was sold to a heavy, bearded man who “looked like a monster”. She remembered the white scarf her mother was wearing the day she was killed, along with her six brothers. She told of the men who would rape her daily until she passed out. She recalled the darkening Mosul sky after escaping through an unguarded door.

As painful as it was to talk about, Murad understood that the details mattered. She, along with the rest of her village, were captured because of their Yazidi faith, a pre-Islamic religion Isis believes is based on devil-worship. Isis have killed more than 5,000 Yazidis and enslaved 3,000 Yazidi women. It’s a weighty, abstract number that’s hard to take in. But when Murad, a shy, softly spoken woman, talks about her ordeal, the suffering instantly feels personal.

Once the world understood, Murad wanted action. After meeting human rights lawyer Amal Clooney in 2016, she convinced her to build a legal case against Isis. Together, they began collecting evidence of genocide against the Yazidis. Mass graves were unearthed. Survivors were found. Months later, when Murad spoke before the United Nations Security Council, she fought back tears as she told how her happy life as a simple farm girl was gone forever. “On the night of 3 August 2013, everything changed. Daesh [Isis] came to kidnap, to murder and to rape,” she said. “This was genocide, it is that simple.” She was aiming to do what many thought impossible: put Isis leaders in the dock. 

Nadia Murad with Amal Clooney

Her efforts were mostly futile, garnering plenty of sympathy but little progress. So, when Murad was awarded this year’s Nobel Peace Prize along with Denis Mukwege, a Congolese gynaecologist who dedicated his life to treating rape victims, it felt like a small victory in the face of so much pain. Since her win, Isis have been defeated in Iraq and enslaved Yazidis are now being reintegrated into Iraqi society. Murad continues to advocate for women victimised by war through her foundation, Nadia’s Initiative, and still hopes to see Isis punished in court.

While her journey has been unimaginably difficult, 2018 was the year Murad finally got the credit she deserves. To me, she represents a mix of superhuman strength and vulnerability.

On the day of the award, BBC’s Middle East correspondent, Nafiseh Kohnavard, tweeted an image from an interview with Murad after she’d escaped from Mosul. Kohnavard offered her anonymity, something most Yazidis were requesting out of fear. Her response? “No, let the world see what happened to us.” That, readers, is the meaning of courage.

Sally Rooney by Sarah Biddlecombe, Stylist’s digital commissioning editor

Sally Rooney

The 27-year-old author has become the stand-out literary voice of 2018.

In 2018, Sally Rooney established herself as the most exciting and important literary voice of the year. The Irish author’s second novel, Normal People, was published to unprecedented acclaim this summer, before sailing into the Man Booker Prize longlist and scooping the prestigious Waterstones Book of the Year award. At 27, she is the youngest author to win the award, and it’s easy to see why.

Normal People is an unconventional love story that blurs the boundaries between friendship and romance, and Rooney captures the quieter moments of love among my generation in a way no other writer has quite managed. It has been pressed into the hands of women (and men) all over the UK, causing sleepless nights and missed buses. It’s a future classic and will help people to understand how we live now. She’s been hailed as “the new face of fiction” and a “Salinger for the Snapchat generation”. 

Is she the voice of my generation? I really hope so.

Emma González by Meena Alexander, Stylist’s sub editor

Emma González 

After surviving a shooting, one brave teenager became the face of the gun control movement.

At the start of this year, Emma González was living the life of an average American teenager. She studied for exams. She bingewatched The Office. She experimented with her clothes and hair. She was figuring out who she was and what her place would be in the world. She could never have known that she’d soon be the face of the largest grassroots movement the US has seen in decades.

On 14 February, a gunman got out of an Uber at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and opened fire with a semi-automatic rifle. González hid in the auditorium as 17 people were killed and another 17 were injured. It was the deadliest school shooting in US history.

Everyone thought they knew what would happen next – indeed, this was the third mass shooting in the country in six months. Politicians would make feeble vows. Celebrities would offer their thoughts and prayers. The world would mourn and move on. Except that’s not what happened, because for the children of Parkland, this was not enough.

Just three days after the shooting, González pushed her trauma and grief to one side to become the voice of those children. She captured the world’s attention by “calling BS” on the empty excuses given by government for lack of gun control. Her speech went viral. She joined Twitter and 10 days later she had 1 million followers. She had found herself at the crest of a rising wave of youth activism.

Emma Gonzalez’s powerful speech on gun control

She quickly co-founded a gun control advocacy group with some of her classmates and organised an event they called March For Our Lives. Hundreds of thousands of people turned out on 24 March (the biggest protests since the Vietnam War) to back their calls to restrict the sale of firearms and bump stocks – fittings that make semi-automatic rifles even deadlier.

For us, these demands seem more than reasonable. But these teenagers were fighting in a country of right-wing voters, Republican politicians and NRA backers. A country that’s home to companies like Slide Fire, a firearms manufacturer that celebrated President’s Day (four days after the shooting) with a special offer on bump stocks – “use the code MAGA”.

Despite the challenge she faced, González was laser-focused. She appeared on the cover of magazines. She took on seasoned politicians in debates. She organised a tour to rally young Americans ahead of the midterm elections.

Mere months since González’s first speech, her name can be attributed to major change. A surge in youth voter turnout. Companies cutting ties with the NRA. Florida’s governor signing the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act. At least 25 other states passing gun control legislation.

González is a shining example of how young women can and should be shaping our world. As Desmond Tutu presented her group with the International Children’s Peace Prize last month, he put it better than I ever could: “I am in awe of these children, whose powerful message is amplified by their youthful energy and an unshakable belief that children can – no, must – improve their own futures.”

Hannah Gadsby by Gemma Crisp, Stylist’s deputy editor

Hannah Gadsby

The comedian behind Nanette has started a difficult conversation. 

It was one of the most uncomfortable hours of my life. In Nanette comedian Hannah Gadsby takes herself to task for mining her sexuality for laughs then takes down the audience for being implicit in the bigotry by providing those laughs. It is blistering. It is sickening. It is incredible. Everyone should see it.

As Gadsby peels away layers of frustration, shame and anger, she lulls you in and out of a false sense of security. Nanette starts with the traditional comedy set-up of self-deprecating jokes. But then she turns the finger of blame on the audience and suddenly you’re teetering on the edge of a gaping chasm of uncomfortable truths. 

Just as you’re about to topple over into it, Gadsby reins herself in. You’re pulled back into a warm embrace of laughs before she tears the rug out from underneath you again and again, her voice choking with defiance as she details the horrific homophobic attacks she’s experienced. It is one of the most skilful performances I’ve ever seen. 

It’d felt like I had been turned inside out and it didn’t feel good. But it felt necessary. It felt overdue. Because in an era of fake news, we need to hear someone tell it like it is, no matter how much it hurts.

Stylist’s Visible Women campaign aims to raise the profiles of women in politics – and inspire future generations to follow their lead. See more Visible Women stories here

Images: Getty

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