Why Women Dominated The Biggest Pop Culture Moments Of 2016

Most of us are pretty excited for 2016 to end. Dubbed as a dumpster fire of a year by the internet, the year was rife with hackings, shadings, Twitter beefs, and all kinds of A-list breakups.

We all know where we were when Kim Kardashian exposed Taylor Swift for (kind of) lying about that whole "Kanye didn't tell me about 'Famous'" flub. And while Brangelina ended in a flash, Meghan Markle became the new American princess who stole Prince Harry's royal heart.

This year saw meaningful conversations about domestic violence and sexual assault, when Amber Heard and Gabrielle Union spoke out and pushed those issues forward into the mainstream. For no reason at all, Leslie Jones received so much racist and sexist vitriol online that Twitter had to step in and take control of the situation. And when Kardashian was robbed at gunpoint in a terrifying attack in Paris, close readings of celebrity, social media, and safety took center stage.

At the heart of all these viral stories were powerful, independent, and strong women who are not going anywhere. Like them or not, they controlled the narrative in 2016, and they'll be back even bigger in the new year. Ahead, a look at how they had us talking these past 12 months.
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Photo: Matt Baron/REX/Shutterstock.
Amber Heard
A little over a year after tying the knot, Amber Heard stunned fans when she filed for divorce from Johnny Depp, accusing him of verbal and physical abuse that spanned the entirety of their marriage. When graphic photos of Heard’s bruised face surfaced soon after, the onslaught of disturbing victim-blaming that followed started a larger conversation about domestic abuse and the many reasons survivors don’t feel safe enough to come forward.

Depp supporters leveled hateful allegations at Heard, accusing her of faking the whole thing to get her hands on a large settlement. Well, she shut all that down when she announced she was donating the entirety of her $7 million settlement to charity. Heard has continued to serve as a forceful voice for survivors of domestic abuse. Starring in a PSA for #girlgaze, Heard urged women to speak up, saying, “You don’t have to do it alone. You’re not alone.”
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Photo: Courtesy of Parkwood Entertainment/ HBO.
If we had to use one symbol to represent 2016, the lemon emoji would be it. Beyoncé didn’t just break the internet, she broke all of us when she debuted Lemonade, her HBO music special confirming years-old rumors that Jay Z had been cheating on her. In one hour, Lemonade went through every stage of Beyoncé’s grief: heartbreak, anger, mourning, and finally, forgiveness. The Beyhive was torn: If Queen Bey could forgive Jay Z, surely we could too.

But the Beyhive was not in a forgiving mood when it came to whoever "Becky with the good hair" was. The Hive went into full witch-hunt mode, accusing designer Rachel Roy, Taylor Swift, Rita Ora, and even Rachael Ray of being Jay Z's other woman.
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Blac Chyna
In the span of just 12 months, Blac Chyna shocked the world — and we’re sure, Kylie Jenner— when she became an extended part of the family. Chyna hooked up with Rob Kardashian in January. She got engaged to her ex-fiancé’s girlfriend's brother in April; announced her pregnancy with a bitmoji in May; won over the entire Kar-Jenner brood; and starred in a six-episode E! series, Rob & Chyna, in September. In November, Chyna also gifted us with Dream Renée Kardashian, the cutest baby this side of Calabasas, before finally breaking Rob and the collective internet’s heart when she packed up all her stuff, Dream, and even Rob’s bag of chips and left for good in December.

How does your 2016 compare?
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Photo: Matt Baron/REX/Shutterstock.
Gabrielle Union
Without a doubt, Birth of a Nation was this year's most controversial film. Not just for the sexual violence the film's female characters endure, but for director Nate Parker's 1999 rape charges, of which he was later acquitted in the court case that followed.

Triggering a deeper conversation about sexual assault, Nation actress Gabrielle Union's powerful op-ed in the Los Angeles Times revealed she had been raped when she was 19 years old. Union didn't distance herself from the film, saying she can never really know what happened between Parker and his accuser, but she took the opportunity to urge the importance of sex education and a deeper understanding of consent. Union's main impetus for the op-ed was "to inform and educate so that these situations cease to occur on college campuses, in dorm rooms, in fraternities, in apartments, or anywhere else young people get together to socialize."
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Photo: Swan Gallet/WWD/REX/Shutterstock.
Kim Kardashian
Kim Kardashian's Fashion Week came to a terrifying halt when her Paris apartment was stormed by masked robbers in the middle of the night. The assailants dragged Kardashian from her bed into the bathroom where they tied her arms and legs and placed her in the tub. Minutes later, they had fled with almost $10 million in jewelry, including the engagement ring Kanye West had gotten his wife.

The internet reared its ugly head with memes and ridiculous theories speculating that the whole robbery was merely a staged PR stunt. But Kardashian's friends and fellow celebs came to the reality star's defense. Even some who believed the robbery was real leveled a hearty dose of victim-blaming at Kardashian. Fashion icon Karl Lagerfeld said an attack like that was to be expected, because the Kardashians are masters at flaunting their wealth.

It's been over three months now, and Kardashian has yet to make a formal return to her old life. But however long she needs, there's a strong base of supporters who only want the best for her after such a traumatic experience.
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Photo: Matt Baron/REX/Shutterstock.
Selena Gomez
In August, Selena Gomez shocked fans when she announced she was taking time off to manage health issues brought on by lupus, which she was diagnosed with in 2015. Gomez went completely dark on social media, and it was rumored she was in a rehab facility in Tennessee. Fans were clamoring for any news of her whereabouts and had nothing but well wishes for her speedy recovery.

So when she resurfaced during the AMAs in November, fans were beside themselves. Their excitement soon turned to support as Gomez’s acceptance speech for Best Pop Rock Female Performance took a serious and emotional turn.

"I had to stop," Gomez said. "Because I had everything. And I was absolutely broken inside. I kept it all together enough where I would never let you down. But I kept it too much together to where I let myself down." With a quivering voice and tearful eyes, Gomez added a message to all her fans, "If you are broken, you do not have to stay broken."

Now we can all look forward to new music, as Gomez has reportedly been laying down some powerful tracks in the studio. We can’t wait for her return in 2017, but only when she’s ready.
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Photo: Matt Baron/REX/Shutterstock.
Teyana Taylor
The day after the VMAs, the only question on anyone’s lips was: Who on Earth is Teyana Taylor?! Let’s back up. Kanye West debuted his new music video for “Fade” during the VMAs, featuring singer and actress Teyana Taylor gyrating and dancing in a sexy and sweaty '80s workout homage to Flashdance, before turning into a cat with real-life husband, NBA player Iman Shumpert. Twitter was in hysterics, demanding to know every last detail about Taylor. We bet we’ll see more of Taylor on screen very soon.

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Photo: Chelsea Lauren/Variety/REX/Shutterstock.
Miley Cyrus
After taking a short break of, oh, a few years. Miley Cyrus and Liam Hemsworth brought joy back to the world by getting back together. And they are most definitely engaged!

Cyrus has spent birthdays and holidays with the rest of the Hemsworth brood, and her Hunger Games beau even comes to support her during tapings of The Voice.

We can't help it, we had to include a photo of the two together!
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Photo: Swan Gallet/WWD/REX/Shutterstock.
Taylor Swift
While much of the rumor mill has been churning out stories about Taylor Swift’s beef with Kimye, breakup with Calvin Harris, and relationship with Tom Hiddleston, the most important Swift story of the year is the news of her sexual assault lawsuit against DJ David Mueller.

Quick recap: Swift accused Mueller of groping her butt under her dress during a photo op in 2013. He claims he lost his job because of Swift and sued her for slander. She answered back with a countersuit for sexual assault and filed a motion to have the court documents sealed, including the photograph taken during the incident.

Swift and her mother's depositions revealed the emotional toll the incident had on both women, and the story hit a fever pitch when TMZ leaked the photo. The outcry from fans was swift and unrelenting. They leveled criticisms against the tabloid for essentially making Swift relive the incident all over again, except this time with millions of prying and judging eyes.

Swift's assault, unfortunately, shows that it can happen to any woman. But her lawsuit also sends the message that we don't have to accept it and can take action to stand up for ourselves.
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Photo: Broadimage/REX/Shutterstock.
Angelina Jolie
Nothing lasts forever in Tinseltown. That's what we learned in September as one of Hollywood’s most solid A-list couples came to an end. Angelina Jolie filed for divorce from Brad Pitt, after a two-year marriage and 12 year relationship. The divorce quickly turned ugly, with custody of the couple’s six children at the crux of a months-long negotiation.

Authorities got involved to investigate child-welfare concerns after an incident on a private plane involving Pitt and the couple's eldest, Maddox. In the end, Pitt was cleared and the two reached an agreement with the help of child-health professionals. Jolie will retain custody of the kids, and Pitt will continue visits with the children.
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Photo: John Salangsang/BFA/REX/Shutterstock.
Meghan Markle
Suits actress Meghan Markle is literally living many girls' childhood dream: A real-life prince has fallen madly in love with her!

Markle became a household name when the world — and we assume, the queen — found out she was dating Prince Harry. The paparazzi began hounding her immediately, invading every part of her life, harassing her family, and even breaking into her home. And where they left off, the online trolls took over with racist and sexist messages. Prince Harry did something royals don't usually do, he released a strongly worded statement defending Markle, calling on the paps to lay off his girlfriend.

The two have been making their whirlwind, long-distance relationship work. Markle regularly jets off to London and Harry even broke with royal protocol and snuck away for a 12-hour trip to Toronto to visit his lady love. The two just spent a very un-royal holiday together in London, buying a Christmas tree and lugging it back all by themselves. Except in their case, they took it back to Kensington Palace.

We are all for an American princess, so here's to these two working out in 2017!
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Photo: Gregory Pace/REX/Shutterstock.
Katy Perry
We could talk ad nauseam about how much we love Katy Perry and Orlando Bloom; the two seem adorable and happy together. But actually, the more defining moment of Perry’s year was her political activism on the campaign trail for Hillary Clinton. While many other pop stars of her caliber chose to stay neutral in 2016, Perry spent months touting Clinton's achievements to anyone who would listen.

And the love goes both ways. In one of her first appearances after losing the election, Clinton surprised Perry with a heartwarming speech before presenting her with the Audrey Hepburn Humanitarian Award during UNICEF's Snowflake Ball.
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Photo: Matt Baron/REX/Shutterstock.
Lena Dunham
Lena Dunham put her foot in her mouth in 2016 when she told a story about being rebuffed by NFL player Odell Beckham Jr. at the Met Ball.

Putting words in his mouth, Dunham said Beckham didn't engage in a conversation with her during the dinner because he didn't think she was attractive enough. Dunham was excoriated by fans and critics alike for advancing a racist trope that sexualizes Black men, and for censuring someone because she didn't get the attention she wanted from him.

Dunham's apology tour didn't quite satisfy the masses, but Beckham took the high road and refused to comment on the matter, saying he didn't want any problems with anyone.
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Photo: Larry Busacca/Getty Images.
Hell hath no fury like Kim Kardashian when her husband is trashed. The peace treaty between Kanye West and Taylor Swift was ripped to shreds when West debuted "Famous," in which he raps "Taylor and me might still have sex, because I made that bitch famous."

Tay's camp was not about to let it slide, so she clapped back with a pointed and strongly worded Grammys speech. West claimed he ran the lyrics by Swift, but no one was having it. Who was going to listen to someone who already had a history of bullying America's golden girl?

Enter Kimmy. Kardashian put herself directly into the narrative and actually broke the internet when she released videos on Snapchat of West reading some of the lyrics to "Famous" over the phone to an enthusiastic Swift. We will note, however, that West didn't appear to relay the "bitch" lyric, which is what Swift harped on after the fact.

But the damage was done for Taylor. Her reputation took a major blow, and she went into self-imposed hiding as the #KimExposedTaylorParty tweets flooded our social media feeds.
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Photo: Broadimage/REX/Shutterstock.
Leslie Jones
The sexist jibes began almost immediately after an all-female Ghostbusters cast was announced. Misogynist haters weren’t shy about letting their opinions be known: Women were not funny and a new retelling of the beloved cult classic was unnecessary. So when critiques of the trailer and movie snowballed to hateful messages and threats of violence toward actress Leslie Jones, it was too much to bear.

Jones retweeted the worst of the racist and sexually violent messages in an attempt to draw the attention of Twitter administrators to the trolls. "I feel like I'm in a personal hell, I didn't do anything to deserve this," she wrote before announcing she was leaving the social media platform. Eventually, Twitter intervened, suspending accounts and sending out warnings to the worst offenders, prompting Jones’ return to much fanfare and support from fans.
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Photo: Jewel Samad/Getty Images.
Hillary Clinton
In a year when pop culture and politics collided, Hillary Clinton’s comments the morning after the election could have gone either way, but it’s undeniable that her concession speech was a defining moment for American women.

Whether you voted for her or not, her message to the future generation of women is one to take to heart: "And to all the little girls who are watching this, never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams." Amen.
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