Bloomers, suffragettes, bicycles. Gloria Steinem, "bra burning," The Feminine Mystique. The Spice Girls, Kathleen Hanna, sex-positivity. Marissa Mayer, Girls, wedge sneakers?
We don't want to seem presumptuous, but we have the distinct feeling that we're on the cusp of yet another wave of music, conversation, media, political discourse, and fashion that makes it easier — and much more enticing — to become the best possible versions of the women we are.
Call it the return of Girl Power, call it fourth wave of feminism, whatever, but we haven't felt this empowered and electrified since we saw Bikini Kill live in the mid-'90s. To prove our point, we've come up with the 29 recent events, trends, people, and moments that we think best signify this new cultural movement. Fingers crossed it's here to stay....
1. The rise of female comedians — It's a long-running opinion that pretty women rarely become funny comedians (posited one male comic friend of ours, "Who would ever boo a pretty woman off the stage? Pretty ladies just aren't exposed to the same training."), but the current influx of highly trained, LOLIRL-sharp, very female comedians is proving those dudes wrong, validating the fact that the female experience can indeed be much smarter and funnier than Cathy comics. From Mindy Kaling and Tina Fey to Rebel Wilson and Issa Rae, female comedians are selling out stages, starring in and writing their own prime-time TV shows, launching huge franchises featuring their own brands of women-centric comedy, deeming the term "comedienne" entirely unnecessary… and, oh yeah, looking mighty pretty while doing it all.
Photo: Courtesy of NBC
2. Progressive advances in birth control
— It seems like we're hearing a new development about birth control on the daily — whether it's about new legislation
providing BC access for more women, advancements in technology for female contraception, or dialogue surrounding the social and health impacts for the entire generation of women taking control of their reproductive lives. While there have been too many recent facepalm situations (Rush Limbaugh — seriously
?) to suggest that we've figured it out, we still maintain that it's a good
thing that birth control, sexual health, and women's bodies are becoming an integral part of the national conversation.Photo: iStockphoto
3. Women won the lion's share of Olympic medals — Want to see something awesome? The U.S. women's Olympic team won 29 gold medals and 58 medals in all during these past London Games (the boys won 17 and 45, respectively). We don't want to set this up to seem like a girls-versus-boys brawl, but instead, we want to see this as the happy result of a few institutional changes; due to the opportunities granted through Title IX, a shift in "girls don't play sports" mentality, and loads of inspiring female role models encouraging young girls to pursue sports, we've come to cheer on mega-talented women like Gabby Douglas, Missy Franklin, Sanya Richards-Ross, Kerri Walsh Jennings, and Misty May-Treanor.
Photo: David Fisher/Rex/Rex USA
4. We're closing the gap in the workplace
— Following the recession, women hold the majority of all
jobs in the United States and dominate the fastest-growing industries. Women now hold 51% of all management positions, 45% of all lawyers are women, and 33% of all doctors are women (The Atlantic
). Though women still earn only 77 cents to a man's dollar in the workplace, we're confident that the recent changes in graduation rates and degrees earned (to be celebrated in an upcoming slide) will push those data points even closer together.Photo: Moviestore Collection/Rex/Rex USA
5. Sarah Burton, the most respected designer in fashion today — It's a hard feat to achieve the levels of respect, success, and talent that Sarah Burton has today, and even more difficult to have done it at a label that's still haunted by the ghost of its namesake. Burton has taken Alexander McQueen to new (profitable) directions, continued to make the house the premiere benchmark for what it means to be strong and feminine, all the while keeping Lee McQueen's legacy alive. Versatility, soulfulness, and undeniable design chops…Sarah Burton is the
female singular designer to beat, these days.
Photo: David Burton/Courtesy of Alexander McQueen
6. The spread of smart-lady reads
— A slew of new publications — both online and in print — have cropped up within the last few years, all featuring topics, articles, and products geared toward the modern-day woman (read: the woman who doesn't necessarily need an ice cube to make her relationships sizzle, and who cares just as much about politics, science, and literature as much as pop culture, makeup, and fashion). From The Gentlewoman
to The Hairpin
(and including us, too — hello!), we're in the middle of a rebirth of female-driven reads, and we're loving all the options.Photo: Courtesy of The Gentlewoman
7. Hillary Clinton and feminist foreign policy
— Hillary Clinton is definitely not the first female United States secretary of state (Madeleine Albright holds that honor), but she may be the first who pursues an aggressively feminist
foreign policy. According to Clinton, women's rights are "the signature issue" of the administration's foreign policy, and she has worked tirelessly to protect and support women through diplomacy. Through specific women-focused projects (like "Clean Cookstoves," which strives to prevent millions of deaths from smoke inhalation every year) and the setting up of organizations (UN Women), Clinton acts as a guardian for female health and empowerment, worldwide (The Guardian
Photo: Courtesy of U.S. Department of State
8. Surprise! You can walk in the new power shoes — We don't think it's any coincidence that some of the season's biggest and most attractive trends are also the ones that are easiest to walk in. Platform boots, sneaker wedges, heeled oxfords, and knee-length boots allow us complete mobility, but spare no expense when it comes to badass design. It's the best of both worlds!
Photographed by Mark Iantosca
9. The most powerful celebrity of 2012 is Jennifer Lopez
— Jenny From The Block may have been way more famous back in the early '00s, but the girl's grown up, diversified her skill set, and has proved she can be as big — nay, bigger
a mogul than anyone else out there. After experiencing a few musical and creative setbacks (Gigli
, anyone?), J. Lo has come back with $52 million in earnings last year (via her clothing line, fragrance sales, spokesperson gigs, as well as a stint as a judge on American Idol
). Thanks to all of that, J. Lo topped Forbes' list
of the most powerful celebrities of the year, beating out Oprah and
Justin Bieber. Photo: Sayre Berman/Corbis
10. Women top the best-selling books list
— If you take a peek on the NYT Best Seller list
, you'll see that women dominate the top of list. From Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl
to Zadie Smith's NW
(and, of course, E.L. James' Fifty Shades of Grey
books — all three of them), the trend indicates that women are consuming loads of books,and are demanding that the subjects speak to their experiences, their interests, and their insatiable appetites for vampires and whips.Gone Girl - Photo: Courtesy of Crown Publishers; Bared To You - Photo: Courtesy of Sylvia Day; Fifty Shades Of Grey - Photo: Courtesy of Vintage Books; The Hunger Games - Photo: Courtesy of Scholastic Inc.
11. Lena Dunham and the rest of the Girls
— No matter if you subscribe to the gospel of Girls
, you have to agree that Lena Dunham has depicted the kind of starry-eyed, glamour-stripped, anti-Carrie woman that resonates with many young people today (anyone who didn't get chills during the scene where Hannah and Marnie dance at the end of the night to Robyn is dead inside
The HBO show was nominated for four Emmys this year — a huge feat for any show, let alone one in its first season, created by a new writer and director. And though Dunham hasn't been very graceful in navigating accusations of homogeneity and privilege on the show, she has
taken it upon herself to course correct
, like a real, learning 20-something: "I take that criticism very seriously…. This show isn't supposed to feel exclusionary. It's supposed to feel honest, and it's supposed to feel true to many aspects of my experience. But for me to ignore that criticism and not to take it in would really go against my beliefs and my education in so many things." Here's to continuously adapting to become more worldly, sophisticated, empathetic humans! Photo: Jojo Whilden/HBO
12. The Marissa Mayer factor — Only 3% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women, and Marissa Mayer represents not only the latest woman to fatten that number up a bit, but also the youngest one in the mix. Her story is incredibly inspiring — she went from kicking ass at Youth Science Camp in West Virginia to kicking ass at Stanford University in her work with artificial intelligence to kicking more ass at Google as its first female engineer (and then quickly moving up the ranks to eventually be a vice president — and we predict she'll continue that ass kicking at Yahoo!. And though she takes offense with the word "feminism" for being too militant, she does uphold all the values of it: Actions do speak louder than words, and Marissa's feminism shouts her support.
Photo: Martin Klimek/ZUMA Press/Corbis
13. The return of the Buffy-esque ass kicker — Late '90s programming was chock-full of superwomen — the kinds who didn't need a skin-tight leotard or a stronger male counterpart to swoop in and save her. Emily Thorne, Nikita Mears, and Lisbeth Salander are the Buffy, Xena, and Sydney Bristow of today, and TV shows that center around strong, complex female leads are helping us forget about the days of the one-dimensional supporting actress.
Photo: Courtesy of ABC
14. Women in tech, and our own R29 developers — Technology is one sector that women are strikingly, notoriously underrepresented in, taking up only 25% of information-technology positions…but not for long. Though Marissa Mayer heralds change, and we're seeing more and more start-ups founded and built by women, we like to look at our own team of developers as proof. Eight of the 16 members of our tech team are brilliant, talented women — a welcome harbinger of wider-spread changes to come.
Photographed by Sara Haile
15. The Spice Girls at the Olympics — Though it seemed like an isolated incident, The Spice Girls staging a reunion at one of the most watched, most broadcasted, most international event of the year not only reminded us OG fans of their gloriousness, but also introduced a whole slew of young people to what The Spice Girls stood for. In fact, many of the acts that followed The Spice Girls (Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Mandy Moore, etc.) are returning to the limelight as women and are turning their celebrity into multifaceted, productive careers.
Photo: Sergei Grits/ /AP/Corbis
16. Katniss Everdeen as a role model
— Past generations may have had Nancy Drew
, The Babysitters' Club,
and Ramona Quimby as role models, but we're inclined to say none of these past YA protagonists have been as brave, thoughtful, capable, flawed, and complicated as Katniss Everdeen
of The Hunger Games
. A warrior, a sister, a lover, a citizen, and a celebrity, Katniss shows that even through life-altering situations, she is, above all, an individual.Photo: Murray Close
17. A flood of new female rappers — Starting with M.I.A. and Nicki Minaj, an influx of young, whip-smart female rappers have cropped up in this generation, matching their male counterparts in swagger and style. Without having to "butch" it up or play toward a hyper-sexualized ideal, like female rappers of the past, the women of the new guard have forged their own aesthetics and identities and are redefining what hip-hop looks like. Kreayshawn, Azealia Banks, Angel Haze, Iggy Azalea, Dominique Young Unique, Kitty Pryde...these are the new Jay-Zs and Lil' Waynes.
Photo: Courtesy of Interscope Records
18. Obama singling out women
— With the election coming up, it's becoming incredible important whom President Obama chooses to focus his energies on, and how he goes about doing it. He's one of the first presidents to ignore traditional press in order to speak on local radio shows, appear on talk shows, and in check-out-line magazines, something that he's been criticized for
, but something we find totally compelling in a modern president. He's chosen women time and time again, whether it's deciding to give the commencement speech at Barnard instead of Columbia, picking Glamour
as his first interview after weeks of radio silence, or appearing on The View
after Mitt Romney said he'd never do such a thing.Photo: Richard Drew/AP/Corbis
19. The power of Pinterest
— It's not just wedding dresses and rooms with pink couches. Pinterest is a huge
player in social media, one of the fastest growing tech properties around and
highly profitable.... And anyone who's spent any time on Pinerest knows that even though it's technically gender-neutral, it's dominated by women (97% of Pinterest users are female
, and an even larger share of the activity is produced by us ladies). Its success is in a large part due to women finding a community they trust within the network, and its popularity within the scope of all social-media platforms is a testament to how loud women can be. Photo: Courtesy of Pinterest
20. Cool and classy under pressure? The teenage Fab Five — There was a lot of pressure on the U.S. gymnastics team this summer to win gold (a feat that hadn't been accomplished since 1996), but as soon as the five ladies started warming up on the mat, the medals were pretty much already clinched. With the skill, composure, and unflinchingly cool personalities to drive the Russian and Chinese teams crazy, this group of women (18 and under, no less) succeeded in complete dominance over the games while still appearing like they were having fun. Plus, our favorite meme of the Olympics, McKayla Maroney Is Not Impressed, really captured the spirit of the Fab Five: Be a boss, never accept second — a 5'2" 16-year-old can still expect (and deserve!) it all.
Photo: Vernon Bryant/Dallas Morning News/Corbis
21. The editor-in-chief next door
— It used to be that teens had to wait around for someone who had more access, who knew better, who was older
to provide the goods for
them, whether that was a magazine, a web site, or a book catering to their interests. However, with the opportunities now afforded to young adults, a few exceptional people can take that production power back into their own hands. Enter, Rookie Magazine
, with Tavi Gevinson at the helm, and produced by and for teenage girls. Covering an expanse of topics, including pop culture, politics, fiction, health, and more, it's the indie (and DIY!) answer to the establishment, and one of the first publications that get
young women. And even more importantly, the now-established media star is inspiring other
young women to explore their own boundaries and find success without confining to the traditional rules of climbing up the creative ladder.
Photo: Courtesy of NBC
22. The UN declared October 11 as International Day of the Girl
— Recognizing that girls face higher rates of violence, poverty, and discrimination than their older and male counterparts, the United Nations has dedicated October 11 as the world's first International Day of the Girl. Teaming up with GoVoluntouring
, the day is meant to be spent fighting gender inequalities around the world via a number of organizations that help educate women on their reproductive systems, work on developing pro-women socio-economic institutions in developing nations, end human trafficking, and much, much more. What are you
going to be doing on the 11th?
23. What Pussy Riot meant for protest culture
— While feminist punk-rock may have had its heyday in the '90s in the United States, the same sort of sentiment is brewing all around the world. Art, music, and protest collective, Pussy Riot, staged an illegal performance at Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Savior. Calling upon the Riot Grrrl legacy to protest Putin's administration, the women of Pussy Riot were arrested and prosecuted, and ultimately ignited a global conversation around freedom of expression, music's role in protest culture, and what happens to women who step on the toes of patriarchy.
Photo via Pussy Riot
24. Strong youth programming
— With a name like
Smart Girls At The Party
, it's hard to imagine the show not
being awesome. Amy Poehler's children's show is currently airing on Poehler's YouTube channel, and she interviews real, young girls in a Charlie Rose-esque setting, hosts sing-alongs, answers questions, and demonstrates recipes, DIYs, and on-location videos featuring adolescents doin' their own thing. Even if you're not 10 anymore, we dare you to watch just one. It's as addictive as Skittles and will make you feel good
about the next generation.Photo: Courtesy of Smart Girls at the Party
25. The return of the bags you can actually put stuff in — There's nothing more annoying than a bag that requires another bag for overflow. Too-small clutches, too-precious baguettes, too-dainty shoulder bags…thank God for the trendy handbags that are roomy enough to fit all your essentials, professional enough to carry to work, chic enough to bring to drinks, and considerate enough (straps, handles, and holders galore!) to help you keep your hands free.
The most popular handbag trends right now are ones that fit a lot, look great for all occasions, and keep your hands free. Finally — a bag that's as versatile as you are.
Photographed by Crystal Schreiner
26. Michelle Obama doing the first lady thing her own way — Former lawyer, hospital executive, Ivy Leaguer, mother, wife, first lady…Michelle Obama may have put her own career on hiatus to support her husband, Barack Obama, but it was a decision she made herself as a smart, savvy, sophisticated woman (which is the point of feminism anyway!). Able to discuss legislation and pop culture, Michelle is redefining what it is a first lady does (which includes taking a role in moving along national awareness of the issues most important to her, heading up her own initiatives like the Let's Move campaign, and — oh yeah — hanging out with Beyoncé), not to mention going after our own hearts and championing American indie designers.
Photo: Charlie Neibergall/AP/Corbis
27. Barbie gets the best job ever: president of the United States — Released in partnership with The White House Project, Barbie's next career move, president, is her most ambitious, most awesome one yet (and she's outfitted for it in head-to-toe Chris Benz, at that!). The first-ever Barbie to be able to "stand on her own" (both figuratively and literally), this doll provides our youngins with the opportunity to be introduced to politics. After all, in order to believe you can be president one day, you have to be able to pretend it first.
Photo: Courtesy of Mattel
28. Women are getting more educated
— Not too long ago, women were still graduating at a fraction of the rate of men, earning a fraction of their salaries, and holding a fraction of their positions. Today, women
earn 60% of all master's degrees, nearly half of all law and medical degrees, and graduate high school at higher rates. All this extra education means more qualified women in the workforce, more women-friendly workplaces, and an applied physics classroom where you won't be the only girl in a class of 100 — finally!Photo: iStockphoto
29. Christina Tosi reinvents baking — There's nothing particularly sweet about Christina Tosi's cooking, except for, obviously, her use of sugar. Tosi was the only pastry chef nominated for the James Beard Rising Star Chef award — which she won, a testament to the fact that this traditionally "women's work" has not only got the chops to be just as innovative and interesting as other culinary categories, but even more so. From those aptly named crack pies to ice cream that tastes like you're 10 again, Tosi has transformed pastries and baked goods into an exciting, groundbreaking, creative field.
Photographed by Sunny Shokrae