It was both "The Year of the Woman" and a year in which "The War Against Women" was waged. Women achieved historic firsts in sports (at the London Olympics) and in politics (more women will have seats in Congress in 2013 than ever before). We mourned the passing of the first U.S. woman in space and celebrated a film heroine who was more focused on surviving the game instead of getting the guy. In 2012, women were bullied by perpetrators who ranged from radio pundits and politicians to middle school kids on the bus, but in every instance they prevailed. And we finally got to wear the green jacket at Augusta. All in all, even if it didn't start out to be a good year for women, we turned it into one by rising to every challenge.
One of the most trusted and respected non-profits in the U.S., the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation had a stellar reputation and an unassailable brand when it made a poor decision on January 31, 2012 that had long-term consequences. Komen announced it would end its relationship with Planned Parenthood and stop funding breast cancer screenings and prevention. While Komen cited a federal investigation into Planned Parenthood (launched by anti-abortion activist) as a concern, the real reason soon surfaced. Karen Handel, a new Komen VP who -- during an unsuccessful bid for governor of Georgia -- loudly announced her intent to defund Planned Parenthood, made that personal goal a mission for the non-profit when she joined the senior staff. Amidst a massive backlash promoted through various social media channels, Komen walked back that decision, but the damage was done and the national charity has yet to recover from the black eye they received from the controversy.
2. Slut-Shaming - Contraceptive Coverage and Sandra Fluke
Many conservatives were outraged when the Obama administration added contraceptive coverage to the Affordable Care Act, prompting the president to clarify that insurance companies would cover costs, not the religious organizations themselves. Yet this compromise did not sit well with many politicians, including Rep. Darrell Issa whose hearing on contraceptive coverage convened a panel of all-male experts to provide testimony. When Georgetown Law student Sandra Fluke was denied the opportunity to speak at Issa's hearing, she addressed another Congressional committee about the importance of contraceptive coverage, prompting conservative pundit Rush Limbaugh to label her a 'slut' and a 'prostitute' for asking that the government pay 'for her to have sex.'
With the success of Harry Potter and the impending end of the Twilight series, Hollywood was looking for the next big thing...and may have found it in one of the most unlikely places -- a poor rural district set in a dystopian future -- where a girl with a bow and arrow succeeds not because of magic, love or vampire strength, but simply by her own wits and intelligence. First a novel and now the first film installment of a planned trilogy, "The Hunger Games" features a gutsy female protagonist who can hunt, fight, and out-think her opponents, and pays more attention to supporting her single mother and younger sister than having nice clothes and snaring a boyfriend. As opening weekend audiences proved, Katniss Everdeen wasn't a story just for girls -- movie theaters were also seeing young men and adult women buying tickets. The film's success guarantees that other sequels will be forthcoming.
What's more important -- a woman's right to having contraceptive and family planning services covered by her health care provider, or a man's opinion that a woman shouldn't partake because he objects to it? That was the basis of Senator Roy Blunt's proposed amendment giving employers free rein to deny contraceptive coverage for women based on their own moral objections. The Blunt Amendment threatened to open a door that would give other "moral" objectors more opportunities to control and deny women's access to essential health care, basic care that enables them to determine their own well-being. After months of debate and much worry on both sides, the Blunt Amendment was defeated in the Senate largely along party lines.
Why would the taunting of an 'old lady' bus monitor by middle school boys warrant inclusion in a roundup of the most significant women's issues events of the year? Two reasons. First, 68-year-old Karen Klein is exactly the type of person most often overlooked -- the aging senior woman who struggles to keep her head above water. As a woman of this demographic once told me, "When my hips spread and my hair turned white, I didn't exist anymore in the eyes of most people around me." Women like Klein don't have economic, social or political power, and so they don't matter. And if they don't matter, it's easy to prey on them. Klein wasn't physically hurt but she was verbally abused, and in a society that has turned the corner on bullying, bullying of adults by children is unacceptable. The second reason why this story matters is an issue largely ignored by mainstream media because it's too squirm-inducing. Part of the verbal taunting included threats of sexual violence. On the full tape of the incident, you can hear the boys threatening to stab and sodomize her, while one prepubescent boy tells the bus monitor that he's going to "come in your mouth." These may merely be words with no true intent behind them, but they point to an important fact: rape and sexual assault are not about sex but power. In the struggle between young boys trying to prove themselves and a bus monitor unable to control them, it's clear from the tape where the power lies.
When Michigan state representative Lisa Brown and another female legislator addressed their colleagues on the floor of the Michigan State House and argued against a controversial anti-abortion bill, Brown used the word "vagina" during her speech and the other woman proposed a bill regulating vasectomies. Apparently their male colleagues were so "disgusted" by the women's language that they were banned from speaking because they had violated the decorum of the house. The story made national headlines and earned the nickname "Vaginagate." But it didn't stop there. In a show of support, activist playwright Eve Ensler flew in for a special performance of her groundbreaking play The Vagina Monologues on the steps of the Statehouse in Lansing, Michigan. Thousands turned out to support Brown, Ensler, and take back the V word.
History is typically made at the Olympic games, but the 2012 London Olympics were memorable even before the flame was lit at the opening ceremonies. That's because for the first time in Olympic history, women were represented on every country's Olympic team. The three nations that had never been represented by female athletes -- Brunei, Qatar, and longtime holdout Saudi Arabia -- each have women competing for the gold in London. While this led many to call the 2012 Olympics 'The Year of the Woman,' more notable achievements by individual athletes made this edition of the Summer Games one for the record books. Among the highlights: 2012 was the first year in which women's boxing was an Olympic sport; a popular U.S. women's soccer player came out just before the Games ; an athlete competed who was 8 months with child, making her the most pregnant Olympian ever; and a woman with one arm represented Poland in table tennis competition.
In its nearly 80-year history, Augusta National Golf Club -- home of the Masters Tournament -- has been legendary for its steadfast, unflinching, and ironclad policy of accepting only men as club members. It refused to accept African American members until 1990, and has been the target of countless protests by women's organizations over the years. Augusta had the perfect opportunity to admit newly appointed IBM head Virginia Rometty as its first female member in April 2012, as Augusta traditionally bestows membership (and its iconic green members jacket) upon the CEOs of the Masters' corporate sponsors. Yet when the club declined to do so, it looked as if Augusta would never change its mind. So it was a complete surprise when in August 2012 it extended an invitation of membership to two notable females: Darla Moore, the first woman profiled on the cover of Fortune magazine, and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
In some ways, the 2012 election cycle was a step back for women; we had no viable candidates running for President or Vice President and women's issues seemed to take a backseat to the economy. On top of that, a Republican War on Women challenged women's rights on many fronts. Yet the threats against Planned Parenthood, contraceptive coverage under Obamacare, and the cavalier attitude many GOP candidates took on the issues of rape, pregnancy from rape and abortion mobilized women. While women's issues barely came up during the presidential debates, after a long absence of women as debate moderators, CNN's Candy Crowley was chosen. The impact of the women's vote was evident when the returns started coming in; the voting gender gap between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney was significant, indicating that women put him over the top.
10. Trailblazers - Remembering Their Legacy
A handful of notable women passed away this year, among them Sally Ride, America's first woman in space; Helen Gurley Brown, editor of Cosmo magazine and the groundbreaking author of the 1962 book Sex and the Single Girl; and writer/director Nora Ephron, whose iconic films include a much-loved look at male/female relationships, When Harry Met Sally.