It was a rough year in gender and race, but there were a few bright spots.
Oof, what a terrible year. Ebola. ISIS. Boko Haram. The murders of Mike Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, and so many others. If you visit CNN’s “What Stories Got You Talking in 2014” page, it’s a veritable cornucopia of the infuriating and horrible. If we narrow our focus to the year in gender and sexuality, it was no less rife with awfulness.
Lest you fall into a pit of despair, there were a few bright spots, especially in the category of next-generation superstars (looking at you Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala and AP Female Athlete of the Year Mo’ne), and the first Congress ever with 100 women (which is still pitiful). Feminism was cool again, see Beyonce + Chimamanda, Emma Watson, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and still controversial, which Time Magazine learned when it “jokingly” added it to the list of proposed banned words.
It was a rough one, 2014. But I’m an eternal optimist so I have to hope we’ve learned a thing or two from all the shit. With no further ado, and in no particular order, the biggest gender stories of the year, with an attempted—and sometimes it truly was a stretch—silver lining.
The Year We Took Sexual Assault and Violence Against Women Seriously—Maybe?
When the list of his accusers topped 20 and pointed to a methodical pattern of drugging and raping women, it seemed that Bill Cosby’s fall from grace might be complete, but lingering questions point to our collective distrust of victims’ stories. Why did it take a male comedian to grab our attention? Why do we sweep under the rug that which doesn’t suit the story we want. Ask Ta-Nehisi Coates.
But Cosby victims weren’t alone this year at the center of our national conversation about sexual assault. A student at NYU carried a mattress around all year to protest the lack of punishment for her alleged rapist. An unsubstantiated and poorly researched Rolling Stone story about a violent fraternity gang rape proved to be full of holes, further undermining the likelihood of other victims to come forward.
Domestic violence was also front and center in 2014 thanks to a video of NFL player Ray Rice punching his then-fiancee (now wife, read her perspective here) in the face and dragging her unconscious body from an elevator. The publicity sparked the hashtag #WhyIStayed to which abuse victims added their stories.
Silver Lining? Although victims still get blamed (ahem “Princeton Mom”) and rape kits still get buried untested in closets, at least we’re finally talking about this. California passed a Yes Means Yes bill aimed to make consent more explicit, over 80 universities are under federal review for mishandling sexual assault allegations, and Terry Crews and other male celebrities started speaking up about putting accountability where it belongs, on assailants and condoners. Even the NFL has published a new code of conduct.
The Year That Silicon Valley Owned Up to Its Misogyny Problem—Maybe?
Where to even begin? Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella told women, at a women’s tech conference no less, to wait for “the system” to reward them rather than to ask for a raise, and then apologized twice, acknowledging he “underestimated exclusion and bias—conscious and unconscious—that can hold people back.” Maybe stuff like Barbie is a Computer Engineer, a book in which Barbie needs boys’ help to write code then takes credit for it, doesn’t exactly set girls up to succeed in STEM.
While Nadella may have been oblivious, Uber got slammed for anti-woman malice when a VP was caught strategizing about how to smear female reporters who criticized the ride-sharing app.
And speaking of malice, we can’t forget video gaming’s horrendous Gamergate, which began with similar reporter-smearing and grew to a vile heap of rape threats, doxxing, and a bomb threat at Utah State University where Feminist Frequency creator Anita Sarkeesian was set to speak.
Silver Lining? Stories that might have been considered niche tech stuff a few years ago are in mainstream news. Anita Sarkeesian was a guest on the Colbert Report, and Time and The New York Times decoded Gamergate for their non-techy readers. More importantly, tech companies across the valley finally published their diversity statistics. They were UGLY, but you can’t fix a problem until you admit that it’s there, right?
The Year The “Angry Black Woman” Trope Was Finally Overdone—Maybe?
Coming off the heels of Lupita Nyong’o’s Oscar win, 2014 seemed poised to be a banner year for black women in the media. And in many ways, it was. Shonda Rhimes owned the airwaves with a three-hour block of programming starring, among others, Kerry Washington as a D.C. fixer, and Viola Davis as an embroiled law professor. Roxane Gay topped the book charts with two bestsellers, and Jacqueline Woodson won the National Book Award. Jessica Williams crushed The Daily Show and Laverne Cox was the first transgender person nominated for an Emmy and landed the cover of Time.
And yet…when profiled in the New York Times, Rhimes was still, all these years later, forced to battle with the label of the “angry black woman.” And yet, Lupita Nyong’o spent her childhood feeling un-beautiful because of the darkness of her skin. And yet, when Daniel Handler, aka Lemony Snicket, congratulated Woodson on her award, he joked about her allergy to watermelon. Seriously.
Silver Lining? The silver lining here speaks for itself: Despite the stereotyping and the pigeon-holing, Rhimes, Nyong’o, Washington, Davis, Gay, Woodson, Williams, and Cox are thriving and they are not alone. Just ask Beyonce. Or Janet Mock, Melissa Harris-Perry, Nicki Minaj, Mia Love, or Ava DuVernay, who just became the first black woman director (Selma) nominated for a Golden Globe.
I could go on. It was the year that tipped the marriage equality scales. The majority of Americans now live in a state that allows gay marriage. It was the year that we couldn’t deny that the endgame of misogyny is violence; “If I can’t have them, no one will,” wrote Santa Barbara shooter Elliot Rogers. In response, women used #YesAllWomen, to share their lived experiences with harassment.
It was the year that radio celebrity Jian Ghomeshi tried to play off brutal sexual assault as BDSM fun and games, and got away with it for way too long. It was the year that we saw two television portrayals of motherhood that we’ve never seen before: Carrie Mathison’s disturbing detachment on Homeland, and Maura Pfefferman’s transition from patriarch to matriarch on Jill Soloway’s Transparent.
If 2014 was anything, it was a year of silver linings, a year when tragedy forced us, as individuals and as communities, to reconcile who we want to be with how we behave, what kind of country we say we are with what kind of country we show ourselves to be, and the culture we celebrate with the horrible consequences that celebrity worship can bring.
The conversations we started are far from over; 2015 can’t come soon enough.
Role Reboot regular contributor Emily Heist Moss is a New Englander in love with Chicago, where she works in a tech start-up. She blogs every day about gender, media, politics and sex at Rosie Says, and has written for Jezebel, The Frisky, The Huffington Post and The Good Men Project. Find her on Facebook and Twitter.