If you needed any proof that feminism is necessary, all you need to do is look to this year’s newsmakers. My feminist heroes for 2009 defended and expanded our ideas of what women can be, while the villains tried to scale them back:
Lady Gaga: There’s a savvy woman behind the latex bodysuits and comically oversized sunglasses: Gaga takes her persona to an extreme because she recognizes it is constructed, and she criticizes double standards between female and male musicians (being open about sex undermines her music, while his exploits heighten his). And can you remember the last time a pop star used the F-word? Lady G called a Los Angeles Times writer “a little bit of a feminist, like I am,” adding, “women need and want someone to look up to that they feel have the full sense of who they are.”
Rihanna: Speaking of singers, here’s one that reluctantly championed women’s rights. After being beaten by Chris Brown, Rihanna was silent about the whole ordeal until this fall, when she says she realized her fame afforded her a voice to educate women on domestic abuse.
Neda Agha-Soltan: During the disputed Iranian election, Neda was on her way to a pro-reform rally June 20 when a sniper allegedly shot and killed her. The haunting video of her last moments galvanized protesters and lent a face to the thousands shouting to make their votes count. Since the crackdown, the government has harassed and arrested prominent activists — women’s rights organizers and Nobel peace laureate Shirin Ebadi among them.
Stephen Harper: In recent years, the prime minister has killed funding for advocacy groups and ideologically neutered Status of Women Canada (a federal policy organization charged with improving the lives of women) by removing the essential “equality” part from its mandate. This September, Harper crowed about cuts to the Court Challenges Program, which financially assists people mounting constitutional court challenges — and called the people that used that funding a “left-wing fringe group.”
VANOC: It started when a group of female ski jumpers challenged VANOC’s decision to exclude their event at the 2010 Games, but ended Tuesday when the Supreme Court refused to hear their case. Sadly, it’s neither the first nor last Olympics-related trampling of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms — the city of Vancouver ordered the removal of an anti-Olympic mural, while VANOC demanded a local restaurant named Olympia change its moniker. The heroines in all this are the athletes — some are teenagers fighting for women’s rights, while at that age I was busy popping zits and moping.