A Good Year for Women's Voices

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Mary Rose Somarriba
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Art Credit: Cate Parr

Goodbye 2014. Yet another year has come and gone. As I look back over this past year from a cultural standpoint, we have a lot to be thankful for. Sure, there were a number of bloopers and cringeworthy moments. But by and large this year has seen growing momentum in one area that is very promising: Women’s objectification in media is increasingly being called out for what it is.

In a strange way, we have Miley Cyrus to thank for this. The latter half of 2013 saw a whirlwind of commentary around the young singer’s transformation from Hannah Montana to on-stage twerker. The stark contrast between childish appearance and mature content sparked a national dialogue on whether hypersexualized imagery is healthy and empowering or harmful and objectifying.

Then Beyoncé’s self-titled digital album was released, followed by explicit performances of songs like “Drunk in Love” at award shows. Nicki Minaj released the song “Anaconda” with lyrics as explicit as its  cover. People like Shakira, who gave less-than-hypersexualized performances were called boring, especially when compared to Jennifer Lopez who shook her booty for all to see.

But rather than just blindly consuming, this year it was far more common to see people of all stripes talking about it, in a serious way.

Beyoncé 2.014, for instance, became a national conversation. Was it appropriate for TV, or did it cross the line in explicit imagery? Was it empowering and feminist, or was it an attempt to one-up the sex appeal of other females on the music scene like Rihanna and Rihannabes?

When naked photographs of celebrities like Jennifer Lawrence were stolen and leaked online, a global conversation ensued. It is not okay to objectify women, many shouted from the rooftops of social media. Yet millions of others exploited the opportunity to see their favorite celebs in the nude. And that wasn't even the end of the story--ultimately, it became a moment for a cultural conversation on whether the sexting phenomenon is objectifying not just celebrities but ourselves.

This year we saw widespread outcry to misogynistic bullying and objectifying video-game imagery in what became known as Gamergate. We saw a cat-calling video go viral. We saw public outcry to the Victoria Secret “perfect body” campaign to the point where the lingerie company edited its online marketing. Yes, sexist and unrealistic imagery keeps being churned out in the media and that’s a bummer; but the good news is we’re talking more about it than ever. And we’re pushing back.

This is the year when women’s claims were heard, even when up against an American icon, Bill Cosby. Voices that never before received any attention, by over two dozen women (many of whom were young actresses, looking up to Cosby as a mentor figure) have started a national conversation. While many of these women have sadly not yet been (and possibly will never to be) given a hearing in the court of law due to the decades-old nature of many of the claims, but their stories are no longer scoffed at--Vanity Fair even published one by acclaimed I model Beverly Johnson. It’s not a good look, and Americans are noticing.

This was also the year of #YesAllWomen and #BeenRapedNeverReported when thousands of women’s voices spoke out about sexism and assault that until now they kept tucked away in secrecy. This was the year when Columbia University student Emma Sulkowicz carried her mattress around campus in protest to her rape, making headlines and bringing attention to a nationwide problem on campuses. Yes, we may have taken two steps back with the badly reported Rolling Stone story on UVA, but that isn’t the whole story. Women’s accounts are being taken more seriously, and more women are speaking up. There will no doubt be people who abuse it, and there may be bumps in the road, but overall we’re moving in a good direction.

Yes, there are still obstacles women face on a daily basis, and, yes, they are many. But that shouldn’t be the measure of a day, a month, or a year. We should measure instead by how many times we face these challenges and get back up. After all, each day is a new day. And tonight, it’s a new year.