This year has been a really intense year both personally and globally. Over one million folks have entered Europe as refugees of genocide, poverty, war, and sickness. As I am writing this, there have been 1,168 deaths at the hands of police officers this year. The year 2015 has marked a tremendous year of awakening for quite a few of us out there, and with that awakening comes great sadness and anger. Love must come with that sadness and anger, for without that love there is no hope. Without that hope, there is no chance for change. We are on the brink of a tremendous systematic change, as those who were complacent before can no longer stand idle as we watch lives lost.
These women have been my flicker of hope in 2015, whether they have been involved in deeply impactful movements like #BlackLivesMatter and #SayHerName, or are simply helping shift the gaze from patriarchal beauty standards one smile or shutterclick at a time. In no particular order, I present our Top 30 Women of 2015.
1. #BlackLivesMatter Creators Alicia Garza, Opal Tometti, and Patrisse Cullors. “These women are spearheading a generational movement,” says writer Monica Cadena. It won’t be male names that are remembered for this in history books, it will be these three women that created it all with a few initial social media posts.
Judge Cordell was the first woman African American judge in Northern California. Since retirement from the Office of Independent Police Auditor, she has been outspoken against a broken system, including the necessity of abolishing grand juries as well as a very concise plan to shape up police departments across the US. Keep your eyes peeled for a forthcoming interview with this judicial badass. She single-handedly renewed my faith in the judicial system after our interview.
3. Janet Mock
My bias may be showing, but Janet Mock is EVERYTHING to the feminist movement. She lives her life in many intersections: Black and Hawaiian, transgender, and a former sex worker. She grew up between Hawaii and Oakland, which further endears her to me since she was a local girl. Janet is my age, 31, but has already accomplished so much. She was an editor at People magazine for 5 years, has created transgender specific curriculum for schools, started the campaign #GirlsLikeUs to support transwomen, gave the Lavender Commencement speech to LGBTQ students at University of Southern California, appeared on Piers Morgan Live, and is now editor at Marie Claire and a regular T.V correspondent. Mock has been inspiration to women everywhere, regardless of whether they are trans or cis. For me, she is one of my ultimate heroes and gives is a constant source of hope and inspiration.
4. Gulabi (Pink) Gang of India. The Gulabi Gang is a group based in Uttar Pradesh, India which works toward the welfare of women. They function similarly to a neighborhood watch program, calling out acts of violence and protecting women in surrounding areas. The founder, Sampat Pal Devi, was a government health worker who had been a child bride that was forced to marry an abuser.
5. #FreeTheFive: Li Tingting (Li Maizi), Wei Tingting, Wang Man, Zheng Churan and Wu Rongrong
The Chinese feminists arrested and detained for 37 days for their protests against domestic violence on the eve of International Women’s Day in March. According to the South China Morning Post, this group of women is thought to be the first group in modern history to be arrested for fighting for women’s rights.
6. Suma Jane Dark
The politics of self-love and body positivity are very personal for me. Because of this, I feel it necessary to pay tribute to a photographer whom I had admired for a while and now get to call one of my best friends. Suma Jane Dark has helped shift the gaze of the camera from white patriarchal beauty standards to exhibit beautiful plus-sized and trans bodies (among others) infused with her own loving gaze. She has helped teach me that “body positivity” is much more than loving your imperfections, but also embracing however those around you choose to display their bodies, including plastic surgery. She helps reinforce that there is no wrong way to be a woman for me daily and has informed my own brand of feminism a great deal over the brief two or three years that we have known each other.
Is a socialist activist on the Seattle city council. She ran for Representative (and sadly lost), but has helped structure city policies like the $15 minimum wage. Her childhood experiences in India and distain for the caste system helped structure her Trostskyist politics with the Socialist Alternative party.
8. Katana Fatale.
Several years ago, I saw Katana in an article about amazing plus sized bloggers. Shocked that the (then) blue and green haired beauty lived just miles from me, I reached out to her to ask her to model for a project that I was working on. I have watched both her and her career blossom as she has grown to be a wonderful activist and ally, representing mid-size fat women.
9. Saucye West.
Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of modeling with Saucye at Queer Fashion Week. She was kind, patient, truly welcoming. Saucye met my nerves with her seasoned advice and made the day so much more enjoyable by being there. On a less personal side, she is absolutely integral to the plus size fashion movement because she is a stunningly beautiful larger plus size WOC. The “plus size” modeling industry has an astonishing lack of both.
While the White House was patting itself on the back for legalizing gay marriage, Ms. Gutiérrez disrupted the pride event and speech by saying “President Obama, release all LGBTQ immigrants from detention and stop all deportations.” This was a huge risk, as she herself was an undocumented transgender refugee from Mexico. Since then, she has continued to lead the fight as one of the founding members of FAMILIA TQLM, a group founded to help protect LGBTQ immigrants which are often excluded from conversations about immigration rights.
Before modeling, Rain worked as a firefighter. When I met Rain, the 6’2” model walked into our changing area of Queer Fashion Week with their buddy, Corey Wade, simply beaming and lighting the room up with their positive energy and humor. Dove shows us that you can embody both masculine and feminine qualities, that there is no wrong way to be a woman.
12. Mirna Valerio
Mirna is a fat athlete – a strong, dedicated, body-positive, long-distance runner. As a thirty-nine year old, plus-sized black woman, she knows that she is not what the idea of the “typical” runner looks like. Mirna inspires those around her and writes about her experience, as well as encouraging those of all sizes and expertise.
13. Serena Williams
Serena is part of the famous Williams Sisters tennis legacy. Alongside her sister Venus, the two helped changed the face of tennis which has historically been a predominantly white sport. This year, she led the womens’ singles tennis and has been voted as Athlete of the Year by many outlets.
14. Margaret Cho
Three words: Kill. My. Rapist. Margaret Cho released a new humorous, yet poignant album, titled “Kill My Rapist.” She’s a very outspoken Korean-American comedian who is also a champion of women’s’ rights. Cho uses her razor-sharp humor to shed light on the epidemic of sexual abuse, as well as advocate for people of color.
15. Virgie Tovar Virgie Tovar is one of the strongest voices in the body positive and fat liberation movements. As well as authoring “Hot and Heavy,” Virgie has created the #losehatenotweight campaign and Babe Camp, a four-week body positive intensive for those deprogramming themselves from diet culture. Virgie also now writes our body positive advice column, Dear Virgie.
Hailing from San Diego, Ashley Nell Tipton gave us all a collective burst of hope when she won the last season of Project Runway. Having followed her designs for years, I can attest to her extreme talent and creativity, and it’s such a wonderful feeling to see the rest of the world finally see it, too. I wish her the greatest of success.
17. Harnaam Kaur
Known for her full beard, Harnaam Kaur has been making headlines all year. She is a beautiful, vibrant, feminine South Asian woman who happens to have a naturally full, luscious beard. She looks you in the eye and DARES you to challenge her femininity as she embraces herself and challenges society’s idea of what it is to be a woman.
18. Kat Blaque
Kat Blaque is a tremendously important voice in African American politics and trans issues. As an opinion blogger/vlogger, she refuses to tiptoe around feelings and worry about white tears, which is exactly what the world needs right now. A true millennial voice, Kat has been vlogging on YouTube since she was 15!
19. Gabourey Sidibe
Gabby truly changed everything for fat women everywhere when she was cast as the title role in the film “Precious.” Since then, she has stolen the scene in American Horror Story: Coven and Empire. This year, she starred in a tremendously important sex scene in Empire. It forced everyone who was watched to see her, to see us fat women, as sexual women. I will be forever grateful to Gabourey Sidibe for this.
20. Loretta Lynch
Lynch is the 83rd and current Attorney General of the US. This year, she took FIFA officials to task. Soccer is the world’s most popular sport, even if it is not in the US. It was hugely important when she declared FIFA had engaged in “rampant, systematic and deep-rooted” corruption, and it was time to “bring wrongdoers to justice.”
21. Peche Di
As the creator of Trans Models, Peche Di has changed the world of modeling. Not only has Peche created one of the world’s only transgender modeling agencies, but she has also put the much deserved focus on women of color. Now, if only there were plus sized trans women of color being represented. Hopefully, that will be her next step.
22. Stephanie Lampkin
Founder and CEO of Blendoor, Stephanie Lampkin has helped diversify tech and empower women. Stephanie grew up in a rough neighborhood in DC, the child of single mother on welfare. She learned to code by the age of 13 and by the age of 16, she was competing in competitions across the States. Armed with a degree from Stanford and an MBA from MIT, Stephanie Lampkin wants to level the playing field for women in the tech industry. We currently only make up about 30% of tech workers, with only 10% in management or engineers, making the majority of the workforce white or Asian males. Blendoor’s app helps major tech companies recruit diverse populations in a streamlined manner. In a joint study between Stanford and the Paris School of Economics, people with foreign-sounding names were less likely to be chosen for jobs. As a remedy to this issue, Blendoor hides that information when the employer is initially looking at applicants. Applicants are allowed to see diversity statistics for their potential employers so they know what kind of environment they are entering. It all seems pretty simple, right? Here’s to hoping it becomes the industry standard!
23. Rita Banerji
Southeast Asian activist, Rita Banerji, has done wonders to increase the visibility of female gendercide within the subcontinent. In 2006, she started the social media campaign 50 Million Missing, which collected thousands of photos from 2400 photographers. Banerji says, “The data on the systemic and mass-scale violence on Indian women and girls I was gathering for my book was playing out in its stark grotesqueness in my everyday reality. A baby girl is abandoned on the streets in my city, and as residents wait for the police to respond, street dogs kill her and start eating her…I saw the connection and for the first time felt uneasy, ashamed and outraged.” Banjeri links the female gendercide to the lack of a female sexual revolution in India, one similar to that which occurred in North America and Europe decades ago. Without that, woman’s independent and individual rights and choices over her own body and have not been established the way they have been in the US and elsewhere. She feels that it is because, “It is about the recognition of women as individuals with certain fundamental rights, including that of safety and personal choices, which no one, not even the family, can violate… A girl or woman, within the Indian cultural context, is regarded as a family’s property. She does not have the ownership of her own body.”
24. Emily Lindin
Creator of The UnSlut Project, Lindin is “working to undo the dangerous “slut” shaming and sexual bullying in our schools, communities, media, and culture.” At the young age of 11, Emily was labeled a slut. I relate to this, as this was hurled at me in middle school even before I lost my virginity over the summer of eighth grade. Lindin’s “boyfriend” at the time put his hand down her pants, told all of their friends, and called her a slut. From there, all of the mothers began clucking about it until her own approached her and asked her if she was sexually active. She responded that she was “sexually passive.” Fast forward to years later, when 15-year-old Audrie Pott was raped and committed suicide, followed by Amanda Todd’s incessant “slut”-related bullying and subsequent suicide, Emily knew she had to speak up. As an adult who tried to commit suicide as a teen because of my own rape and sexual assaults, this all hits so very close to home. The idea of any young girl experiencing that brings me to tears, quite literally, as I write this. Emily published her own diary as a teenage girl to try to protect other young women who feel isolated and alone. If I had come across that when I was a teenager, I probably would not have tried. Thank you, Emily.
25. Ashley Callingbull-Burnham
This last August, Ashley Callingbull-Burnham was selected as the first aboriginal woman as well as the first Canadian to win the Mrs. Universe title. Far from the stereotypical bubbly, vacant pageant winner tropes that many feminists like myself guiltily imagine, she has proven to be a very outspoken indigenous rights activist, particularly those of Native Canadians. Much like the US, indigenous Canadian women are at a much higher risk of violence. Ashley has helped put those feminist issues on blast, demanding that more should be done to find missing indigenous women. She hails from the Enoch Cree Nation in Alberta, Canada.
26. Rupi Kaur
A Toronto-based Sikh photographer and poet, Rupi Kaur has created deeply personal, feminist art that should not be missed. She has been censored on Instagram for sharing images of her menstrual blood. It wasn’t the image of a tampon or a bloody vagina that got banned – it was the image of her, fully clothed, with menstrual blood on her pants and bed. Just a little leak. She was dinged for “mature” content. Fully covered body, no cleavage or butt cheeks… yet this was considered “mature” content. She boldly responded to IG refusing to adhere to their patriarchal standards and urged her followers to repost the image, as well. She stood up for her rights and the bodies of women everywhere and she won. Check out her website and her beautiful prose when you get the chance.
27. Rachele Cateyes, aka RadFatVegan, Glorifying Obesity, and Nearsighted Owl
Rachele has been a body positive advocate for a long time. Originally a fatshion blogger by the name of Nearsighted Owl, she has experienced merciless attacks from fatphobic troglodytes across the web. After taking a bit of time to rethink her relationship with the world around her, she came out of her cocoon as bad ass body positive artist, spinning the accusation of “glorifying obesity” and turning it into a brand: Glorifying Obesity. Rachele is on this list because she has shown me how to take the negative and turn it into something beautiful and inspirational.
28. Shonda Rhimes
I grew up with a dearth of complex female characters, let alone a focus on anyone other than white, thin, middle-class or higher folks. Shonda Rhimes has been responsible for creating complex female characters, as well as bringing a focus on lives of those who exist outside of that slim box. Shonda would be on my list if her sole achievement in life was creating OLIVIA FUCKING POPE, the badass fictional character played by Kerry Washington and based on real-life PR/crisis management monolith, Judy Smith. (And yes, I’m pretty sure that is not her middle name but it totally should be.)
29. Viola Davis
On a related note, Viola Davis is the head of the ShondaLand-produced “How To Get Away With Murder.” The show swept the Emmys this year with its well-crafted characters and enigmatic storyline. Davis won Best Actress In A Drama, making her the first African American to win the title. Thankfully, she used this opportunity to give a speech about the lack of roles for black women, illuminating the struggle at a pivotal moment.
30. Grace Lee Boggs
This year we lost one of the most important activists in modern history. Grace Lee Boggs was born in 1915 and spent at least seventy years of her 99-year life working as an activist for workers rights, civil rights, and women’s’ rights. Most recently, she had been a proponent for reimagining urban growth in the decaying Detroit area, rallying for the basic rights of its residents. Boggs died peacefully in her home on October 5, 2015.
Know someone we missed? Sound off in the comments below!