By Alexa Santory
Being a woman is a full time job. Merely existing in a feminine-presenting body means being seen as less superior, less capable, more emotional (not that there’s anything wrong with that), and as less of a person in general. Apply all of those times 5 if you’re a woman of color. We go through a lot of muck to be taken seriously in this patriarchal society, and even then there’s still questions of our credibility.
One thing is pretty much certain: women make things better and smashing barriers is one of our strong suits. This year probably feels like one big fever dream for some of us; it's been a year where it feels like we’ve regressed or have had to face our issues and ourselves in big, uncomfortable ways. Change is rarely a cakewalk, in fact it’s discomfort in its purest form. But it needs to happen in order for us to grow and move forward. Women have been at the forefront of some major changes this year, from a Black woman marrying into the Royal Family to a once unknown doctor coming forward with her truth about a Supreme Court Nominee, women have continued to knock down barriers and showcase their strength despite the odds stacked against them.
Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex
It may come as a surprise to some why a Duchess is on this list, but Meghan Markle shifted the dialogue surrounding the Royal Family in a huge way. She pretty much shocked the entire world when she accepted Prince Harry’s proposal last year, becoming the first Black woman set to marry into the Royal Family. For centuries, the British royals have married within their race and the proposal of Meghan and Harry brought out some of the ugliness that’s been lurking just below the surface of the general public’s psyche.
I remember hearing about Prince Harry dating a Black woman and the public outcry that came along with it. Meghan was attacked pretty viciously on various news outlets and Internet forums alike simply for...existing in an otherwise white realm. People said awful things about her and what it meant for the Royal Family. Her own family tried to ruin the experience for her. But in the end, love won, as it always does, and Meghan got her Prince. It’s so much more than a wedding, and even more than a royal wedding — it’s a message to people everywhere, especially young people, that we are more than the limits that society sets for us. Through all of it, Meghan remained poised and graceful, despite the nasty things people were saying about her and her relationship. An interracial marriage in one of the oldest monarchies in the world was absolutely unheard of until this year. And Meghan was just the girl to break those barriers.
AKA the woman behind shows like Scandal and Grey’s Anatomy. The woman who basically owns a night of the week on one of the biggest networks on television. People are tripping over themselves to work for this woman, and rightfully so. A role on a Shonda show is like a right of passage. Where could she possibly go from here???? Up, of course. Think: Netflix. Shonda Rhimes is no stranger to breaking glass ceilings. She recently signed a massive 9-figure, multi-show deal with the streaming service, easily one of the biggest given to a single person, that person being a Black woman and a bonafide cultural icon in terms of television production.
Her shows have stood the test of time. In a time when people are bored after a single season, Grey’s Anatomy is still on air and in syndication, while How To Get Away With Murder continues to be wildly successful. Now, we’re expecting year’s worth of content, spanning over 8 different shows coming to Netflix thanks to Ms. Rhimes. Successful female television producers are few and far between. Oftentimes, the people behind the stories are unable to tell them from a place of truth and understanding. Shonda Rhimes continues to show us that female voices need to be heard in the world of television and being wildly successful in your field isn’t merely the stuff of fantasy or something we should put on the back burner for more practical things. The Black female voice is something that is often forgotten in media. Shonda reminds us that they are as important now as they have always been. The glass ceiling has been broken.
Recognize this woman? That’s former First Lady Michelle Obama. -- A legend in her own right, but not the subject of this point. This is about Amy Sherald, a previously unknown artist from Baltimore, whom Mrs. Obama tapped to perform the high honor of painting her official portrait--the official portrait that will remain in the Smithsonian until the end of time. Both Barack and Michelle have commissioned Black artists for their portraits, something that has never been done before in the history of this country’s presidencies.
Amy Sherald has said of Michelle Obama that she is someone “every woman can relate to.” Instead of sticking to the tradition of painting the former First Lady against the backdrop of a somewhat opulent room in the White House, surrounded by crown molding and antiques, Sherald painted Michelle on her own, looking larger than life. Amy Sherald holds an MFA in painting from the Maryland Institute College of Art and has helped install and curate shows in the Museo de Arte Contemporaneo in Lima, Peru. She exclusively paints African-American figures and her style focuses on realism. Being the first Black person commissioned for the presidential portraits has opened many a door for Sherald, as you can imagine, but not without criticism (because there’s always some). People were indifferent about the color of Michelle Obama’s skin in the portrait, which appears grey, and claimed that it erases her identity as a Black woman. Sherald simply uses this technique as a way to go against the idea that color is race. Imagine, the first Black First Lady being painted in a slight gray scale by the first Black portrait artist commissioned by a former president. It’s bold in ways most people won’t understand and the purest message behind the piece: this woman is and always has been more than the color of her skin.
Dr. Christine Blasey Ford
Easily the most talked about woman this year, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford came forward with sexual assault allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. In the age of the Me Too movement, we’ve seen many women from many walks of life bravely speak out against the now-powerful men who once abused and assaulted them. This particular case struck a massive nerve for women everywhere because, like many of the other allegations, the assault in question took place when Ford and Kavanaugh were teenagers. We already know that people in this country have a hard time believing victims of assault, male or female. But this particular case completely polarized an entire nation of people, half saying it was false and the other half in full support of the victim, denouncing Kavanaugh’s nomination completely.
Christine Blasey Ford’s bravery was on full display in late September when she spoke in front of the Supreme Court, and the entire nation, to give her testimony of what happened that fateful night when she was only 14. It was a heroic act, one that brought me and many other women to tears, forcing men and women alike to face the ugliness and vulnerability that comes with bringing forth an allegation like this. Kavanaugh’s nomination was eventually accepted and he took his place as a judge in the highest court in the nation — a complete and total slap in the face to assault victims everywhere. His name, however, will always be tarnished, and try as he might to deny what Ford says he did, his reactions during the testimony tell us everything we need to know about him. Although this isn’t a “win” in the purest sense of the word, Ford’s actions contain multitudes of strength and bravery that have given victims of similar nature the courage to speak out and use their voices to break down the institutions that have been built against us. It’s not a win because Kavanaugh still got to keep his job, and actually got a promotion, but it is without a doubt a step in the right direction. That alone gives me, and millions of other women, hope.