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2016: the year that was in feminist news

Image: Pascal Maramis via Wiki Commons (CC BY 2.0)

Image: Pascal Maramis via Wiki Commons (CC BY 2.0)

Sitting from where we are now, looking back over the year that was maybe more a study in crippling remorse than anything else, and the news doesn’t appear to be getting brighter for women or other sexual, racial or social minorities. 2016 has seen a rise of female-identifying young people taking to the streets to fight for feminist issues, mostly catalysed by the widely covered and hotly contested US Presidential election between Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton. It has also seen the rise of public scrutiny of sexual assault cases, particularly on tertiary campuses (though apparently treated with indifference during the election of the highest position of power in the USA). And so here it is: 2016 in review. Peek quickly, and then wash your eyes out with soap.

Gloria Steinem Claims that Female Bernie Supporters are there for the Boys
At the beginning of the year, many eyes were resolutely focused on the democratic primary election between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. These campaigns were somewhat marred with ugly remarks thrown at their opponents, many by surrogates. One particular remark made by feminist icon Gloria Steinem on behalf of Clinton was that women who were working for the Sanders campaign were only there because ‘that’s where the boys are’. It was a disappointing remark to be made by a woman who has been held in such high regard by the feminist community, and sparked an important discussion around the mistreatment aimed at women who outwardly professed to not support a Clinton presidency.

University of Queensland Bake Sale Reflecting Gender Pay Gap Earns Death Threats
Another issue that has been brought to the fore, largely by public statement or open letters penned by prominent female public figures, is the gender-based wage gap and wealth inequality experienced by women in high-performing positions. To bring attention to this issue, students from the University of Queensland decided to run a bake sale for students, and charge them based on a representation of their salary in the workforce. Men were asked to pay a full dollar for each baked good, while women were charged 75c, as demonstrated by the percentage of a male’s salary that a woman earns. Women of colour were charged even less: 55c for a snack, as a proportion of their wage in the same position. This event, though lauded by the media and many students, elicited death and rape threats from many of the male students at UQ, highlighting the issues of discussing such discrepancies at a public level.

Receptionist is Dismissed from Work for not Wearing Heels
Speaking of unfair treatment of women in the workforce, an event that earned great attention and spurned multiple think pieces was that of a woman who was sent home from work at a corporate finance company for not wearing high heels. Nicola Thorp was given the option to leave her office to buy a pair of heels, and reportedly “laughed” at the option and refused to do so, before being told to take the rest of the day off. She then published a petition calling for the law to be changed so companies can no longer force women to wear high heels to work.

Stanford Sexual Assault Case
Possibly the most publicised sexual assault case in 2016 was Brock Turner’s rape of another student on the Stanford University’s campus. The story gained traction after many media outlets focused on Turner’s potential as a skilled swimmer, rather than the allegations of his crime. It was further accelerated when Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky sentenced Turner to six months’ confinement in the Santa Clara County jail to be followed by three years of probation. With convictions that could lead to 14 years in prison, the Stanford community and many others across the globe were outraged by the lowly consequences that were faced for serious sexual assault. This sparked debate surrounding the seriousness of sex crimes and the lack of import given to it by law officials.

Olympic Swimmer Fu Yuanhui Speaks Openly About Her Period
With a fresh gush of welcomed positivity, one of the highlights of the Olympic season was less about shotput and more about periods. Olympic Swimmer Fu Yuanhui captured the hearts of people across the globe as her quirky mannerisms and down-to-earth approach to media interviews began to gain traction online. Yuanhui’s most memorable comments were about her menstrual cramps, and how they were bothering her during her swimming. Given that menstruation is often a taboo topic for many television stations, her off-the-cuff comments made big waves by smashing these taboos and opening a discussion of the unspoken trials faced by women in competitive sport.

Woman in Burkini Banned from Beach in France
In a controversial move that had the large majority of the globe re-hashing the burqa debate (clearly what the islamophobic and racially suspicious year of 2016 sorely needed), armed police were photographed forcing a Muslim woman to remove her ‘burkini’ (Burqa-style swimsuit) on a beach in Nice, in line with a set of France’s secular laws. With many believing that this act was representative of a larger climate of the oppression of racial and religious minorities, particularly islamophobia, the pictures of the forced removal of the woman’s clothing were widely circulated and admonished.

Bono Wins Woman of the Year Award
While most of us were focusing on one particular woman being silenced and oppressed, it appears that Glamour magazine was seeing to it that a whole slew of contenders for the magazine’s Woman of the Year got to join in on the fun. The 2016 title, unceremoniously being switched to Man of the Year, was awarded to U2 front man Bono, who himself claimed that he believed he didn’t deserve the title. What a year.

Donald Trump is Elected as President of the United States
And of course, how could we forget the news of the year. If anything, we should appreciate the fact that we have been yet again reminded that a man who has been accused of and admitted to acts of rape, sexual assault, fraud and tax evasion is still seen as more suited to the highest office in the political sphere than a woman. We still can, however, cling to the faint optimism that Hillary Clinton did in fact win the popular vote, and that there are women of colour, sexual minorities, non-binary folks and everyone in between who will be continuing to fight for their right to express their freedoms and themselves for the next four years. After looking back at the year that was, we can now look into the future and hope, pray, that we learn from our mistakes and make 2017 a better year.

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