It’s safe to say that 2015 was a watershed year in terms of pop culture. It was, after all, the year that simultaneously gave us Pizza Rat, Katy Perry’s sad dancing Super Bowl shark, those incredibly obnoxious “Straight Outta Compton” Facebook filters, and everything to do with Drake and “Hotline Bling.” But, silliness and memes aside, it was also a huge year for powerful ladies in pop culture, where women spoke up, got recognition, and didn’t apologize.
True, we still have to fight the patriarchy, even when it comes to razors and lotion, but even small steps are better than nothing.
We’ve rounded up the top five most powerful moments that proved that 2015 was not only the year of Drake on Cake, but the year that things started to really change for the better.
The Year of Breakthrough Roles.
Viola Davis, who is positively brilliant as defense lawyer Annalise Keating in ABC’s “How to Get Away with Murder,” finally got recognition for it, in the form of an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series this year. But, it was also the first time a black woman won the coveted statuette in the history of the Emmys. “The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity,” Davis, 50, said in her acceptance speech. “You can not win an Emmy for roles that simply are not there.”
And in a conversation with the New York Times earlier this month, she noted the way female characters are written for television. “So many women characters are extensions of male fantasy,” she told the Times. “They’re all coming out of the same factory, but I don’t recognize them from my life: skinny, young, cute. They drink like fish, have sex with 10 men in one day, but they’ve never been sexually abused or had any obstacles.” #Preach.
The Year of Openly Talking about Equal Pay
Equal pay had a serious moment in the spotlight in 2015, especially among Hollywood’s leading ladies (and that, of course, was all spurred from when Sony execs’ emails were hacked, revealing a serious disparity in how male vs. female stars were paid for their roles). In October, universally beloved Oscar-winner Jennifer Lawrence (aka everybody’s future BFF) wrote an essay for Lenny questioning why exactly she gets paid so much less than her male counterparts. Though she conceded negotiating over a few million dollars wasn’t exactly relatable (please let that be our problem in the new year!), she was made at herself for not haggling for fear of not coming across as “likeable.”
“I would be lying if I didn’t say there was an element of wanting to be liked that influenced my decision to close the deal without a real fight,” she wrote, adding that she didn’t want to come across as “difficult” or “spoiled.” She added: “This could be a young-person thing. It could be a personality thing. I’m sure it’s both. But this is an element of my personality that I’ve been working against for years, and based on the statistics, I don’t think I’m the only woman with this issue.”
And who could forget Patricia Arquette’s powerful acceptance speech for her lead role in “Boyhood” where she demanded equal pay for women? It also kind of ended like a presidential stumping speech, but that’s just a bonus.
(Photo: Theo Wenner/Rolling Stone)
The Year of Refocusing the Male Gaze.
If you needed further proof that ideologies are (finally) shifting, look no further than legacy publications that have also (finally, and dare we say, finally!) changed the way they present women. Take, for instance, the famous Pirelli Calendar, a 50-year-old marker of artfully-but explicitly—shot nude models like Kate Moss, Heidi Klum, and Lara Stone. Not this year. Sure, we saw Amy Schumer and Serena Williams posing nude, but instead of an overly sexualized image, the shots showed off each ladies’ forte—an impeccable physical understanding of comedy (Amy) and a perfectly muscular body that dominates on the tennis court (Serena).
Then there’s Adele’s November Rolling Stone cover. The magazine didn’t dress her in just a tie, a wet tank top, or hair extensions, instead outfitting the 27-year-old “Hello” singer is in a plush white bathrobe. She’s also photographed in natural light, with minimal makeup (and a telling absence of her signature black cat-eye) which seemed to say, “This is my identity as a singer, not some sexed-up male fantasy.”
And Playboy, the magazine whose bread and butter has been provocative shots of everyone from Marilyn Monroe to Kim Kardashian, is putting a stop to nudity in the new year following Pamela Anderson doing one final victory lap, instead focusing on the quality of articles (which is why you were reading them in the first place, riiiight?)
The Year of Amy Schumer
What mythical creature could simultaneously joke about misogyny, the impossible double-standards of makeup, win some serious awards for her work, and model in the Pirelli calendar, all while filming a movie (Trainwreck) and getting a reported $8-10 million-dollar book deal? Why, only Amy Schumer, of course. The comedienne’s on-pointe comedy in Inside Amy Schumer tackles feminist issues like reproductive rights, but without a hint of college campus feminist indignation. The brilliance lies in Schumer’s reach. Her comedy is, first and foremost, super approachable for not only women, but men, and has brought serious issues to center stage through pithy yet poignant skits. No small task, and also, a huge victory.
The Year of Female Superheroes (No Cape Required).
OK, before you get all bent out of shape, there has been a litany of lady superheroes throughout the years including several dozen Wonder Women, Catwoman, and lots of X-Men mutants, for starters. But this year was the year of relatable superheros with flaws. Need proof? Look no further than Netflix’s “Jessica Jones” (with Krysten Ritter as the title character), a sort of brooding, neo-gothic Buffy who also happens to have super strength and an impressive vertical leap. It’s a humanizing, non sexually-charged take of a complex woman living in a complex world. She’s not a sidekick, and she’s not just there for the male superheroes. Finally.