10(-ish) People Who Kicked Ass in 2013

Pussy Riot

Here we are at the end of 2013, and of course that means it’s a time for listicles. I asked my fellow Skepchick writers who they thought kicked ass in 2013, in the realms that we cover here: skepticism, science, feminism, and secularism. Here are their nominations, in no particular order:

10. Chile Skeptic Association

Daniela Meli, admin of our Spanish sister site Escéptica, points out that this year the Chile Skeptic Association filed a complaint against the homeopathic product manufacturer Boiron for making false claims in advertisements, and they recently won, forcing the company to stop running their ads.

9. Wendy Davis

When Davis filibustered for 11 hours to prevent Texas Republicans from passing a bill that would prevent women from accessing safe and legal abortion in the state, she became the personification of the fight against the Religious Right’s assault on women’s reproductive health. Along with an army of pro-choice activists, she helped defeat the bill, but Governor Rick Perry pushed it through later, anyway. While Perry may have won that round, on October 3, Davis announced that she’ll be running for governor of Texas in 2014. Go Wendy!

8. Mikki Kendall

The hashtag #solidarityisforwhitewomen took Twitter by storm, allowing feminists of color a chance to speak their minds about issues that affect them – issues that are often ignored or glossed over by white feminists. Mikki Kendall is the writer and badass who started it. You can read Kendall’s thoughts on the intersection of race and gender in one of the many great interviews she’s given in the ensuing months.

7. Beyoncé

When Beyoncé released her fifth album out of nowhere a few weeks ago, Skepchick Headquarters shut down so that everyone could go home early and listen to song after song about a lady getting oral. And it was good. (We haven’t had a back channel discussion yet about how she sampled the Challenger audio in her love song, but my feeling is, “Yeah, maybe too soon.”)

6. Suey Park

Park followed in Mikki Kendall’s footsteps when she launched the hashtag #NotYourAsianSidekick, inspiring a flurry of fascinating and often depressing tales of racism and sexism directed at Asian American women. Like Kendall, Park has thoughtfully and creatively challenged the idea of white as the default color of feminism. Check out interviews with her here and here.

5. Malala Yousafzai

Yousafzai is the Pakistani teenager who has continued to campaign for education for girls despite being shot in the head by the Taliban. She was discharged from the hospital in January of 2013, and by October was speaking at the UN to call for a commitment to educating women. She should have won the Nobel Peace Prize and she’s a far better Person of the Year than the Pope, but hey, she’s only 16. She has time. Check her out on the Daily Show.

4. Pussy Riot

You don’t get much more punk rock than rampaging into a church and then serving time in a horrific Mordovian prison camp. The women’s imprisonment was starting to make Russia look so bad that they were released last week, but they say they’ll continue to agitate for the removal of Vladmir Putin.

3. Anita Sarkeesian

If you ask a random male Redditor, you will learn that the greatest threat to the video game industry today is a series of calm, well-sourced videos critiquing their portrayal of women. Anita Sarkeesian made headlines last year when her Kickstarter campaign drew misogynists like moths to a flame. She didn’t back down from the onslaught of rape and death threats, and instead has started releasing the excellent series of Tropes vs. Women in Video Games, which are all available for free on YouTube, as catalogued on Feminist Frequency.

2. Zerlina Maxwell

Continuing our theme of Women Who Refuse to Back Down: back in March, Zerlina Maxwell went on Fox News to talk about rape and victim blaming, saying such obvious and sensible things as, “I don’t think that we should be telling women anything. I think we should be telling men not to rape women and start the conversation there with prevention.” Obviously, this resulted in a flood of rape and death threats. Instead of backing down, Maxwell has continued to speak up for women in general and rape survivors in particular. You can follow her on Twitter @zerlinamaxwell.

1. DNLee5, Monica Byrne, Hannah Waters, Kathleen Raven, Karen James, and Scores of Other Female Scientists

Biologist and Scientific American blogger DNLee5 caused a minor internet explosion back in October when she turned down a non-paying gig offered to her by Ofek, Blog Editor of biology-online.org, only to then have Ofek call her a whore. DNLee5 blogged about the incident, but Scientific American removed that post, forcing her to tell her story elsewhere (including here on Skepchick). The incident sparked a larger conversation about what women – particularly women of color – experience in the sciences, and how their experiences are often dismissed or covered up.

Only one week later, Monica Byrne blogged about the sexual harassment she experienced from the much-beloved Scientific American blog admin Bora Zivkovic. While people were still debating whether or not she was telling the truth (with many criticizing her for naming Zivkovic), other women like Hannah Waters (EDIT: and Kathleen Raven, as Ed Yong has reminded me) stepped forward to add their experiences. Eventually the evidence was overwhelming, and Zivkovic resigned from the board of ScienceOnline.

These stories inspired many more women to speak more openly about the harassment they have experienced regularly in the sciences, and how that harassment has impacted their own self-worth. My good friend Karen James, a biologist and all-around amazing human being, started the Twitter hashtag #ripplesofdoubt for women to discuss the negativity that inevitably emanates from episodes of harassment.

It’s a huge story that spans disciplines and age and background, and the one heartening thing to take away from this is that more and more women are speaking up about it despite possible repercussions for their careers, and more and more men are taking notice of it. That’s the first step toward creating a better world where women truly have equal opportunities to pursue their work and education without fear of sexual harassment and assault. Here’s to all the women who bravely spoke out in 2013, and to all the women they’ve inspired to speak out in 2014.

Who else kicked ass in 2013? Let us know in the comments!

Avatar of Rebecca Watson
Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org and appears on the weekly Skeptics' Guide to the Universe podcast. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

2 Comments

  1. Avatar of Kristjan Wager

    Just one minor correction to your post. Monica Byrne had in fact blogged about it back in 2012. What happened one week after DNLee5′s experiences was that Monica Byrne updated her post, naming Bora Zivkovic

  2. Avatar of lulú

    Thank you guys for pointing out the Chilean Skeptic Association’s achievement :)

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