For many of us, the passing months since the election of Donald Trump have often felt like mile markers, designations of how far we’ve come and where we still need to go. 2019, in ways, has existed as an in-between year, time spent suspended, trying to figure out how we arrived and how we’ll continue on.
It started off on a positive note, as a historic group of women was sworn into the 116th Congress and, from there, quickly vacillated between highs and lows. Women entered, and exited, the presidential race. Taylor Swift dropped an album; Meghan Markle had a baby. Longtime ELLE advice columnist E. Jean Carroll accused the president of sexual assault; migrants died while in U.S. custody. There was Euphoria, Hot Girl Summer, “Sorry to this man,” and breath-of-fresh-air music from Billie Eilish and Lizzo. Lilly Singh became the first woman to host a late night network television show in more than 30 years.
There were also more mass shootings and impeachment proceedings. Jeffrey Epstein was arrested on charges of sex trafficking and then died in jail, leaving his victims without a clear path forward.
But in taking stock of the year, it feels all the more essential to remember the moments in which women held power—when they stole the show, won the game, inspired action, changed the culture, or simply sparked joy in the midst of it all. Here, a look back at just 19 of those moments.
1. The U.S. Women’s National Team won the 2019 Women’s World Cup.
The U.S. Women’s National Team lit up the summer after winning its fourth World Cup in a game against France. What followed was a joyous ticker-tape parade and even more attention paid to the team’s suit against the U.S. Soccer Federation for gender discrimination. Back in March, the team sued for unequal conditions and pay inequity, and fans quickly caught on, often chanting “equal pay” around the team.
During the parade, Megan Rapinoe—the team’s co-captain who had previously said she wasn’t “going to the fucking White House” if they won—told the crowd: “There’s nothing that can faze this group. We got pink hair and purple hair. We got tattoos and dreadlocks. We got white girls and black girls and everything in between. We got straight girls and gay girls.” She said, “This is my charge to everyone: We have to be better, we have to love more and hate less. Listen more and talk less. It is our responsibility to make this world a better place.”
2. Chanel Miller published her debut memoir, coming forward as the victim from the Stanford sexual assault case.
More than four years after we were introduced to Emily Doe, the woman on the other side of the Stanford sexual assault case, Chanel Miller decided it was time we learned her name. In her incredible memoir Know My Name, Miller takes us through the night Brock Turner sexually assaulted her behind a dumpster—and the trial, media coverage, trauma, and healing that followed. Miller has since been called an “extraordinary writer” and her book “a beautifully written, powerful, important story.” While Miller’s memoir only came out this September, it will have a ripple effect for years to come.
3. Greta Thunberg inspired millions to participate in the Global Climate Strike.
This September, millions joined together around the world to draw attention to the global inaction surrounding the current climate crisis. The strike was largely organized by teenagers with 16-year-old environmental activist Greta Thunberg leading the charge. On the day of the strike, Thunberg told a crowd in New York City, “If you belong to that small group of people who feel threatened by us, then we have some very bad news for you. Because this is only the beginning. Change is coming whether they like it or not.”
4. Angelica Ross became the first trans person to host a presidential forum.
Pose star Angelica Ross became the first trans person to host a presidential forum this September when she led the two-hour LGBTQ forum in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. According to The Guardian, the forum was the first “dedicated to the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender voters since 2007.” When asked how she felt about the historic moment, she told The Guardian it was “about damn time.” “And not just for myself,” she continued, “but for black trans women whose voices have been so powerful, necessary and missing in this movement.“
5. Selena Gomez released the best break up songs of the year.
It had been over a year since Gomez’s last solo single, but this fall, she proved she’s worth the wait. The pop singer dropped both “Lose You to Love Me” and “Look at Her Now” back-to-back in October, giving us the two break up anthems we needed to finish out the year. The first features Gomez singing about coming back to herself after a difficult split, while the second is a reassurance to all her fans that she’s doing just fine. Also, the music videos are fire.
6. NASA completed its first all-female spacewalk.
This October, two American women completed NASA’s first ever all-female spacewalk when astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir went outside the International Space Station to replace a power controller. The spacewalk lasted seven hours and 17 minutes and even included a call with President Trump, according to the New York Times. While there was an all-female spacewalk scheduled back in March, NASA didn’t have enough of the appropriately-sized spacesuits to accommodate the astronauts.
7. Period. End of Sentence. won the Oscar for Best Documentary Short.
Director and producer Rayka Zehtabchi said it best when she went to accept the award for Best Documentary Short and told the audience, “I can’t believe a film about menstruation just won an Oscar!” The documentary, which takes place in rural India, explores the taboos and stigma that come along with menstruation. Speaking about the attention the film received, Zehtabchi told The Hollywood Reporter, “There’s millions of stories about menstruation, and I just think that we need to hear women’s voices and we need to learn about their experiences.”
8. Gayle King interviewed R. Kelly.
CBS anchor Gayle King sat down for an interview with R. Kelly following the release of the 2019 documentary Surviving R. Kelly, which details years of sexual abuse allegations against the R&B singer. During the conversation, he became more and more upset before exploding at King, jumping up and screaming in front of the cameras. King kept her cool during the outburst and, once the interview was released, quickly gained recognition for her composure. Kelly was charged with ten counts of sexual abuse in Illinois earlier this year.
9. Cyntoia Brown was granted clemency.
This January, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam granted clemency to Cyntoia Brown, who was serving a life sentence for killing a man who paid her for sex when she was just 16 years old. Brown ended up serving 15 years before Haslam commuted her sentence, and her case caught the attention of activists and celebrities across the country, including Kim Kardashian West and Rihanna; many argued that Brown had been a victim of sex trafficking and had only acted in self defense. After granting her clemency, Haslam said, “Cyntoia Brown committed, by her own admission, a horrific crime at the age of 16. Yet, imposing a life sentence on a juvenile that would require her to serve at least 51 years before even being eligible for parole consideration is too harsh, especially in light of the extraordinary steps Ms. Brown has taken to rebuild her life.”
10. Joy Harjo became the first Native American U.S. poet laureate.
Succeeding poet Tracy K. Smith, Joy Harjo was announced as the United State’s 23rd Poet Laureate, making her the first Native American poet to hold the position. Harjo is a member of the Muscogee Creek Nation, and this summer released a new collection of poems titled An American Sunrise. After being named to the position, Harjo told NPR, “It’s such an honoring for Native people in this country, when we’ve been so disappeared and disregarded. And yet we’re the root cultures, over 500-something tribes and I don’t know how many at first contact. But it’s quite an honor … I bear that honor on behalf of the people and my ancestors. So that’s really exciting for me.”
11. Lady Gaga set a new standard for Met Gala entrances.
Lady Gaga had a moment at this year’s Met Gala when she arrived on the red carpet in not one, not two, but four different looks. Wearing all Brandon Maxwell, Gaga changed from a large pink cape to a black ballgown to a tight, hot pink dress and then finally stripped down to her glittery undergarments complete with fishnet tights and heeled platform boots. A nod to the gala’s “Camp” theme, the whole undressing performance took place in 15 minutes, proving just why Gaga was named a co-host for the evening.
12. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern exemplified leadership after the Christchurch shooting.
New Zealand suffered its deadliest-ever mass shooting in March after a shooter opened fire in two mosques in the city of Christchurch. In the wake of the tragedy, which killed 51 people, 39-year-old prime minister Jacinda Ardern was tasked with a comforting a grieving country. Quickly, she condemned the violence and the suspected killer’s anti-immigration stance, while also announcing that she’d push for significant gun reform laws and launch an inquiry into the shooting. Ardern also announced that the government would pay for the victims’ funerals, and she visited refugees and members of the Muslim community who were affected. Even six months after, Ardern was still pushing for tighter gun laws. At a time when mass shootings are uncomfortably common, Ardern showed what a steadfast and compassionate leader looks like.
13. Women dominated awards.
Where to begin? Starting in February, women of color made history at the Oscars when Ruth Carter and Hannah Beachler both became the first black people to win in each of their categories, costume design and production design, respectively. Domee Shi, the first woman to ever direct a Pixar short, also took home an award for best animated short.
Sandra Oh became the first Asian woman to host the Golden Globes, while Rachel Chavkin took home the Tony Award for best direction of a musical after being the only woman nominated in the category and the only woman directing a Broadway musical that season. Phoebe Waller-Bridge swept the Emmys, taking home three awards for her show Fleabag, while Kacey Musgraves won the Grammy Award for album of the year, and two female authors, Susan Choi and Sarah M. Broom, earned the top awards in fiction and nonfiction at this year’s National Book Awards.
To end the year, women dominated the 2020 Grammy nominations. Lizzo and Billie Eilish earned eight and six nominations, respectively, while Ariana Grande scored five. Eilish also became the youngest person ever to be nominated in the top four Grammy categories.
14. A historic number of female candidates were onstage at a U.S. presidential debate.
Throughout United States history, there have only been five female candidates to ever participate in a presidential debate. But this year alone, six women appeared on the debate stage, marking the first time that more than one woman participated in a presidential debate at a time. It initially happened in June when Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar, and Tulsi Gabbard took the stage together, and then again the next night with Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Marianne Williamson.
15. A female comedian confronted Harvey Weinstein to his face.
Two years after the New York Times and the New Yorker published damning reports detailing abuse allegations against Harvey Weinstein, the former Hollywood producer showed up at an event for young artists in downtown Manhattan. Kelly Bachman, a comedian and sexual assault survivor who was performing that night, decided to call out Weinstein during her set and was promptly booed by men in the audience. Later, two different attendees, Zoe Stuckless and Amber Rollo confronted Weinstein at his table and were asked to leave. Videos of Bachman’s set and Stuckless’ encounter both went viral, and Bachman later wrote in the Times, “The overwhelming support I have received has made all of the difference, and it feels like I’ve somehow gotten a little bit of my lost time back.” Weinstein is still facing criminal charges.
16. Everything about the Hustlers movie.
As GQ once wrote, “Quick Reminder That Hustlers Is the Most Important Movie of 2019.” The film, which follows a group of strippers who begin drugging their clients in order to steal from them, received significant hype following announcements of its all-star cast, including Jennifer Lopez, Constance Wu, and Keke Palmer. In the end, Hustlers was a testament to female friendship and the power of the female gaze. Plus, it made millions more than expected.
17. Elite runners spoke out against Nike’s damaging practices and policies.
Back in May, U.S. national champion and Olympic runner Alysia Montaño came forward in a New York Times op-ed to share how her sponsor, Nike, suggested pausing her contract and not paying her when she told them about her plans to get pregnant. Olympian Kara Goucher had a similar experience, with Nike telling her that they would stop paying her until she started racing again post-pregnancy. Their stories, along with similar ones from Olympic gold medalist Allyson Felix, caused Nike to since change its policies, ending these penalties for pregnant athletes.
Then in November, Mary Cain, who became the youngest American track and field athlete to make it onto a World Championships team in 2013, told the New York Times another disturbing story about her time at Nike. After being signed onto the Nike’s Oregon Project team, Cain says she was emotionally and physically abused and told to lose weight, even when it was detrimental to her physical and mental health. While the Oregon Project has since shut down, due to an unrelated doping scandal surrounding her former coach Alberto Salazar, a handful of athletes have praised Cain for sharing her story.
18. Saudi Arabia made major changes to its guardianship law.
Saudi Arabia made significant changes to its male guardianship system over the summer, adjusting the regulations on a woman’s ability to travel. The guardianship system has long required women to have a male “guardian” (typically a family member or husband) who has power over many aspects of her life, including her finances, travel, and decision to marry.
As of August, it’s been reported that any Saudi woman over the age of 21 is now able to get a passport and leave the country without the permission of a male guardian. According to Vox, women will also have employment discrimination protections and will be able to live apart from their husbands.
However, as the new law went into place, women’s rights activists remain in Saudi prison. Rothna Begum, a senior women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch, told Vox, “Saudi Arabia’s long overdue legal reforms should provide Saudi women a much greater degree of control over their lives. But this is a bittersweet victory as courageous Saudi women who pushed for these changes remain behind bars or face unfair trials.”
19. Simone Biles became the most decorated gymnast in World Championship history.
We already know Biles is the best, and this year at the World Championships, she proved why yet again. During the 2019 competition, Biles won five more gold medals (in team competition, all-around, vault, floor, and beam), making her the most decorated gymnast in World Championship history. After this year’s Worlds, she also had two more signature moves named for her: the “Biles II,” a double backflip with three twists on floor, and the “Biles,” a double-twisting double backflip dismount on beam.