Covering the lady news can be depressing business: Who said what offensive thing about rape now? What angry old white male politician is trying to regulate my uterus? Do we really have to debate yet again whether women can be funny? In keeping track of it all, it can be hard to remember some times that women are making real and important progress. So, in honor of the holiday, here’s a quick list of things that happened in 2012 that feminists should be thankful for.
The contraception mandate—and Rush Limbaugh. The year kicked off right with the HHS qualifying contraception as one of the many preventive health care services insurance plans will have to cover without a copay. The move, recommended by the Institute of Medicine, was intended to be a cost-effective way to reduce the widespread negative health outcomes resulting from unintended pregnancy. The Obama campaign also highlighted the policy as an example of the President's commitment to women’s equality.
All great things, but let's not forget to be grateful for the crazy right wing reaction all of the above inspired, which expanded far beyond what anyone in the pro-choice community could have hoped and likely had a hand in Obama's victory. Conservatives blew right past the expert recommendations and emphasis on the long-term savings that result from preventing unintended pregnancy to conduct a yearlong freakout over women having sex for “free.” For sheer entertainment value, it’s hard to beat watching four-times-married Rush Limbaugh and noted sexual harasser Bill O’Reilly denounce women who have used contraception—99% of non-virgins—for their supposed moral turpitude. Thanks, guys.
The record number of women in Congress. Women gained more seats in Congress this year, setting a new record, if falling well short of the ultimate goal of parity. Twenty seats in the Senate and 78 in the House will be held by women come January. For the first time in history, the Democratic caucus of the House will not be majority white men. Of course, for the foreseeable future, the Republican caucus will be, but the growing diversity on one side of the aisle is rapidly changing our nation’s mental image of who a politician is to be more reflective of our population as a whole.
Pro-choice electoral wins. Women didn’t just win in representation, either. Congress gained 18 pro-choice politicians this election and lost 10 anti-choice ones. Congress additionally lost nine members with mixed records on reproductive rights. As Republicans increasingly embrace an extreme anti-choice agenda that includes defunding Planned Parenthood and supporting no-exception abortion laws, Democrats have finally started to get more aggressive in their support of reproductive rights. The result is that anti-choicers are starting to scare people, driving more voters into the pro-choice camp.
Women dominating tech usage. This year, a wealth of data made it clear that, contrary to gender stereotypes, women dominate the purchasing and use of new digital technologies. Women put a lot more hours on cell phones, e-readers, and the Internet than men. Feminists of previous generations placed a lot of hope on the idea that technological advancement would help women achieve equality with men, and these developments suggest they were right to think so.
Hillary Clinton having the last laugh. When Clinton first gained national prominence as First Lady, she was widely reviled and mocked for being a nerdy feminist. Well, in the past 20 years, nerdy feminists have become the cool girls, and Clinton’s trajectory reflects that. She went from being pitied for her husband’s cheating to being respected as a Senator to being beloved as the Secretary of State. Now she is retiring from that role, triumphant over all those who hated and doubted her. If you start to worry that the good guys never win, one quick look at Texts from Hillary Clinton will buoy your hopes again.