10 Women (and Girls!) Who Inspired Us in 2017

This time last year I was devastated, but here at the end of the year I’m feeling pretty optimistic. I believe we are at a tipping point: From the Women’s March to the defeat of Roy Moore, women and girls this year stepped up, spoke out and kicked butt to demand our rights.

David Geitgey Sierralupe / Creative Commons

In particular, these 10 women and girls inspired me most (and taught me important lessons along the way).

#10: Six-Year-Old Sophie Cruz Reminded Us That Young Women Are Leading the Way

The daughter of undocumented Mexican immigrants, Sophie captured the hearts of millions at the Women’s March in Washington D.C. with her call for resistance: “We are here together making a chain of love to protect our families. Let us fight with love, faith and courage so our families will not be destroyed!”

#9: Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey Showed Us How to Fight Back Against Trump

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey Taking Trump to Court

Healey repeatedly sued the Trump administration to stop the anti-Muslim travel ban, to prevent the roll back of contraception access, to protect students from predatory for-profit schools, to oppose weakening federal greenhouse gas emissions standards, and more. Healey also created a hotline for reports of harassment of racial, ethnic and religious minorities, women, LGBTQ people and immigrants. If the feds fail us, turn to the states.

#8: Nevada Senator Pat Spearman Ratified the ERA

In November of 2016, Nevada voters flipped the Legislature from Republican to Democratic and elected a record number of women, including women of color. The first item on the agenda? The Equal Rights Amendment. African American lesbian veteran Pat Spearman, who unseated a homophobic incumbent to win a seat in the Nevada Senate, spearheaded the vote, making Nevada the 36th state to ratify the ERA. Only two more states to go!

#7: Rep. Maxine Waters Reclaimed Her Time


At a House Financial Services Committee hearing in August, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin tried to evade Waters’ question about Trump’s financial ties to Russia by running out the clock on her time for questions with “platitudes and compliments.” For all women who are sick and tired of men ignoring and disrespecting us, Waters’ persistent refrain of “reclaiming my time!” is a lesson in resistance. Women must demand to be heard.

#6: Virginia Representative Danica Roem Took the High Road (and Hundreds of Women Took to the Ballot)

In the Virginia elections in November, transgender woman Danica Roem beat Virginia’s (self-defined) “chief homophobe” Bob Marshall, who spewed virulent transphobia throughout the campaign. When asked about her opponent after she won the election, Representative Roem gracefully responded: “I don’t attack my constituents. Bob is my constituent now.” Be the change you want to see!

The only way to end patriarchy is for feminist women to take the power. There are a record number of women running for political office at the state and federal levels. Whether it’s sexual harassment or assault, contraception or abortion, Hollywood or politics, we know that things aren’t going to change until we win a critical mass of female decision-makers. Women must claim their seat at the table, and they plan to!

#5: Tarana Burke Broke the Silence and Proved that Collective Action Works

Long before Alyssa Milano’s #MeToo tweet in October of this year, founder of Just Be Inc. Tarana Burke created the Me Too campaign in 2007 to help survivors of sexual harassment and assault to speak out. Burke was honored as one of the Time Magazine Person of the Year Silence Breakers.

#4: Our Movement Leaders, Who Never Gave Up

Gloria Steinem was on the podium at the Women’s March this January, and Ellie Smeal spoke out against the global gag rule on International Women’s Day in Washington D.C. After over 40 years of activism and organizing, they’re not giving up–they’re doubling down. And after her stinging loss in 2016, Hillary Clinton came back swinging this year, too, speaking out and working hard in the face of still-persistent sexism in politics and media. Our movement leaders aren’t giving up, and we can’t, either.

#3: Indigenous Women Demanded Environmental Justice

Faith Spotted Eagle, Loretta Bad Heart Bull, Marcella LeBeau (aged 97!) and Bobbi Jean Three Legs led actions like the Native Nations Rise protest at a Trump International Hotel in Washington D.C. in March and the 2000-mile relay run from North Dakota to Washington D.C. in August, fighting against big oil and and violations of Native American sovereignty and treaty rights. 

#2: African American Women Rejected Roy Moore

The courage of Roy Moore’s accusers was definitely inspiring, but I found African American women’s wall of resistance to him in Alabama’s special election even more inspirational. (98% of African American women in Alabama voted against him!)

#1: The New Women Who Have Joined the Movement Reminded Us Of Our Power

Finally, I have been inspired by all the newly-minted political activists over the last year—like my sister-in-law Betsy Hill and her 16-year-old daughter Carly Hill in Charleston, South Carolina—who are attending protests, writing and calling their legislators and showing up at town hall meetings in their communities to demand that their politicians do right. We’re building a mass movement.


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Carrie N. Baker, J.D., Ph.D., is the Sylvia Dlugasch Bauman professor in the Program for the Study of Women and Gender at Smith College. She is a contributing editor at Ms. magazine. You can contact Dr. Baker at cbaker@msmagazine.com or follow her on Twitter @CarrieNBaker.