Ten stories about women who made waves last year
By Sam Mathers, Editor-in-Chief
1. Sage Paul
Sage Paul, an urban Dene woman and member of English River First Nation is the founder and artistic director of Indigenous Fashion Week Toronto, launched in 2018. The four-day event had workshops, panel discussions and a marketplace during the day, as well as runway shows in the evening. The runway shows were inspired by the New, Berry, Harvest and Frost Moons, rather than the seasons. The purpose of the event is to both celebrate Indigenous culture and challenge harmful stereotypes and the appropriation of Indigenous culture in the fashion industry. IFWTO prioritizes the programming of at least 60% Indigenous women, stating on their website that “the presence of and leadership by Indigenous women is essential: we are here. We make up most Indigenous makers in Canada, we advocate each other and we honour our matriarchs who have come before us and their work.”
2. Ruby and Sapphire of Steven Universe
Steven Universe became the first children’s cartoon to feature a same-sex marriage proposal and wedding between characters Ruby and Sapphire, who are non-binary women. The show’s creator, Rebecca Sugar, came out as a non-binary woman in 2018, and said that they express themself through these characters. Sugar spoke of the importance of representation in children’s programming in an interview with Entertainment Weekly: “By including LGBTQIA content and characters in G-rated entertainment for kids, you tell kids when they’re young that they belong in this world. You can’t not tell them that. There can’t be only a certain group of kids that gets told someone will love you by all the entertainment that they see. It’s just so unfair.”
3. Women Take Office
2018 was an important year for women in politics. Mia Mottley became the first female Prime Minister of Barbados, and Sahle-Work Zewde became the first female President of Ethiopia. A record number of women ran for office in the U.S., and in 2019, the most diverse Congress in history was sworn in. Many women were part of that history, including: Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, the first Muslim women to serve in Congress, Sharice Davids and Deb Haaland, the first Native American women to serve in Congress, Kyrsten Sinema, the first openly bisexual senator and Arizona’s first female senator, and Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, the youngest woman to serve in Congress (to name a few).
4. Carly Fleischmann
In 2018, the 24-year-old YouTuber from Toronto became the first person with autism to guest host The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. She interviewed the host on topics ranging from Blake Shelton’s Sexiest Man Alive Win, to Donald Trump, and Colbert’s ATM password. Fleischmann is nonverbal and communicates through a computer that voices the words she types. She has a web series called Speechless with Carly Fleischmann where she has interviewed guests like Whitney Cummings and Channing Tatum. She also co-authored a book with her father, called Carly’s Voice: Breaking Through Autism.
5. Emma González
The youngest woman on this list, 19-year-old Emma González, grew up in what some have called “the school shooting generation.” She became a household name after giving a gut-wrenching speech following the Parkland shooting just over a year ago. Since then, she has been tirelessly advocating for gun reform and, along with her classmates, has organized March For Our Lives and the #NeverAgain movement. González has called on politicians and the NRA to start acting like grown-ups and wrote in an essay for Harper’s Bazaar: “Adults like us when we have strong test scores, but they hate us when we have strong opinions.”
6. Miss Spain Angela Ponce
In 2018, Miss Spain Angela Ponce became the first openly transgender woman to compete in the Miss Universe pageant. The Miss Universe Organization had a ban against transgender competitors until 2012, when Jenna Talackova threatened legal action after being disqualified from the Miss Universe Canada pageant. The organization was owned by Donald Trump at the time, who has continually endangered the rights of transgender people during his term as President of the United States. While Ponce did not make it to the final round, she stated: “I don’t need to win Miss Universe, I only need to be here.” The 2018 competition marked another first, featuring a panel of all women.
7. Wins for Women’s Hockey
The U.S. Women’s National Hockey Team won more than Olympic gold in 2018. After a 15-month long dispute, they also won the fight for equal pay. The women were promised up to $70,000 a year – a stark increase from the $6,000 they had been receiving every four years. They were also promised improved marketing efforts as well as travel stipends and accommodations equal to the men’s team. In another win for women’s hockey, Jessica Platt of the Toronto Furies came out as transgender in 2018, stating via Instagram: “I want people to know you don’t have to quit pursuing your dreams to be the person you were meant to be.” Platt is the first openly transgender woman to play in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League.
8. Marlene Poitras
Marlene Poitras, a member of Mikisew Cree First Nation was elected the Alberta Regional Chief for the Assembly of First Nations, making her the first woman to hold the position. She also serves as the Chair of the Alberta Government’s First Nations Women’s Council. Poitras is an advocate for First Nations children, whose health and well-being is one of her main concerns. She hopes to empower young people to stand up and make a positive impact, working with AFN’s National Youth Council to keep young people informed about what is going on in First Nations communities. Another concern for Poitras is ensuring that treaties are honoured by federal and provincial governments, as well as industries and developers pursuing land in First Nations territory.
9. Domee Shi
Domee Shi’s 2018 short film Bao is the first Pixar short to be directed by a woman. Shi is also the first woman at Pixar to have a solo directing credit. Set in Toronto, the film tells a story about a Chinese-Canadian mother who takes care of a dumpling that comes to life. Bao played in theatres ahead of Incredibles 2 and won the Oscar for Best Animated Short. Shi said in her acceptance speech: “To all the nerdy girls out there who hide behind their sketchbooks – don’t be afraid to tell your stories to the world.”
10. Dr. Christine Blasey Ford
In September of 2018, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford stated before the Senate Judiciary Committee: “I am here today not because I want to be…I am here because I believe it is my civic duty.” Ford testified that then Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her in 1982. In a hearing and media circus that closely mirrored Anita Hill’s 1991 testimony against Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, many saw this as an opportunity for progress. Unfortunately, it was not – and Kavanaugh was sworn in just as Thomas had been nearly thirty years earlier. Despite the devastating (if not unsurprising) outcome, Ford emerged as a heroic figure of the #MeToo movement.