The end of the year was no excuse for these women to stop making waves. Here are the stories of women who broke gender barriers, pushed back against the patriarchy, built their own representation and fought for justice on the biggest stage. Read about the women who made headlines in the news.
Meet our Lionesses This Month for December:
Breaking down gender barriers
Niyo Katsura stands out as one of Japan’s newest comedic stars in rakugo, a centuries-old comedic art form. Rakugo is a form of oral storytelling where the performer sits on a cushion on a mostly bare stage. Through voicework and (very few) props, they act out stories including a range of characters.
The profession is largely dominated by men, with women representing only one in 16 performers. Katsura faced numerous obstacles and challenges along the way. Initially, she was denied an apprenticeship on multiple occasions before being accepted on her third try. Audiences were not always as accepting of a woman performing rakugo. Once she got her foot in the door and showed what she could do, however, the rest was history.
In a competition sponsored by Japan’s public broadcaster, NHK, Katsura received perfect scores from all judges for her performance. She became the first woman to win the award given to rakugo newcomers in its 50-year history. The irony of her performance was that she won the award by performing stories that included only male characters. Katsura stated, “I wanted to perform rakugo the exact same way that men do.”
Niyo Katsura forced her way through gender barriers despite facing challenges early on, and she showed that gender doesn’t matter if you can make people laugh.
Gender parity in German politics
Angela Merkel has been the most powerful woman in the world as Germany’s chancellor for the last 16 years. Now, she’s leaving a lasting legacy as she hands over the chancellery to a male successor. That successor, Olaf Scholz, made a campaign promise to appoint as many women as men to government, and he followed through on that. For the first time ever, Germany’s cabinet will have gender parity, eight men and eight women. This includes the country’s first female foreign minister, interior minister and third straight defense minister.
Despite the fact that Angela Merkel never came out publicly to proclaim herself a feminist, her long and popular tenure in Germany is the catalyst behind this new cabinet. The new cabinet members plan to follow in Merkel’s footsteps and continue to inspire women in Germany as well as gender parity and equity at the highest levels of government.
Women in charge in New Mexico
For the first time ever in Las Cruces, New Mexico, the city council will be made up entirely of women. Two new council members, Becky Corran and Becki Graham will join the other four members of the council. “That there will be all women on the wall on the other side – it’s going to be really exciting,” said Corran.
“I think that I’m coming into it with this idea that, as cliche as it may sound, maybe this is going to be a space where leaders are more willing to listen to one another,” said Becki Graham. “To take the time to consider things outside of the traditional power hierarchy.”
This won’t be the first all-women city council, as a few all-women councils have come before it. It does mark a step forward towards gender equity in all levels of government. Women hold 30.5 percent of municipal offices in the United States, showing a serious lack of representation. Every woman elected to a seat in government at any level is a step in the right direction.
Growing diversity in hair care
The hair care industry is massive, having grown to nearly $80 billion as of this year. It’s projected to reach over $100 billion well before the end of the decade. But Black-owned hair care companies only make up about two billion of that pie, a small piece. The problem with mainstream hair care products is that they typically don’t represent different types of Black hair.
Because of that, many Black women have created their own companies and products to cater to the needs of their communities. Whitney White started as a YouTube star, creating hair tutorials for Black women before her viewers encouraged her to create her own line of products. She started Melanin Haircare.
“I am a Black woman, so I know what we want,” said White.
Monique Rodriguez used her nursing paychecks to build Mielle Organics from the ground up, focusing not only on high-quality products but also on education on hair care and how to use those products to their full advantage.
“I saw there was a lack of relatability and education, and I said, ‘If I can just serve the underserved, then I can win in this category’.”
Kreyol Essence got its start on Shark Tank with its signature product, Haitian black castor oil. Castor seeds are part of everyday Haitian culture where they use the seeds for hair care, digestive health and moisturizing. Yve-Car Momperousse, Co-Founder of Kreyol Essence, had her hair damaged by a stylist and turned to a similar seed to repair it. She saw an opportunity to create great products using castor seeds but to also support the local farmers in Haiti. Kreyol also became the first Haitian beauty brand on QVC this past year.
Taking her fight from the track to the courtroom
Caster Semenya is a two-time Olympic gold medalist from South Africa. She won the women’s 800-meter competition in 2012 and 2016 and was hoping to make it a hat-trick at the Tokyo games. This past year, the Olympics did not allow her to compete. A World Athletics ruling made in 2018 based on a 2017 report stated that women who have a higher natural testosterone level have an unfair advantage over other women. This seemed to specifically target Semenya. In order to compete, Semenya would have to take testosterone-lowering drugs.
“The news of the ruling shattered me. More than that, I felt indignant. As a woman, I should be in control of my own body,” wrote Semenya.
The British Journal of Sports Medicine corrected the 2017 study shortly after the Tokyo Olympics concluded. The correction stated that the data was “exploratory” and not concrete. Had the journal made this correction been prior to the Olympics, Semenya would have been able to compete.
Semenya’s fight is no longer on the track. It’s moved into the courtroom. Semenya writes, “My goal now is to win my legal case. For me, as a woman, as a human being fighting a cruel injustice, victory would be sweet, as sweet as any I have achieved on the track.”
Other women who made news this month:
- Vermont, the only state to have never sent a woman to Congress, is well on its way to rectifying that. Three women are “poised” to become the next candidate: Vermont Lieutenant Governor Molly Gray, state Senate President Becca Balint and state Senator Kesha Ram Hinsdale.
- Susan Arnold became the first woman to chair Disney’s board in its almost century-long history.
- Neeli Bendapudi will become Pennsylvania State University’s new president, making her the first woman and person of color in the role.