Rachel Paige
Updated Dec 29, 2014 @ 8:00 am
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This year was dominated by strong women initiating and demanding change, and we’re so very lucky that they shared their journeys with us, on screen, in print, via Instagram, and across the Internet. To all the ladies listed here (and one man!), thanks for making us feel great about ourselves in 2014.

Emma Watson went to the U.N.

Things Emma Watson has recently accomplished: graduated from college, became a U.N. Women Goodwill Ambassador, and started a brand new movement called HeForShe to encourage boys and men to help end gender inequality. As if to cut the haters off at the pass before they asked why we should listen to her, she eloquently said, “You might be thinking: Who is this Harry Potter girl? And what is she doing up on stage at the U.N? It’s a good question and, trust me, I have been asking myself the same thing. I don’t know if I am qualified to be here. All I know is that I care about this problem. And I want to make it better.” If there’s anyone we trust to help us, it’s Hermione.

Mindy Kaling shut down the haters—again.

It seemed like Mindy Kaling was everywhere this year, and we are certainly not complaining. High on the success of The Mindy Project, Kaling was interviewed again and again, not necessarily about her work as a successful female showrunner, but about, as she puts it, “being a chubby person of color writing for a TV show.” And every time, she flawlessly put everyone right back in their place.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt comes out as a feminist.

In an interview with The Daily Beast, our friend JGL was shocked to hear that people were coming out against the term “feminist,” and offered up his own definition of the term:

I’m pausing for a short round of applause. On top of that, he wasn’t the only male celebrity out there who proudly displayed their feminist support, whether on the shirts they were wearing or their comments to reporters. In a year during which a couple of people surprised us by saying that they didn’t consider themselves feminists (ahem, Meghan Trainor and Shailene Woodley), this kind of outpouring support was very much welcomed.

Beyoncé performs in front of a FEMINIST backdrop.

I could try to put words to the feelings that happened when I saw Queen B. standing in front of a giant sign that read “feminist” at the VMAs this year, but no words are really needed. This made all of us feel great.

Laverne Cox had the power.

Laverne Cox had a BUNCH of moments this year, and all of them were incredibly moving and made us love her even more. Sge became the first transgender woman to be nominated for an Emmy for her role on Orange Is the New Black. She also graced the cover of Time magazine and had a show in conjunction with MTV and Logo called Laverne Cox Presents: The T Word, which addressed a lot of the misunderstanding and bias that surrounds transgender people. She shows no signs of slowing down when it comes to breaking down barriers.

Roxanne Gay wrote Bad Feminist.

The Amazon reviews for Bad Feminist should be made into a chapter book, because people could not be brief in their praise of Gay’s hilariously honest take on being a woman today. In one chapter titled “How to Be Friends With Another Woman,” Gay says that you need to “tell your friends the hard truths they need to hear. They might get pissed about it, but it’s probably for their own good…. Don’t be totally rude about truth telling, and consider how much truth is actually needed to get the job done…” If that’s not enough wisdom, she states, “I would rather be a bad feminist than no feminist at all.”

Shonda Rhimes owns Thursday nights.

Over the years, there have been lots of showrunners with multiple shows on TV at the same time. Just look at Dick Wolf, father of the Law & Order franchise. But so far, no one has been given an entire night of prime-time programming to schedule shows back to back until Shonda Rhimes came along. If Thursday nights were a Monopoly game, she would own Boardwalk and Park Place. Heck, she would basically own all of Atlantic City. Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, and the new How to Get Away With Murder continue to be some of the most watched hour-long dramas on TV, and the most talked about, too. Maybe one day soon she’ll inch her way into Wednesday.

Amy Schumer gave an awesome speech at the Ms. Gala.

Amy Schumer is damn funny, and if you need proof, which I’m sure you don’t, there is this, and this, and this. At the Ms. Gala this year, she shared a story from her college days about an unsatisfying sexual experience that made her feel worthless, and of course it was both heartbreaking and hilarious: “I fight back my own tears, and then I notice a change in the music. Is this just a bagpipe solo? I shake him awake. ‘Matt, what is this? The Braveheart soundtrack? Can you put something else on, please?'” She goes on to say how she recovered her self-respect afterwards and has tried ever since not to be shamed or degraded by anyone: “I stand here and I am amazing, for you. Not because of you. I am not who I sleep with. I am not my weight. I am not my mother. I am myself. And I am all of you, and I thank you.” No, Schumes, thank you.

Lena Dunham loved Planned Parenthood, and encouraged everybody to do so as well.

Girls creator and star, Lena Dunham, released her highly anticipated book Not That Kind of Girl, and while this is reason enough to celebrate, Dunham took it one step further with her cross-country book tour. Suddenly, all over Instagram and Twitter we started seeing well-known female celebrities sporting bright pink shirts with the saying LENA <3 PLANNED PARENTHOOD. She had partnered with the organization for her tour, and in a statement said, “It’s critical that we all do everything we can to ensure that women have access to the full range of reproductive and sexual health care without their bosses or politicians or judges getting in the way… Planned Parenthood will have a presence on my tour so that people can learn about Planned Parenthood health services and the invaluable information that Planned Parenthood educators provide, and become involved as advocates and volunteers.”

[Images via here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.]