Demonstrators in support of abortion and contraceptive rights chant in support of their cause after the Hobby Lobby ruling outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington on June 30, 2014.
Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

The best and worst for women in 2014

Updated

Progress for women has always been a lurching, uneven process, and the often bleak 2014 was no exception. For every grim setback – and the year offered plenty of them – there were pockets of resistance which, if they didn’t undo the damage, at least provided a silver lining. That’s why in this look back, we take the bad with the good. Or at least the better.

1. Birth control blues

The bad: In June, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby that for-profit corporations had the religious right to deny birth control coverage to their employees. Not only did it chip away at a key provision of the Affordable Care Act for some women and expand corporate rights to religious freedom, the majority also treated birth control and the lives of women as an inessential afterthought.

The better: The female justices were righteously furious, and made their voices heard. “The court, I fear, has ventured into a minefield,” wrote Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Just a week later, she joined Justice Sonia Sotomayor and Justice Elena Kagan in a furious dissent from an order on a separate birth control case. Sotomayor basically accused her male colleagues of dishonesty: “Those who are bound by our decisions usually believe they can take us at our word,” she wrote. “Not so today.”

2. Whose lives matter?

The bad: From Stand Your Ground to killings at the hands of the police, black women in particular had to wonder again in 2014 the value this country places on their lives and the lives of their male loved ones. To name just two examples: 19-year-old Renisha McBride knocked on a door, apparently seeking help, and was shot in the face because the white homeowner “didn’t want to cower” in his own home, he testified. (Wafer was convicted and was sentenced to at least 17 years in prison.) Florida mother Marissa Alexander faced 60 years in prison for a single shot that harmed no one, having been denied a claim under Florida’s notorious “stand your ground” law. (In November, she pled guilty and is expected to be released in early 2015.)

The better: As protesters flooded streets in Ferguson, Missouri and across the country to declare that “black lives matter,” women – especially young women – were leading the way.

3. Whose choice?

The bad: Republican takeover of legislatures after the midterm elections is unmitigated bad news for abortion rights. GOP lawmakers are expected to use their newly-gained control of the U.S. Senate to force through an unconstitutional ban on abortion at 20 weeks. Republican legislatures are also likely to build on their already-record-breaking streak of passing restrictions on abortion at the state level, after winning control of 11 more legislative chambers and two more governors’ mansions.

The better: Hard to see any silver lining here, except that some federal courts might serve as stopgaps against the onslaught, as they did this year to prevent Texas from closing all but a half-dozen abortion clinics. But the Supreme Court is a giant question mark when it comes to this issue.

4. At the table

The bad: It was a bleak year for many women candidates, including Sens. Kay Hagan and Mary Landrieu, Texas gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis, and Kentucky senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes.

The better: Two Republican women, Joni Ernst and Shelley Moore Capito, joined the Senate, keeping stable the number of women in the Senate – pathetically low, but still a record. Meanwhile, the number of women in the House crept up to a record 84. And women like Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand led the conversation in Congress on issues ranging from financial reform to military sexual assault.

5. Breaking the silence

The good: After years of silence or being ignored, survivors of sexual assault – some allegedly at the hands of famous men – began telling their stories. So did women subject to vicious harassment at the hands of the trolls of #gamergate and beyond.

The bad: We have a long, long way to go in properly preventing and responding to such violence. And the problem isn’t going away. Meanwhile, rape denialism lives.

6. More care for some

The good: Millions of American women were either able to gain health insurance coverage through the Affordable Care Act or saw their coverage improve for women’s health in particular. Insurers are no longer allowed to charge women more on the basis of gender, and they have to cover without a co-pay a wide slate of preventative care for which women were paying more out of pocket – including, but not only, birth control.

The bad: Nearly two million women who could be covered won’t be because they live in states that have refused to expand Medicaid.

7. Feminism’s pop culture moment.

The good: From Beyonce appearing in front of a giant FEMINIST sign sampling Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie to Taylor Swift deciding she was, after all, a feminist, the f-word had never been so prominent in pop culture.

The bad: Many disgustingly misogynistic things continued to be said and written about women in the public eye, including another pop culture feminist, Lena Dunham. The Internet, often a force for good when it comes to spreading feminism, also violated the privacy of female actresses when their nude photos were hacked and publicized.

And some uncomplicated good news: Janet Yellen was named the first woman to lead the Federal Reserve, and has succeeded in both keeping the focus on workers and keeping the recovery smooth. Malala Yousafzai, the fearless advocate for girls’ education who was shot in the head by the Taliban, became the youngest-ever winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.