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Incredible Women

8 women who spoke up in 2018

This year was one of strong words and powerful rhetoric, one in which some incredible women gave voice to things that needed to be said. By AJESH PATALAY

Emma González

EMMA GONZÁLEZ

In February, 18-year-old Emma González, a survivor of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, gave a speech powered by fury, calling “BS” on the sophistries of the gun lobby, including that gun control laws would not prevent hundreds of killings. A month later, at the March for Our Lives demonstration in Washington, she spoke again, ending her tearful address with six minutes and 20 seconds of silence: the time it took for the Parkland shooting to occur.

González says: “We are going to be the kids you read about in textbooks. Not because we’re going to be another statistic about mass shooting in America, but because [] we are going to be the last mass shooting.”

DAME TESSA JOWELL

In January, former British cabinet member Dame Tessa Jowell was met with an unprecedented minute-long standing ovation in the House of Lords when she gave an emotional speech about her brain cancer diagnosis. Her voice cracked several times and members of the House wiped away tears as she talked about cancer treatment trials and the Eliminate Cancer Initiative. In May, the Labour peer died, aged 70.

Jowell says: “In the end, what gives a life meaning is not only how it is lived, but how it draws to a close.”

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EVAN RACHEL WOOD

In support of the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights, 30-year-old actress Evan Rachel Wood testified in front of Congress in February about her experiences as the victim of violent sexual assault. She told of being raped and “mentally and physically tortured” by an ex-partner, drawing attention to what happens in the aftermath of such assaults when victims grapple with enduring shame and trauma (in her case, leading to two suicide attempts). The bill affects the way rape kits are preserved and would establish a task force to represent communities from different ethnicities and sexualities.

Wood says: “So often we speak of these assaults as no more than a few minutes of awfulness, but the scars last a lifetime.”

OPRAH WINFREY

Although a public letter in The New York Times signed by 300 women in the film industry had already laid out the pledges of the new Time’s Up initiative, it fell to Oprah Winfrey at the Golden Globes, while receiving the Cecil B. DeMille Award for lifetime achievement, to distill its message for a primetime audience in the most rousing, sermonic terms.

Winfrey says: “For too long, women have not been heard or believed if they dared speak their truth to the power of those men. But their time is up.”

FRANCES McDORMAND

In a typically unconventional but giddy-making speech at the Academy Awards, where Frances McDormand won Best Actress for playing an angry, grieving mother in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, the 61-year-old actress asked all the female nominees to stand up, before telling the powerbrokers in the room to take notice (“We all have stories to tell”). Then, with her parting words, “inclusion rider”, she made a hitherto obscure term (describing an equity clause that insures diversity on film sets) common parlance.

They say: “Who better to give this impolite year its defining Oscar moment?” Michael Schulman, The New Yorker

Oprah Winfrey

VIOLA DAVIS

Among the many women who spoke out at the Women’s March in January, Viola Davis arguably went the deepest, not just in what she said, but how she said it, with an emotion-wrangling clarity worthy of Martin Luther King, Jr. The 53-year-old Oscar winner talked about sexual assault against women and the particular vulnerability of women of color, admitting to having been sexually abused herself – “Seeing a childhood robbed from me.”

Davis says: “We only move forward when it doesn’t cost us anything. But I’m here today saying that no one and nothing can be great unless it costs you something.”

The Duchess of Sussex and her mother, Doria Ragland

DORIA RAGLAND

When Meghan Markle married Prince Harry, everyone had something to say about it, and did. Except for mother-of-the-bride Doria Ragland – yoga instructor, social worker and 62-year-old single parent. At the wedding itself, she sat alone, quietly moved to tears, the model of grace and natural composure – qualities she has gifted her daughter, who chose to ascend the chapel steps alone. Sometimes a voice is powerful when it isn’t heard.

Ragland says: Nothing, yet. And beautifully so.

KRISTEN ROUPENIAN

In December, 36-year-old writer Kristen Roupenian hit a collective nerve when her fiction debut Cat Person was published in The New Yorker and went viral. Within a week, it was the publication’s most viewed page of all time. Coming in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, the story detailed the fallout from a bad date between 20-year-old Margot and 34-year-old Robert, and shone a light on the conciliations made by women out of fear, the chasm of expectation between men and women, and the culture of blame that ensues when relationships turn sour.

They say: “Although Cat Person is not about abusive power relations or even, strictly, non-consensual sex, it’s clearly the first example of #MeToo lit.” David Sexton, London Evening Standard

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