The Top 5 Gender Stories Of 2013

It was a big year in gender. Emily Heist Moss recounts the five stories that had everyone talking the most.

Let’s say you’ve been living in a cave for the last year and, having emerged, your first priority is not a hot bath or a family reunion, but a burning desire to know anything and everything about the year in gender. What the hell went down? Was it the year of open letters? The year of leaning in? The year of twerking?

What follows is not the list of stories I wish we talked about, or the ones I think deserve the most attention. It is a list of what filled the newsfeeds, overtook Twitter, engaged the masses, introduced new debates, and resurrected ancient ones. Is it complete? By no means. So get in on the comments and tell us what we forgot.

With that said, in no particular order, here’s what we talked about when we talked about gender in 2013:

The Miley Circus

Spawning open letters galore (see: Sinead O’Connor’s, this site’s, and the Autostraddle parody), Miley’s foam-fingered VMA performance on the crotch of Robin Thicke and the backs of her black back-up dancers was the performance of the year. Well, the performance of the year if you measured in appalled facial expressions, “What the…”s, and white people who had to look up the word “ratchet” to keep up with the conversation about cultural appropriation that followed. 

Related: Lily Allen’s “Hard Out There” was billed as satire, but many viewed it through the same lens of appropriation and objectification as Miley’s VMA performance.

We All Leaned In Toward Sheryl Sandberg

If 2012 was the year of “having it all” then 2013 is the year of leaning in. Facebook COO, Ted Talk celebrity, and coiner of many a rousing feminist battle cry, Sheryl Sandberg’s tome Lean In, on succeeding in a still-biased workplace, dominated the conversation and the bestseller lists. But it wasn’t all roses for Sandberg, who was criticized for, among other things, recruiting unpaid interns, advising employers to discuss pregnancy with interviewees, and neglecting to address structural discrimination in favor of pat suggestions to sit at the literal and metaphorical table.

Related: New CEO of Yahoo! and mom Marissa Mayer was taken to task for banning remote work for employees while installing a daycare adjacent to her office.

Rape Culture In India Gets A Brief Spotlight

With the high-profile gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old woman in Delhi last year and the conviction of four of her rapists, the world was, for a brief moment, intensely interested in the well-being of Indian women (and, of course, young white women traveling in India). Rallies were organized, vigils were held, and, as always, officials said horrifying things about rape. Although penalties have been toughened and anecdotal evidence suggests a slight uptick in the willingness of victims to speak up, has anything really changed on the ground?

Related: Though journalist Lara Logan’s sexual assault in 2011 in Cairo was widely discussed, the ongoing use of rape and sexual assault as a fear tactic during the Arab Spring is the dark, untold story of the uprisings.

Melissa Harris-Perry’s Banner Year

Tulane professor, author of Sister Citizen: Shame Stereotypes and Black Women in America, and MSNBC host, Melissa Harris-Perry is having quite the year. She talked with bell hooks in a must-watch conversation on black female voices. She sparred with the right over collective responsibility for the education of children. And, in her most recent coup, she schooled Melissa Cottle on black feminism with an actual syllabus after Cottle labeled the First Lady a “feminist nightmare.”

Related: #FastTailedGirls, a trending hashtag founded by Hood Feminism writers Mikki Kendall and Jamie Nesbitt Golden invited women of color to speak out about their experiences with hypersexualization as girls and teenagers.

The Non-Coming Out Coming Out

With back-to-back public statements—hers via Modern Love, his via Youtube—actress Maria Bello and Olympic diver Tom Daley announced that they were each in relationships with same-sex partners. Their gracious statements emphasized love over labels, and unlike other public reveals of 2013 (like anchor Anderson Cooper, basketball player Jason Collins, and actor Wentworth Miller) didn’t claim a definitive sexual orientation. Welcome to the future, when nobody gives a shit, and who you love counts more than what you call yourself.

Related: Wikileaks leaker Private Bradley Manning announced on the Today show that he was female, would be requesting hormone therapy, and would be henceforth called Chelsea. The story became not about Manning’s transition, but about how the media would document it.


And oh, there were so, so many more juicy gender-y stories in 2013, and so many questions remaining for 2014: Is Beyonce a feminist? Discuss! How closely did we monitor the baby weight of Kate Middleton? How relevant is R. Kelly’s history of sexual assault to his popularity as an artist? Will Malala rule the world someday? Is Senator Kirsten Gillibrand a savior or an opportunist? Has Serena learned anything about victim-blaming? Wendy Davis for governor? Hillary 2016?

Role/Reboot regular contributor Emily Heist Moss is a New Englander in love with Chicago, where she works in a tech start-up. She blogs every day about gender, media, politics and sex at Rosie Says, and has written for Jezebel, The Frisky, The Huffington Post and The Good Men Project. Find her on Facebook and Twitter.

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