If 2014 were a person, I think we’d all be looking back at it with a sharp sigh and a middle finger waving high in the air. It was a loud year. If 2013 saw the End of Men and the rise of hip #feminism, 2014 was a battle cry, an insurrection, an endless wallop to the gut.
2014 was a time to talk about particular problems. “It’s up to all of us to ensure victims of sexual violence are not left to face these trials alone,” said Obama in a White House Rape and Sexual Assault report released in January. It was a renewed call to action, specifically for college campuses which have the highest prevalence of sexual assault and the lowest prosecution rate. Obama’s committed to solving this rampant problem not only because he’s the president, but because he’s a father, they assured us.
I will remember this year because Netflix started streaming Annie Hall and I didn’t watch it. It was four months after Dylan Farrow described her adoptive father Woody Allen sexually assaulting her at age 7 in an open letter published in The New York Times. The case was never prosecuted in 1993 and still will not be prosecuted. A month before, Allen won the Lifetime Achievement award at the 2014 Golden Globes for his breadth of work.
It’s February. The casino elevator doors open and inside is Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice beating the living shit out of his fiancée Janay Palmer. He drags her unconscious body away from the elevator and into a mere two-game suspension for himself. He isn’t banned from the NFL until September, only when a tape of the elevator security footage with a WWF-worthy title of ELEVATOR KNOCKOUT was released on TMZ. The NFL called it an “unfortunate incident.”
Snow fell and Facebook realized its scant gender options were far from sufficient. It added 56 custom gender options. Thousands of people could properly identify themselves for the first time on the social network behemoth.
This year was a time when deeply unhappy men made themselves known. 16-year-old Maren Sanchez rejects a classmate’s prom invitation and is stabbed to death in April. In May, 22-year-old Elliot Rodger kills six people and injures 7 more in Isla Vista, California in a misogynist shooting spree. Persistent sexual rejection was the impetus, they said. In one of his sickening YouTube manifestos posted just weeks before, Rodger promised to “slaughter every single spoiled, stuck-up, blond slut I see.” It was too real to be written off as crazy.
Twitter responded with #YesAllWomen— a moving catalog of subway harassments, street assaults, and enraging rape statistics. It became a counter-argument to Rodger’s venomous ilk in just 140 characters. Of course, misandrist backlash like #BanMen cropped up. #WhyIStayed and #WhyILeft bloomed out of the battered feelings Rice and the NFL had left in its wake. The digital world was ready to combat serious issues — not new ones — just those we got too tired of ignoring. This is why people stay in abusive relationships, this is why they leave them, this is why we need to talk about this right-fucking-now, the world sighed. Victims’ voices were amplified by the microphone of social media.
In barges the triumphant sing-song of an unlikely and desperately needed pop icon – Laverne Cox. The actress lands the cover of TIME magazine in an article called “The Trans Tipping Point,” and is appointed the figure of the next great social movement: transgender rights. Cox travels the country with a transfixing stump speech, borrowing from Sojourner Truth’s enduring question “Ain’t I a woman?” She doesn’t wait for you to respond. She is.
Trans issues had more visibility than ever before. Wearing a beard and gown, Conchita Wurst sweeps the Eurovision competition. Janet Mock releases a bestselling memoir and redefines realness. Trans woman Martine Rothblatt becomes the highest-paid female executive in the country. She proclaims genitals are irrelevant. The first lab-grown penises and vaginas become ready for testing and hold their own small cellular promise.
We can grow them in labs or wombs, but still, bodies are policed. Arbitrarily. A brave group of women launch the #FreetheNipple campaign and walk topless down the streets, reclaiming a part of their body that has been overly sexualized and censored. The summer heat beats down on the backs of clothed and unclothed men and women and gender fluid individuals. The Supreme Court made a baffling ruling to allow religiously-affiliated corporations to deny birth control coverage to their female employees. Companies like Hobby Lobby argued some of the birth control devices are really “abortion.” Which is scientifically inaccurate.
June sees New York Magazine defending the dignity of human slime Terry Richardson on the tail of yet another assault accusation. In July comes a fiery rocket of controversy for startup Tinder, where former VP Whitney Wolfe was subjected to extreme sexual harassment by her boss and ex-boyfriend co-founder Justin Mateen. “I will shit on him,” he threatens of Wolfe’s new boyfriend over a text message. Both left the company. Not much better than Snapchat CEO‘s “fuck bitches get leid” mantra, uncovered in May. This was shortly after sexist signs were found hanging in Twitter headquarters and engineer Julie Ann Horvath was forced out of GitHub for sexism and intimidation. It was sour news for a field notoriously mired in sexist ideology and boys club resolve.
I’m not done.
There’s a barricading culture keeping women out of tech. And there’s one slingshotting the women who dare enter it. In August, a female game developer named Zoe Quinn became the target of death threats and harassment after it was revealed by an ex-boyfriend that she maybe cheated on him at the same time she was promoting a new game. Her address and phone number were made public and she was forced to leave her home. Feminist critics Anita Sarkeesian and Brianna Wu, both vocal about inequities in gaming culture, were soon forced out of their homes or forced to cancel conference speeches after terror threats were made. Thus erupted #Gamergate — what insiders declared a call for “gaming journalism ethics,” but it barely masked a more insidious campaign against women in gaming. Supporters called recent strides of women in the industry “the death of gamers.” It wasn’t.
In 2014, it was okay for us to have divergent definitions of the same word. Roxane Gay proclaimed it was okay to be a bad feminist. Beyoncé converted to the church of feminism in a dazzling public display at the 2014 MTV Video Music Awards, sliding on a conveyer belt across a lit “FEMINIST” marquee. People questioned if Nicki Minaj’s splayed ass on the cover of her single “Anaconda” was a feminist reclamation of the oversexualization of black female bodies.
In the early throes of fall, a hive of hackers were busy stealing hundreds of private nude photos from celebrities. Jennifer Lawrence, Kate Upton, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kirsten Dunst, and Jessica Brown Findlay were just some among the hundreds targeted by the 4chan attack. It wasn’t a scandal. It wasn’t merely a hack. It was a sex crime. “Anybody who looked at those pictures, you’re perpetuating a sexual offense. You should cower with shame,” Jennifer Lawrence told Vanity Fair. They called it The Fappening, a too-cheeky, too-creepy label to slap upon such a hideous invasion of women’s privacy and bodies. This was more than a few lone men masturbating in the dim glow of their computer screens. This was the culture of revenge porn laws, kids sexting, and a woman’s backside breaking the internet. This was culture in 2014.
I will remember this year because California adopted a historic “yes means yes” policy in late September that changed the way we think of sexual consent. It was just as Columbia University student Emma Sulkowicz hoisted a mattress onto her back, like Atlas struggling with the globe, in a public protest against her on-campus rapist who her university failed to prosecute. She’ll carry the mattress until her assailant is kicked out of school.
It was the year we stopped brushing it under the rug. In October, Comedian Hannibal Buress stepped on stage in Bill Cosby’s hometown of Philadelphia and reminded the world, oh yeah, Bill Cosby has been accused of drugging and raping women since 2002.
Andrea Constand, Tamara Green, Beth Ferrier, Barbara Bowman, Joan Tarshis, Linda Joy Traitz, Janice Dickinson, Carla Ferrigno, Louisa Moritz, Kristina Ruehli, Renita Chaney Hill, Angela Leslie, Victoria Valentino, Jewel Allison, Judy Huth, Helen Hayes, Beverly Johnson, Chloe Goins, Kathy McKee, “Lisa,” and Theresa Serignese came forward with allegations against Cosby, supported by the testimonies of other victims. I’m listing their names because they are real people, not just victims. That’s 21 women. Netflix pulled its upcoming Cosby standup special and TV Land stopped airing reruns of The Cosby Show. Cosby called the allegations character defamation. Our Jell-O-slinging, garish sweatered sitcom dad suddenly flatlined from a harrowing two-month media blitz. He cares because he’s our TV father, nobody assured us.
Are you exhausted yet?
A video of a woman walking 10 hours in New York City and enduring a barrage of street harassment goes viral in November. It was revealed that a number of interactions with white men on the street were edited out, skewing the message about harassment and who does it and who experiences it. We all sighed — there is no universal woman’s experience, you know.
This was the year of victims willingly outing themselves and subjecting themselves to the scrutiny of public opinion, just so they were heard. Canadian journalist Jian Ghomeshi is accused of assault by 8 women, NFL star Darren Sharper is accused of drugging women, 7th Heaven dad Stephen Collins is accused of child molestation, Ke$ha claims she was assaulted by music producer Dr. Luke, authors Gregory Sherl and Tao Lin (who we do not deny has been published on this very site) are accused of their own horrific sex crimes. Lena Dunham is accused of sexually assaulting her younger infant sister almost in the same week that she speaks out against difficulties of expressing her own college sexual assault.
Throughout the year, women sliding into their Uber cars in New Delhi, Chicago, and Washington D.C. are sexually assaulted. Uber says “we’ll do something” but still can’t change the centuries-old tradition of women looking over their shoulder as the find their way home in the waning hours of the night.
I will remember 2014 as the year that even the best intentions were led astray. Rolling Stone‘s now infamous profile of an alleged rape that occurred at a fraternity on the University of Virginia campus has created the most prolific of shitstorms. After its November publication, The Washington Post found that many of the details of the account could not be corroborated, including the fraternity the attacker was a member of, the attacker’s job, and the testimonies of the victim’s friends. The media fiasco stumbled upon something important: when we put victims’ stories in the public forum, we also open them up to the obsessive scrutiny of public opinion, armchair detectives, and vicious attackers. “In trying to be sensitive to the unfair shame and humiliation many women feel after a sexual assault, we made a judgment…We should have not made this agreement,” Rolling Stone says in a note now at the top of the story. Somehow the public fact-checking feels like it will only strengthen the cause.
It’s December. There’s still room for good men. Good women. Good people. Michael Kimmel, the founder of Stony Brook University’s new center for the Study of Men and Masculinities is working to implement surveys of college campuses in order to assess the best male-oriented efforts to prevent sexual assault. The door to same-sex marriage legality is quaking open, with Oklahoma, Virginia, Wisconsin, Colorado, Indiana, West Virginia, North Carolina, and Nevada joining the fold. Malala Yousafzai took home the Nobel peace prize.
We’re sliding out of 2014 with a few doozies. An off-shoot of the hacker group Anonymous threatens to post nude photos of rapper Iggy Azalea if she doesn’t take down some racist tweets. Dr. Huxtable — nay, Cosby — is paying a team of private investigators over six figures to dig up dirt on his accusers.
Why am I telling you this? Why am I going through this year, the wars we raged against one another and ourselves, in such agonizing detail? The sheer impact of the noise has been powerful. You should remember. Within these appalling or triumphant or gut-wrenching moments is the consolation that we are telling these stories. That we will, with the amplifier of the internet, be entitled to continue to dismantle pedestals, question policies, enact new laws, and heal. As Roxane Gay puts it, “The statue of limitations on silence has expired.”
Was it the year we stopped worshipping at the altar of monsters? Was this the year of infinite, petty outrage? Was it the year women got even? Was it the year we all finally listened to survivors? Was it the year it became okay for you to be a feminist? Was it the year your anger boiled over and dripped down the sides of the pot in 140-character spurts? Was it the horrifying year that still remained completely protected and condoned in its dull patina of averageness?
Every answer seems like too true of a possibility. It’s always safe to pick D. All of the above.
Correction: This article has been updated to reflect that Jian Ghomeshi was accused of assault and harassment, not rape.