Women who inspired us in 2017
In the perfect, poignant words of Margaret Mead: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."
The gallery below features 10 women (nine women and one girl, actually) that Balancing Act columnist Heidi Stevens met in 2017 who are inspiring beyond measure. Below that, read womens' responses to questions about what 2017 meant for women and what they predict 2018 will bring.
After the Women's March kicked off 2017, so many wondered, "What next?" Since then, women in the U.S. and around the globe have made great strides. From politics to sports, we've rounded up 17 moments women persisted in 2017. Read the full list here.
The Chicago Tribune asked women activists, organizers and politicians two questions: What moved or shaped you the most this year? and What's next for women in 2018?
Shannon M. Shepherd, Chicago immigration attorney: I would have to say the Me Too movement. It was absolutely stunning to me to see and hear everyone's stories and realize how common harassment is. It also led to some interesting conversations with family and friends. I think it opened so many people's eyes, and I am hopeful that it has changed the workplace (and every place) for the better.
What's next for women in 2018? I think we are going to see so many more women running for office in 2018, both on the local and national level. Because even before the Me Too movement, we saw so many women come out at the marches, etc., and I think it's great to see so many women standing up and working toward positive change.
Jessie Gotsdiner, program coordinator for Women Employed: The Me Too conversation, which evolved into a powerful movement. I hope that victims continue to heal with this growing public awareness and support and that society learns how to implement better practices in all of our institutions. Also, other women of color inspired me this year. I see our voices growing in everyday workplaces and in the policymaking space. I am optimistic for our future.
What's next for women in 2018? Midterm elections! The new year brings new opportunities to vote in more inclusive, responsive and humane elected officials.
Courtney Winfrey, an Illinois universities recruiter and member of the YWCA's Future Leaders Council: 2017 felt like the Year of the Women. Black women helped push the vote in some red states to blue in states such as Alabama. In 2017, black women and trans women also won some very significant political platforms, such as city council membership, city mayorship and state legislator. These events are significant in modern history, it's a fight against adversities on a larger stage. For once in my life, I feel the status quo is being challenged, and it feels good to see so many events shaping our culture in a positive and progressive way.
What's next for women in 2018? Women are going to continue to kick butt and take names. Especially black women! Why not? The misunderstood and underrepresented women will not be silenced. She will connect, evolve and continue to solve all the world's problems. And honestly, I'm looking forward to being a part of that fight (applies superhero cape).
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Sarah Hollenbeck, author and co-owner of Women & Children First bookstore: Amidst all my yelling expletives at NPR every morning as I listen to the daily news, my sputtering faith in humanity has been saved by the number of women of color who have published books this year that have been wildly and massively well-received by critics and readers. Most notably for me have been Samantha Irby's "We Are Never Meeting in Real Life," Erika L. Sanchez's "I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter" and "Lessons on Expulsion" and Eve Ewing's "Electric Arches." These books have ended up on a number of prestigious lists and have racked up some pretty impressive awards indicating a much-needed shift in the publishing industry and the literary community that I hope is just the beginning.
Also, walking on stage alongside my heroes Irby, Megan Stielstra, Kate Harding and Samhita Mukhopadhyay to the opening beats of Janet Jackson's "Nasty," in celebration of the release of the "Nasty Women" anthology, surrounded by the cheers of an audience comprised nearly entirely of women was one of the most exhilarating moments of 2017.
What's next for women in 2018? I think we are beginning to see a necessary shift away from purely performative or symbolic gestures and toward real action. 2018 is all about women in power. This may translate to campaigning for women who are running for office or shopping exclusively at businesses owned by women, people of color and individuals within the LGBTQ community. Coalition building among these communities will be paramount to upending the traditional and broken power structure dominated by white, cisgender men.
Gaylon B. Alcaraz, activist and candidate for the Cook County Board of Commissioners, 4th District: From all the women running and winning in political offices across the country, to women being vocal and standing up against sexual assault, to the organizing of various movements against the administration of this country, I am forever changed.
Even U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters "reclaiming" her time has had significance this year. No longer are our voices being ignored. We are being taken seriously and we are clearly bucking the status quo. Still, there are many "unsung" heroes that deserve recognition and praise. From the young woman trying to exercise her reproductive freedom, to the hardworking service-industry mothers, to the women working minimum-wage jobs to make ends meet, to my mother who gave up her life eight years ago after retirement to care for her father — all these women have shaped and changed me.
What's next for women in 2018? I think you are going to see more women, young women, women of color, run for political office and win! I think women are getting ready to save this world!
Sara Feigenholtz, Illinois state representative, 12th District: For me, it was the Women's March in January that shaped 2017. The march represented a "beacon of the possible" after such a disappointing election. The energy was palpable at the march. I left so very energized — women were a force to be reckoned with. It gave many of us the strength to fight back in Springfield and in Washington. Women were depending on us — and we didn't disappoint.
Looking back, it's clear this was the catalyst for the increased empowerment women exhibited in 2017.
We owe a lot to courageous heroes like Ambra Gutierrez who worked with the New York Police Department on the Harvey Weinstein sting.
After the Doug Jones victory in Alabama, I am even more hopeful that the women in our country are not giving up until justice is realized and we take our country back. Alabama heroes like Perman Hardy, a former sharecropper who spent countless hours driving voters to the polls in Alabama, showed us that there are no tasks too small.
What's next for women in 2018? Accepting the fact that we are not a bunch of cupcakes is something to celebrate, not mourn. The year has brought out the warrior in all of us. Next year will be an even bigger barn burner. I say: Approach with caution, and stand back.
Marilyn Katz, co-chair of Chicago Women Take Action: The Jan. 21 Women's March — an extraordinary day when women throughout the world demonstrated their leadership and power, taking a moment to foreshadow what would be and has become a movement.
What's next for women in 2018? Translating movement into voting power, from school boards to the U.S. House and Senate and on a local and state level, building organization and passing legislation that empowers and protects women and their families, starting with the ERA (Equal Rights Amendment), protection of health care and attainment of living wages.
Bridget Gainer, Cook County commissioner: 2017 without a doubt has been the Year of the Woman. It started with the Women's March in January, and it's ending with women saying "Me Too" across the country and the world. I have never been more proud to be a woman, to be a mother and, believe it or not, to be a politician, as I was in 2017. It's impossible for me not to credit this year's highest moment of pride to all the mothers, the daughters, the sisters and the best friends who said, "Enough is enough," and spoke out about sexual harassment. The voice they gave to the issue, to the other women too afraid to come forward and, as importantly, to the young women just starting their journeys, like my own young daughters, this will go down in history.
What's next for women in 2018? It will be the year of women winning at the ballot box. So I founded Cause the Effect, a PAC to raise money for female candidates in local races, because winning elections is not easy. It takes activism, and it takes money. It was true of the women who came before us, and it's true today. When women get elected, we change the world for the better.
Erin Walton, executive director of Rape Victim Advocates in Chicago: When I think about a woman or a movement that most shaped me this year, I think about the Me Too movement. This year has really been a year of moral temperature gauging for us as a country, and so I think about the impact of sexism and racism and classism on our society. For me, 2017 represents a year in which the issue of sexual violence has become really prevalent and top of mind, around encompassing all of those issues. I think about Tarana Burke, who started the Me Too movement, and the platform she's made for so many survivors of sexual assault, to have a platform to speak their truth and own it. And I think about the women who are in our public entertainment industry, who took that platform and catapulted it to a public forum to which all of us can relate. I think that that, for me, was the most empowering and significant movement of the year.
What's next for women in 2018? I think that 2018 will be a year in which we can move beyond acknowledgment and acceptance and believing into a real fight toward creating an agenda by which we can all say across the country that we will no longer accept sexual violence, and that we will together come up with a way to eradicate it. I'm hopeful.
Dorri McWhorter, CEO of YWCA Metropolitan Chicago: When I think about the question what woman or event shaped me the most for 2017, it would absolutely have to be the women's marches that took place all around the world. I think the fact that we chose to show solidarity and remind each other, one, that we're here for each other, but also how much work that we have to do across this world to ensure women are absolutely treated equally.
What's next for women in 2018? I'm particularly excited about the YWCA and its launch of a women's empowerment exchange-traded fund on the New York Stock Exchange. It's again a reminder of yet another domain where women can have an impact through their investment dollars. I think that whether it's investing, or how we leverage social media to use our voice, that there are so many opportunities for women. I think that 2018 is going to be a great reminder of that for everyone.
Anna Valencia, city clerk of Chicago: The event that shaped me the most was getting sworn-in as city clerk of Chicago in January. I am the second woman since 1837 to hold this position and am the only female citywide elected official. As a millennial and woman of color in a visible leadership position in our city, I have had the chance to meet so many girls and women across this city who not only now see themselves reflected in their government, but know they have someone fighting for them. I'm grateful for a platform that allows me to continue to empower all women and girls across Chicago.
What's next for women in 2018? More women in elected office. I predict that next year will be the Year of Women. We will see more women running for office and being elected in record numbers. It's our time!
Jenni Luke, CEO of Step Up mentoring nonprofit: Participating in the Women's March in Washington, D.C., was a very powerful way to start the year. But I have to say that what really moves me is being in the communities we serve through Step Up, like Chicago, and seeing our teens in action. The next generation is acting on its vision for the future now — both for them as individuals and for all of us as a society. That vision is inclusive of all people. It is creative and bold. Most importantly, the vision is backed by a fearlessness that is inspired by the movements growing today like Black Lives Matter, the Women's March, Me Too and many others. So it is up to us to provide space for this next generation to flourish and feel supported. Having the opportunity to do that every day is what keeps me motivated.
What's next for women in 2018? Women will continue to recognize that when we work together to shine a light on important issues, dramatic change can happen. This can happen on a large, national scale. It can happen in companies and communities where women work together to make change. It can happen when neighbor talks to neighbor. And it can happen when generations mentor one another. The scale of the impact isn't the important piece of the puzzle. It is deciding to take an action today that you didn't take yesterday to connect and collaborate in whatever way is available to you.
Compiled by Alison Bowen and Heidi Stevens.