The 5 Most Inspiring Women of 2012

As most of us already know, 2012 was a rough year for women. Throughout the year it seemed as though you couldn't turn around without hearing another male political figurehead try to redefine rape or eliminate access to reproductive health services. But throughout it all, there were constantly women who both empowered us and ignited a fire within us that made us want to follow in their footsteps over the course of the past year.

1. Sandra Fluke

Most of us remember Sandra Fluke for her legendary scandal with Rush Limbaugh that blew up the blogosphere, in which he made inflammatory, and rather sexist comments about Fluke on his talk show including calling her a “slut” and asking for videos of her sex life. Fluke first came to attention in the United States in February of 2012, when Republicans refused to allow the Georgetown law student to testify to the House Oversight and Government Reform committee on the importance of requiring insurance plans to cover birth control.

And let's not forget her extremely moving speech at the Democratic National Convention.

2. Pussy Riot

The words “Pussy Riot” became part of our vocabulary in February of 2012, when three members of the Russian feminist punk band— Maria Alekhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Ekaterina Samucevich — were charged with "hooliganism." They were sentenced to up to seven years in prison for participating in a “punk-prayer,” which publicly called for the need to uphold human rights under the current oppressive regime of Putin, in a Russian Orthodox church.

This case gained so much national attention that many individuals stood in solidarity with the band, and “Free Pussy Riot” t-shirts even started popping up at retail stores across the globe. Pussy Riot reminded us all of the true significance and weight that guerrilla activism can hold.

3. Malala Yousafzai

Malala Yousafzai is a 14-year-old female Pakistani activist who won international acclaim for speaking out for girls denied education under the Taliban. She was shot and seriously wounded in Pakistan in October of 2012 on her way home from school, by a member of the Pakistani Taliban. Yousafzai's story is one of true inspiration: she proved that one voice, no matter how young, can make a difference. She is seen as a symbol of hope for all young girls and women who are marginalized and denied basic human rights.

4. Gabby Douglas

Gabby Douglas was a member of the U.S. Women's Gymnastics team at the 2012 Summer Olympics, where she won gold medals in both the individual and team all-around competitions. The 16 year-old became the first woman of color in Olympic history to win such medals.

Soon after Douglas's Olympic achievements, a controversey ensued about her hair, which was criticized as being both “unkempt” and “embarrassing.” This controversy called attention to the level of racism and sexism that is still prevalent in the culture of sports. A young woman of color accomplishes something great, yet society at large is more focused on her appearance, and more specifically, how she chooses to keep her hair. And as if her achievements weren't enough, Douglas inspired us even more when she herself summed up the controversy, in an interview with the Associated Press.

"I just made history and people are focused on my hair? It can be bald or short; it doesn't matter about [my] hair," she said.

5. Tammy Baldwin

Tammy Baldwin was elected senator from Wisconsin on November 6. She is the first woman to be elected senator in that state, and the first openly gay person to ever be elected to the Senate. In a political system where LGBT individuals are encouraged to keep silent about their sexuality, Baldwin was an inspiration to all of us. Her openness further normalized being queer within political spaces. Baldwin winning a seat in the Senate was one of many gains for the LGBT community this past year.

I would hazard a guess that we all have women in our lives who inspire us every day. Whether it be our mothers, sisters, girlfriends, or professors, there are always those individuals closest to us who inspire us on a more day to day basis. And I feel it is important, especially when making a list such as this one, to also take a moment to note those women who are inspirational on a smaller scale, because the truth is, they build the foundation for the women listed above. The “Most Inspirational Women of 2012” could very well be any one of us.