In the last days of a year that saw both the return of Pussy Riot and the national absorption of the phrase “Grab ‘em by the pussy,” we thought we’d put together a brief, opinionated and not-at-all exhaustive list of 2016’s most notable women. So then: From the indisputably heroic to the hotly contested, here are 16 (because 2016) women who made monster waves in the fields of politics, media and entertainment this year.
The grace of Michelle Obama in 2016 won’t be equalled any time soon. Her speech in New Hampshire directed toward President-Elect Donald Trump’s lewd sexual comments about women was one of the most powerful FLOTUS speeches ever. From launching a mentoring program for disadvantaged girls to the #bringbackourgirls campaign in the wake of the horrific Boko Haram kidnappings, her eight-year effort to change women’s lives will be her legacy. And how could we forget her doing “Carpool Karaoke” with Missy Elliott?
She wasn’t actually on the ballet this year, Elizabeth Warren, Massachusetts Senator and academic, took huge strides to secure her political agenda while campaigning for Hilary Clinton. She also wasn’t afraid to rip Donald Trump a new one from time to time on Twitter, which solidified her as a real-life girl boss. She also famously demanded answers from Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf after his embarrassing fake account scandal, which created national outrage. We’re hoping Warren continues to lead the Democratic Party as a potential presidential frontrunner.
Discussions around easily the most talked about woman in 2016 were predictably polarizing, with Republicans pushing Clinton on her private email server and handling of attacks at the United States embassy in Benghazi, and far-left Democrats pushing her to buck establishment trends and be the progressive candidate of their dreams. Still, people from all political leanings considered her the most qualified person to run for the office of President of the United States. Clinton not only received more 2.8 million more votes than her opponent, but she also earned more votes than any white male presidential candidate in United States history. Unfortunately for Clinton, the Electoral College wasn’t in her favor. Many will tug at and tease the reasons Clinton lost, but there’s no disputing her historical place in American politics. Each decade of public service brought more scrutiny—and more notable achievements. Even before she became the first woman to lead a major party’s presidential ticket, she created the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which continues to insure millions of children across the country, served as New York’s first female senator and championed women’s and LGBT rights across the globe during her tenure as Secretary of State. With the nation even more divided now than when she got started, Clinton will undoubtedly be talked about as long as there’s an America. —Jake Giles
Hillary Clinton’s devastating inability to crack that last glass ceiling shouldn’t overshadow the formidable Senator-elect Tammy Duckworth, who will surely continue to step into Clinton’s shoes as a woman of political “firsts.” Duckworth’s resume is full of them: She’s the first-ever Asian American woman elected to Congress in Illinois and the first member of Congress born in Thailand. She was the first disabled woman ever elected to the House of Representatives when she served as the U.S. Representative for Illinois’s 8th congressional district. She’s only the second Asian American woman senator in history, an honor she shares with California’s Senator-elect Kamala Harris. Those achievements are impressive enough in their own right, but Duckworth is also a war hero. During the Iraq War, she served as U.S. Army helicopter pilot. She lost both her legs when her Black Hawk was shot down, but continued to serve as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Illinois Army National Guard until her retirement in 2014. In 2017, Duckworth will be one of Donald Trump’s toughest opponents: She’s a strong supporter of Obamacare and policies that put immigrants on a path to citizenship. —Elisabeth Sherman
To answer increasing calls for diversity in every aspect of American culture, Kamala Harris stepped up. Her mother is an Indian-American doctor and her father is a Jamaican American economics professor, making her the first woman, the first African American, the first Asian American and the first Indian American to serve as Attorney General of California. Following her election to the U.S. Senate in November, she will be only the second black woman—and first Indian American—to serve in that role. Harris is an aggressive advocate for marginalized people and the environment. While serving as a San Francisco district attorney in the early 2000s, Harris created a special Hate Crimes Unit that focused on crimes against the LGBTQ community as well as the Environmental Justice Unit, which prosecuted businesses for pollution. Many have dreams of a Harris 2024 presidential bid. —Elisabeth Sherman
The fact that Kellyanne Conway is the first ever woman to run a Republican presidential candidate’s campaign is not what keeps the public buzzing about her. Maybe we’re still reeling from those scathing comments she made about Mitt Romney on national television, or perhaps we just haven’t recovered from shock after she insisted that rape wouldn’t exist if women were as strong as men. What’s incontestable is that Conway knows how to create controversy, turn politics into entertainment and with the triumph of her candidate, prove she’s the master of spin, even earning herself the nickname “The Trump whisperer.” Though she turned down a position in Trump’s cabinet, something tells us this election is hardly Conway’s swan song. Like Sarah Palin in 2008, an ambitious woman like her is sure to have a lot more moves up her sleeve. —Elisabeth Sherman
Donald’s favorite daughter became an unlikely polarizing figure this year. One of the only Republicans to speak up about women’s rights during father’s campaign, Trump the Younger’s speech at the Republican National Convention was lauded, while her choice of dress was both admired and reprehended, and her unflinching support of her dad inspired the #GrabYourWallet movement. At Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Summit, she insisted, “I’m not a surrogate, I’m a daughter. I’m not dogmatically aligned with any party.” But she will be heavily involved in the new administration. Trump is already pushing her arguably regressive proposed childcare plan and reportedly receiving her own office in the White House, where she’ll advise her dad on issues from family leave to climate change. No doubt he needs all the help he can get, but what makes her an expert on such topics remains to be seen.
Sarah Mcbride made history as the first transgender woman to speak at the Democratic National Convention. In a rousing speech, she called for everyone to celebrate the strides made for inclusivity across the country. In tandem with her message of thanks, she called for all Americans to continue the effort of making America fully inclusive for everyone.
During the 2016 presidential election, even bleeding-heart liberals admitted falling in love with the independent, bull-by-the-horns journalism of Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly. After pushing the president-elect to be more specific about his proposed policies, Kelly became a direct target of Donald Trump’s infamous Twitter tirades and sparred with him on the Republican debate stage. Trump wasn’t the only man rebuked by Kelly’s patriarchal rejections; former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich tussled with Kelly on her show The Kelly File after Gingrich accused her of being “fascinated with sex.” She cooly responded that she was “fascinated by the protection of women,” which she further demonstrated later in the year by speaking out against former Fox News CEO Roger Ailes sexually assaulting her and other Fox News female employees. Although Kelly recently told TMZ that she and Trump are all square, he and the rest of the GOP, who soon will have almost complete control of the United States government, would be wise to show Kelly the respect she’s earned. —Jake Giles
When we spoke with this Canadian powerhouse last year, her TBS show Full Frontal With Samantha Bee had just launched, and she had recently tweeted a picture of a Vanity Fair cover depicting 10 late-night hosts—all of them male—with a picture of Bee as a lazer-shooting centaur photoshopped in the middle. This year, her show kicked into high-gear and Bee delivered potent weekly doses of wit, insight and perfectly expressed rage. From her coverage of the insanity of America’s response to mass shootings to the Trump campaign, Bee proved that it was OK to laugh, feel and mobilize all at once.
In our September issue, first-generation Libyan American Noor Tagouri became the first woman to wear Hijab in Playboy history and looked like a badass while doing in. In the accompanying interview, the YouTube star and TEDx talker told us that her goal was to become first hijab-wearing news anchor, and with her history of bravery and fighting for causes such as the anti-human-trafficking organization Project Futures, we pity anyone who tries to stop her.
NBC reporter Katy Tur spent the year covering Donald Trump rallies for the network and did such a good job, once pointing out how be abruptly ended a rally after a clash with protesters, that our clearly rattled president-elect took to calling her out by name. In response, the hashtag #imwithTur circulated on Twitter amongst those inspired by Tur’s refusal to be bullied out of her job.
GIGI AND BELLA HADID
At the close of 2015, Gigi and Bella Hadid were up-and-comers with a mom on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills and a major buzz around them, Gigi more established than her younger sister. Now they are two of the biggest models in the game. In the past year, they’ve amassed an Instagram following of nearly 36 million between the two of them and stormed the Victoria’s Secret runway. Gigi hosted a panel on perfection, broke up with Abel Makkonen Tesfaye (aka the Weeknd), cohosted the American Music Awards and impersonated Melania Trump; collectively, they graced a myriad of magazine covers including Harper’s Bazaar, Dazed, Paper, Glamour, Elle and British GQ, along with nine international Vogue covers. Their sisterly love appears stronger with success, even after the British Fashion Awards pitted them against each other for the title of top International Model (Gigi won).
To say 2016 was an explosive year for Beyoncé would be a disservice to the intensity of her success. Her album Lemonade was so significant and layered with thematic discourse on issues of race that it is now being used in some college courses. The visual album, which debuted on HBO, arguably shut down the internet and for weeks was almost all any media outlet could discuss. Queen Bey also broke the record for Grammy nominations, coming in this year at 62 nominations.
Saturday Night Live stand-out, newly minted movie star and Olympics commentator Leslie Jones overall had a banner year. Well, except for the whole “being attacked by crybabies and racists mad that a black woman was ruining their childhood and had the gall to exist” thing. While Jones admitted that the online abuse and backlash to her staring in the Ghostbusters remake hurt, causing her briefly to leave Twitter, she never let the trolls win, as seen in her brilliant response to the leaking of her nude photos. “If you want to see me naked, all you have to do is ask!”
Nineteen-year-old gymnast Simone Biles won a record four gold medals at the Rio Olympics this summer. Her inspirational back story (her parents had substance abuse issues and she spent the early part of her childhood in foster care) and awe-inspiring moves, including her signature double backward somersault “the Biles,” captured the world’s heart. In addition to her many medals she was rewarded with her own emoji, the Simoji. If that isn’t a symbol of validation at the end of this batshit year, we don’t know what is.