The Most Inspiring Women of 2018, According to Us

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Jezebel’s annual list of Best Women is always invigorating for us to put together. But 2018 had a special tenor to it, not because it was the Year of the Woman as some rather emptily declared, but because it was a year when so many of them showed true resilience, in both triumph and (relative) defeat. Here’s to our list of heroines, who stood tall and kept us motivated.

Ana Maria Archila and Maria Gallagher

I absolutely lost my shit when I saw that video of Ana Maria Archila and Maria Gallagher confronting Senator Jeff Flake as he stood in an elevator ahead of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s vote on Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. I was fairly composed when Archila yelled at Flake: ”You have children in your family… What are you doing, sir?” But then Gallagher chimed in, through tears: “Look at me when I’m talking to you! You’re telling me that my assault doesn’t matter, that what happened to me doesn’t matter and that you’re going to let people who do these things into power!” All of a sudden, her tears were my tears, and then they weren’t just tears and I was sobbing at my desk. In the end, of course, Kavanaugh was confirmed, but Archila and Gallagher’s emotional confrontation was a powerful reflection of—and an outlet for—the anger and sadness so many of us felt amid those hearings. My greatest hope for 2019 is more women yelling at men in elevators. –Tracy Clark-Flory

Samin Nosrat

Samin Nosrat, an obvious choice here, almost instantly became one of the most beloved figures of 2018 through her Netflix series Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, a simple four-part cooking show about food, based on her popular cookbook. The series is as much about the chemistry and quality of a good meal as it is the diligence of the people who make the food. But really, Nosrat makes the show. As a host, she’s respectful and effervescent, demonstrative without being showy. She is your mom, your sister, your best friend, your granny. She convinces you that even the worst cook can become proficient at the thing they fear. Her advice, delivered with equal measures of exuberance and conciseness, is refreshing to hear if you’ve never been much of a cooker but adore cooking shows. There is an art to food and to being a good host, and Nosrat taught me that neither has to be complicated. —Clover Hope

Tarana Burke

Late last year, the activist and founder of Me Too almost saw herself erased from the movement she’d been working on for a decade, thanks to the Twitter hashtag’s capacity for swift subsumption as a general rule. After several corrective measures by the media to recenter Burke, this year she was recognized and honored for her tirelessness and unwavering moral compass in the crucially important work of, in the organization’s words, helping “survivors of sexual violence, particularly Black women and girls, and other young women of color from low wealth communities, find pathways to healing.” While Me Too in the media was often focused on Hollywood and other celebrities, Burke constantly reminded us that most of the work is, as ever, down here on the ground. As she told Jezebel’s Katie McDonough in October, “Those of us who are committed to this work and have some level of profile in this moment have to be committed to narrative change… If you stay consistent and keep your head down, keep moving forward, I feel like people get it after a while.” Thanks largely to Burke, we sure did. –Julianne Escobedo Shepherd

Women organizing against the abyss

It felt impossible to choose just one woman when so many are doing the urgent, generous work of collective struggle against violent and oppressive systems. The women organizing with their neighbors to protect their homes and cities from predatory landlords and the nihilism of the developer class; immigrant women who have for years put their bodies on the line to protect their communities and who have brought us to a future in which “abolish ICE” is now part of our national vocabulary; the teachers who went on strike in West Virginia, Arizona, and elsewhere in the country so that they could support themselves and teach their students in an environment that better recognizes the dignity of their work; the progressive women of color who ran for office, and won, on a platform of more justice and less impunity—and the women of color who overwhelmingly turned out to put them there. These are stories of survival, common struggle, and grace. –Katie McDonough

Christine Blasey Ford

On September 27, Christine Blasey Ford did what many survivors do: retold her trauma in as much detail as possible in order to receive the full benefit of the doubt from people who weren’t there when it happened. I thought I was going to cry during her testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, but something else happened: in the days and weeks that followed, my friends and I started to openly talk about the shit we privately endure. I watched her hearing alone in my apartment and felt like I trudged through the next week, but Ford’s example and the conversations it sparked made me, in some small ways and in some big ways, feel hopeful. By showing up and publicly confronting the thing she had long hoped to overcome, Ford showed the depth of her selflessness. In her courage, many women around the world also saw themselves. It was a reminder of just how much you can do, even after the worst day of your life, even after you think you are broken. The image of her getting sworn in will stay with me for a while. —Frida Garza

Dr. Sandra Lee (aka Dr. Pimple Popper)

I don’t know what I admire more about dermatologist Dr. Sandra Lee: Her ability to make people feel better by removing the oblong growths their bodies have curiously sprouted, or her gentle brand of sadism in sharing said removals with the world. She has the bedside manner of a saint and the agile fingers of a stenographer. Under Dr. Lee’s gentle pressure, her patients’ skin spews lipomas that look like a chicken breast, and pus oozes out of cysts in ribbons. In exchange for her extraction services, which aren’t typically covered by insurance, she records videos of the popping, which she has been posting for years online via her YouTube. This year, TLC debuted a series that goes deeper into the bumpy lives of those who seek Dr. Lee’s medical treatment. The show was somehow mesmerizing and repulsive at once. A perfect vehicle for its central figure, Dr. Pimple Popper contained multitudes. Dr. Lee is a true maverick, and a kind soul with the mirth of a 4th grader who’s opening wide to show you the chewed up lunch she has yet to swallow. What a woman. —Rich Juzwiak

Ariana Grande

I think for most of the world, Ariana Grande has been somewhat of a joke. Yes, she likes to have one side of her face photographed. Yes, sometimes she is carried like a baby. No, I don’t always know what she’s saying when she sings. But I’ve always loved Grande, as a celebrity and as an artist, despite the ways in which people think of her as this teeny pop caricature. And this was really her year to define herself to listeners and even casual tabloid readers as a well-rounded, real person because real shit happened to her. Coming off of a terrorist attack on her concert in 2017, this year we saw Grande get engaged, then break it off, and then lose one of her first boyfriends to a drug overdose, all of which she handled with candid style. Not only did she release the surprisingly forward-thinking album Sweetener that didn’t just cater to basic radio trends, but she also released a damn good break-up anthem with “thank u, next.” Grande’s been working for years, but somehow I feel like this year was really her big introduction. —Hazel Cills

The eight-year-old Swedish girl who pulled a Viking sword out of a lake

Can you blame me for turning to a future mythical queen for psychic guidance this year? Saga Vanecek found a thousand-year-old sword in Vidöstern lake in Småland, Sweden this summer and wrote an op-ed in the Guardian about how fucking crazy it is to pull a Viking sword out of a lake. “I felt like a warrior, but Daddy said I looked like Pippi Longstocking,” she wrote. “People on the internet are saying I am the queen of Sweden, because in the legend of King Arthur, he was given a sword by a lady in a lake, and that meant he would become king. I am not a lady—’m only eight—but it’s true I found a sword in the lake. I wouldn’t mind being queen for a day, but when I grow up I want to be a vet.” –Maria Sherman

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

The Democratic Party hasn’t been particularly inspiring this administration; as an institution, their most cohesive message seems to be “We’re not Trump!” as centrist leaders like Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer stress “civility” and cooperate with Republicans hellbent on preserving their own power. But then came a 28-year-old Democratic Socialist, a Latina from the Bronx who had no political background, who wants to abolish ICE and create healthcare for all and who, and who, against all odds, beat a 20-year Democratic incumbent. Ocasio-Cortez is not a movement; she is one woman with strong, progressive values. But her message reflected the election-season momentum that helped a host of progressive women across the country sweep the House. Together, they have infused a new energy into politics and are challenging the Democratic Party to move further left; to define itself not just in opposition to Trump, but to stand up for a new set of values and priorities that places women of color, LGBTQ people, and immigrants at the forefront. —Prachi Gupta

Barbara Ehrenreich

Barbara Ehrenreich could be on this list annually but I spent the year rereading some of her older books, including Nickel and Dimed and Bait and Switch, after I interviewed her in May. I was reminded how trenchant Ehrenreich’s critique of class and the myth of the American dream and—even though it’s now cliche to say so—seem even more relevant. Ehrenreich’s deep analysis, her ability to map the shifting boundaries and barriers of class, including its language (she argued this year that wellness and its invention was a class signifier) rendered in her persuasively blunt style and acerbic wit, felt like a bit of a port in the storm. Plus, during our interview, she asked me if I have ever heard of “this woman Amanda Bacon in Los Angeles,” which almost made me pass out in sheer delight. –Stassa Edwards

Stacey Abrams

As a white woman born and raised in Georgia, I know all too well what Stacey Abrams was up against, having been formed in its midst. Institutional power is firmly in the hands of a smiling network of good ol’ boys who would really just prefer that everybody except their friends, colleagues, and wives didn’t vote at all. Plenty of them would be plum thrilled if it were suddenly 1952 all over again. Racism is alive and well. Plus there’s a nasty impulse among liberals in the rest of the country to write the whole region off as a bunch of impossible rednecks, rather than acknowledge the people who are fighting like hell for change. Abrams stood at the foot of a great high mountain, and against incredible odds—her opponent was in charge of the goddamn election—she came so, so close. At the end, rather than concede, she vowed to continue the fight in another form, because as she put it, “concession means to acknowledge that an action is right, true, or proper.” She’s since filed a massive lawsuit against voter suppression in Georgia. I look forward to watching her continue to raise hell. –Kelly Faircloth

Ahed Tamimi

I thought often this year of Ahed Tamimi, the Palestinian teenager who, last December, slapped and kicked an Israeli soldier who had come to her family’s home in Nabi Selah, a village in the West Bank. Hours earlier, her younger cousin Mohammed Tamimi had been shot in the head by an Israeli soldier during a protest over Donald Trump’s plan to move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. Tamimi’s family are longtime activists, and have faced severe repercussions—her uncle was killed during a protest in 2012, and both her father and older brother have been arrested several times. For slapping the soldier, Tamimi was charged with assault and spent the better part of 2018 in prison, where she turned 17. She was released this year at the end of July. The first thing she did after she was freed? Buy an ice cream cone, a look of pure joy on her face. –Esther Wang

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