Design, Casie Wilson.
Long before Donald Trump won the most eports suggesting the bonkers U.S. election in modern history, and broken-hearted Hillary fans popped their “It’s a girl!” balloons, many women were feeling like 2016 was…less than excellent. There were high-profile sexual assault cases, including the Jian Ghomeshi trial and the Stanford rape case, vivid accounts from female politicians of the harassment they still endure in this country, r wage gap is getting wider, and a seemingly endless stream of new research showing everything from poverty and climate change to air conditioning is sexist. See: tough year.
At this moment, when Trump’s “locker room talk” haunts us and disbelief has us reaching for the boxed wine, it’s more important than ever to celebrate the many astonishing accomplishments of women in 2016. The long-awaited
Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls inquiry began, with a set of the country’s smartest, most compassionate women leading the way toward justice and change. Our female athletes dominated the summer Olympics, our comedians redefined funny for the feminist era, our scientists made breakthroughs in cancer research, our academics fought for refugees and our tech tycoons shook up the dude-dominated gaming world.
Abroad, voters may have chosen to Brexit, but they also elected a power-player PM in
Theresa May to clean up the chaos. millions of us rallied to support each other Michelle Obama emerged as the White House’s fiercest advocate for women. And, most heartening of all, online, in front of court houses and at pride parades, in #nastywomen tees and pantsuits.
And so, a
fter a great deal of research and deliberation, we selected 12 people — comedians, scientists, activists, artists and everyday heroes — who have challenged and amazed us this year, who made us want to think bigger and do better in our own lives.
2. Samantha Bee, talk-show host
For lighting up late-night with smarts and old-fashioned feminist rage
Why we love her During the nuttiest election year in U.S. history, Bee’s new TBS show, , became the go-to for tart, take-no-prisoners political commentary. Whether she’s Full Frontal ranting about gun control in the aftermath of the Orlando shooting, or delivering a visciously smart vagina monologue amid the fall out from Donald Trump’s hot-mic leak, Bee voices the anger so many people feel right now. While other late-night hosts are offering up rap battles and beer pong, Bee charges into the difficult topics and delivers something more satisfying: cartharsis.
Sam and I started doing comedy together in the late ’90s — we go way, way, way, way back. We were in an all-female sketch troupe called The Atomic Fireballs. What Sam does now is very different from the Fireballs, but it sparks from the same place, which is: This is an injustice, how do I turn it into comedy? People will say, ‘She’s really harsh and pointed.’ When she’s very passionate about something, you see that on screen, but in her day-to-day life, you just could not meet a sweeter human being, and she really cares about other women. But the stakes in politics are incredibly high right now. She doesn’t shy away from saying, ‘Are you f–king kidding me?” We’re not the only ones “ — Allana Harkin, producer on Full Frontal with Samantha Bee
3. Penny Oleksiak, Olympic swimmer
Photo, courtesy of the Canadian Olympic Committee.
For ruling the podium in Rio
Why we love her At just 16, Penny Oleksiak became the first Canadian to snag swimming gold since 1992. Throw in three more medals in Rio (one silver, two bronze — all stored in Roots socks) and some charming teenage obsessions (Drake; Pokémon Go) and it’s easy to see why the she’s become a national heroine.
We’re not the only ones “People can’t get enough of Penny. In one fell swoop, she eclipsed some of the biggest names in swimming, and she’s so unassuming — just a 16-year-old. When I met her after her race, I asked her why she delayed turning around to look at the scoreboard. She said, ‘I just wanted to make sure that no matter what the result was, that I felt proud of my performance.’ That speaks volumes about her maturity. Then she showed me a picture of her cat, Rio, that she had just adopted. So she’s a superstar, but still down-to-Earth.” — Mark Tewksbury, the last Canadian before Oleksiak to win gold in swimming
4. Michelle McHale, LGTBQ activist
Photo, Réjean Brandt.
For redefining small-town pride
Why we love her Despite objections from conservative town officials, McHale organized the first-ever pride parade in Steinbach, Man., last July. Some 3,000 people turned out — triple the number she expected.
We’re not the only ones “When I was growing up in Niverville, Man., I felt like there was no way my sexuality could coincide with the rest of my life. It feels like gay people live on TV , not in your neighbourhood, when you grow up in small towns like ours. As soon as I saw there was going to be a Steinbach Pride, I thought, ‘It has to be Michelle.’ She did not have the full support of MP s, the mayor or city council, but she took a stand and offered hope for a lot of people in the community who feel like they still don’t have a way out. I’ve been to many pride parades in my life, but this was the most personal. To be able to walk the streets of Steinbach, out and proud, was incredibly emotional. I never thought it would happen. But change has its cost. If you’re the person who pushes for it, you’re going to get pushback: After the parade, Michelle got a lot of negative messages that prompted her and her partner to move to Winnipeg. We owe her a lot for being that person.” — Damon Klassen, a Winnipeg teacher and friend
5. Lilly Singh, YouTuber
Photo, Mark Blinch/CP images.
For creating a universe of positivity on the Internet
Why we love her This year, the 28-year-old from Scarborough, Ont., completed a world tour (in which she rapped, performed stand-up comedy and delivered motivational wisdom to mobs of adoring millennials), landed a book deal ( How to Be a Bawse drops next spring), and broke 10 million YouTube subscribers with hilarious sketches and candid video diaries that send a message of self-acceptance.
We’re not the only ones “Lilly is the queen of relatability—everyone can connect with her videos. It’s like she’s a part of their family because she’s so transparent about her beliefs, opinions and mindset. She’s a real person who believes anything is possible when you work hard and stay kind—and she’s stuck with those tenets. You can jump back to her old videos and see her evolution as a person, as a creator and as a comedian—the number of hours and level of energy she puts in is super-human, and she does it with a smile. Even before YouTube, when she worked at fast food restaurants, she always took pride and did a great job. I don’t see a lot of luck to her success. Anybody who gets to be around her is going to step up their game and realize they were not functioning at their full potential.” — Humble the Poet, rapper and Singh’s collaborator
6. Ratna Omidvar, Ontario senator, expert on inclusivity, diversity and migration
Photo, Carlos Osorio/Getty Images.
For being a voice of Canadian inclusivity
Why we love her In the year of Trump and his wall, of Brexit and the burkini ban, Omidvar made us proud to be Canadian. As a founder of Lifeline Syria, she helped welcome nearly 1,000 refugees, and as a newly appointed senator for Ontario, she continues to champion the integration of newcomers.
We’re not the only ones “Ratna is one of my oldest friends — we grew up in Amritsar, Punjab, together. When she and her husband, Mehran, were in Iran, they had such a gorgeous house; Ratna had a job she loved; they had a daughter — everything was perfect. But when Mehran was told he had to join the army, that got them scared. They left with just the baby, and they stuffed all their savings in the pipes of her pram. I was already in Canada, and when my husband and I heard they were fleeing, we said, ‘We have to get them here.’ In 1981, they got an apartment right next door to us in Toronto. It’s much easier to come as a refugee if you know somebody. She knows that. And she has such an ability to project: Ratna actually talked about what was going to happen with the Syrians about a year before it happened. That’s when she started Lifeline Syria. She’ll be the first to admit she has an incredible team, but I really think it was her — she had that vision, she knew that this was going to be disastrous. We’re on the cusp of more people saying, ‘I want a diverse country, I want women to be equally represented, I want refugees to enrich the country. I do not want a country that’s Islamophobic.’ She was that voice before it was popular. She’s still that voice now that it is.” — Deepa Mehta, film director and screenwriter
7. Melissa Lu, high school student
For being a teenager who makes cancer research breakthroughs in her free time
Why we love her The Montreal high-schooler learned why some patients with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma don’t respond to treatment — a discovery that could save lives.
We’re not the only ones “When Melissa contacted the institute about doing research here, I was intrigued, partly because of her age and partly because of her gender. I was impressed right off because she’s not afraid to ask questions. She would come in after school and on the weekends, and because she was so young, she couldn’t be in the lab by herself, so a grad stu dent would work with her. It was funny, visually, because that grad student was six foot two and she was four foot seven. Before she came, we had profiled the genetics of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma patients and found mutations in a family of proteins that prevented some people from responding to traditional therapy. Melissa figured out why the mutated proteins were resistant to the original therapy — and she may have even figured out how she can treat the patients. It’s early, but we’ll follow up on her findings. We want more women in sciences : Energetic people like Melissa just need to be given the opportunity. Then they drive it.” — Dr. Koren Mann, Liu’s mentor at the Lady Davis Institute in Montreal
8. Jade Raymond, video game exec
For dominating the gaming world
Why we love her In an industry that’s famously disdainful of double X-chromosomes, Jade Raymond has managed to thrive. A former director of Ubisoft Toronto, Raymond left her executive job in 2015 to head up Motive Studios, an offshoot of gaming monolith Electronic Arts, based in Montreal. With a staff roster now pushing 70, Motive was tapped last June to help develop a new suite of Star Wars titles — an enormous win for Raymond.
We’re not the only ones “Jade is twofold amazing: She’s been a pioneer in the industry, having worked on seminal games like Assassin’s Creed. But she’s even more impressive when you consider that around 13 percent of game developers are women. She’s spearheading a new Star Wars project with Amy Hennig at Visceral Games, which means we’ll have a Star Wars game with two women at the helm! Coming up, it was cool for me to know that you could work in this industry without hiding yourself or pretending you weren’t a woman to get ahead. Jade is not afraid to say, ‘I’m a feminist, and diversity is important.’ She gives me faith in the industry.” — Sam Maggs, author of The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy
9. Herieth Paul, model
For using the runway as a platform for change
Why we love her Canada is well-known for its supermodel exports — Linda Evangelista, Coco Rocha, Daria Werbowy — but few have ascended to the runway as quickly as Herieth Paul. She was raised on a Tanzanian farm, moved to Ottawa with her diplomat mother at 11, began modelling in New York at 18 and, at the wizened age of 20, landed a major cosmetic contract this past February. While many 20-year-olds would be tempted to luxuriate in their newfound success from the corner of a bottle service booth, Paul used her profile to champion diversity in fashion.
We’re not the only ones “We shot Herieth for a Flare cover last spring, and she has this graciousness and openness you can see immediately. She’d just landed a contract with Maybelline, which was a big deal because you don’t see a lot of black girls in mass-market beauty campaigns. Since then, she’s given a lot of interviews and said that only 10 per cent of models are of colour, and that’s got to change. She also gets the idea of ‘paying it forward.’ Her mother was involved with an orphanage in Tanzania, so from her first paycheque, she started to donate money from her earnings to this orphanage to help girls there go to school. You can tell she’s very thankful for everything.” — Cameron Williamson, editor-in-chief, Flare
10. Baroness von Sketch Show (Aurora Browne, Meredith MacNeill, Carolyn Taylor and Jennifer Whalen), comedians
Photo, courtesy of CBC.
For proving that 40ish is funny*
* Not that we needed proof.
Why we love them The CBC’s Baroness von Sketch Show went Facebook-viral last spring and had us laughing at ourselves until red wine came out of our noses.
We’re not the only ones “The women of — BvSS staff their writing room almost entirely with women in an industry that is over 70 percent male. It’s a supportive and giving place to work — a hard thing to find in the ego-driven world of comedy writing. That spirit of generosity translates to their sketches: They’re always laughing with, never at, their target audience of 40ish women. And that demographic is rarely seen in comedy. While anyone with cable is familiar with the sex lives of millennials, BvSS aims its satire at the mundanities of mid-life: queer theory reading groups gone awry, the need for both dignity and Monistat, red wine doing what red wine does. BvSS is four women turning their specific experiences into a quest for universal laughter and, most revolutionarily of all, getting it.” Monica Heisey, BvSS staff writer
11. Marion Buller, chief commissioner of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Inquiry
For taking on one of the toughest jobs in the country
Why we love her The B.C. judge, best known for establishing the province’s first First Nations court, is bringing 20-plus years of experience to the MMIW Inquiry. We’re not the only ones “When I was appointed as a judge in October 1999, my chambers were right next door to Marion’s. I looked to her for guidance and as a sounding board. I remember one morning I was in family court, and a local First Nations leader was trying to make a point in an unusual way. I ended up taking the extreme step of having him arrested because he was obstructing me. I immediately stood down and had my clerk get Marion, so I could ask her what to do. She helped me work out a strategy. She maintains balance in so many respects and understands that the problems First Nations people bring before the court are not isolated — they’re not just criminal problems, they’re not just family problems. Their backgrounds inform all aspects of their lives. There are a gazillion expectations with this inquiry, and Marion will not be able to fulfill them all. But I think she’s absolutely going to fulfill the largest part: Everybody — whether they agree or not — will recognize they’ve been heard and considered. She does that with flair, frankly.” — Deirdre Pothecary, B.C. court judge
12. Lelania Chapman, B.C. mom, cashier
For being a real-life superhero
The Maple Ridge mom saw four boys stranded on a cliffside. She’d just come from radiation treatment for breast cancer, but that didn’t stop her from taking action. Why we love her
We’re not the only ones “Lelania moved into our apartment complex last winter, and when we met we instantly clicked. I have four children and they’re all close to her, particularly my youngest, Violet, who just turned seven. In June, Violet and two of my other children were with Lelania after one of her radiation treatments, and they went for a walk in Cliff Park. That’s where they heard four boys yelling for help. They’d been cliff jumping and stranded themselves on a ledge between two waterfalls. One of them said, ‘Can you call my mom?’ As soon as Lelania heard that, her mom switch turned on, and she was like “I’m going to get them.” She tied a rope around a tree stump, threw it down and pulled them up, one by one. She had a wound on her chest from breast cancer surgery and it reopened from the pulling, and she’s been fighting an infection ever since. After the rescue, she brought the kids back to her house to make lunch. Violet was sitting at the table colouring, and she said ‘That’s just what we do — fight cancer and rescue boys!’ That experience was like a miracle for Lelania because she was feeling very down. It made her realize that no matter what, you can always make a difference in other people’s lives.”— Natasha Barber, neighbour
13. Dr. Nadine Caron, surgeon
Photo, Philomena Hughes.
For demonstrating that heritage and health care can coexist
Why we love her This year, Caron became Canada’s first female First Nations general surgeon, and she’s integrating one of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s key findings into her practice: that indigenous healing traditions must be respected alongside Western medicine.
We’re not the only ones “In my first year of medical school, I thought about dropping out multiple times. There weren’t that many people in my year who seemed to have the same issues or fears as I did as an indigenous woman. But part way through that year, I met Nadine — then a surgery resident — through the long-house on campus, the support centre for indigenous students. She shared my concerns, like coming across racism during training. Just seeing that she had made it all the way through, and had excelled, helped me through some of the tough times. Nadine has never claimed to be an indigenous traditional healer; she trained to be a Western, academic surgeon, but she recognizes that many of her patients embrace traditional medicine, and that we have to respect those practices as part of the discussion between patient and doctor.” — Dr. Shannon Waters, medical director at Island Health in Campbell River, B.C.
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