Swimming more than a hundred miles in shark- and jellyfish-infested waters at 64 years old to achieve a lifelong dream.
Filibustering on the Texas Senate floor for women's rights to make their own reproductive health choices.
Diana Nyad and Wendy Davis may not seem to have much in common—but both of them exhibited the kind of determination that tells the world that women won't back down when faced with a challenge, or give up just because obstacles lie between them and their dreams.
Nyad and Davis are among the 13 women who inspired us in 2013. Here are some of those who spurred us to dream bigger and fought for what's right this year.
A hot debate over feminism, working moms, and women in the workplace was thrust into the limelight in 2013 when the 44-year-old COO of Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg, wrote the best seller Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead. The book found that women haven't achieved leadership positions in male-dominated fields. She inspired a controversial but necessary conversation about feminism and the role of women in the workplace.
From Gia to Girl, Interrupted, Angelina Jolie has been known to shock us with her passionate screen performances. But few were prepared for her op-ed in May, when the 38-year-old, one of the most recognized American actors in the world, revealed that she had undergone a preventive double mastectomy. The move raised awareness of cancer and came after her doctors told her she was at risk for breast and ovarian cancer. The actor carries a faulty gene, which can increase the risk of those types of cancer.
The state senator from Fort Worth, Texas, made headlines in the summer for an 11-hour filibuster to block a bill that would limit access to abortion. Americans across the nation took to social media to voice their admiration and support for the senator who stood up, literally, for something she believed in. Though the courts upheld the law, Wendy Davis has earned popular support and announced she will be running for governor of Texas in the 2014 election.
The former first lady’s service as secretary of state in the Obama administration put her in a position to show her mettle. This year the 66-year-old faced congressional inquiry into the 2012 attacks on the American embassy in Benghazi that killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. Hillary Clinton's strong response about the tragic incident only inspired more rumors that she’s considering a run in the 2016 presidential election.
When you think of the Federal Reserve, images appear of men like Ben Bernanke, guiding the U.S. economy through one of its worst recessions and low points in modern history. Unemployment has gone up and down, the housing market has bounced back across the nation, and it remains to be seen what newcomer Janet Yellen, 67, will do. After accepting the nomination earlier in the year, Yellen became the first woman to chair the reserve.
The 79-year-old Ms. magazine founder was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom this year for her leadership in the women’s liberation movement. In a White House video, she said the medal meant so much because it was for waging “peace.” She announced this year that transgender people should be celebrated, and discrimination against them must stop. This came after years of criticism for her comments on transgender people, which she said were taken out of context.
In addition to the government shutdown, contraception was a contentious topic this year on the Hill, with the Republicans pushing for a measure that would allow employers to deny women access to birth control coverage. In stepped Elizabeth Warren, 64, who made headlines for standing up in the Senate for women’s right to birth control, saying the government was being taken hostage by those who “can’t win their fights through elections, can’t win their fights in Congress, can’t win their fights for the presidency and can’t win their fights in the courts. For this right-wing minority, hostage-taking is all they have left, a last gasp of those who cannot cope with the realities of our democracy.”
Claudia Paz y Paz
Though she became the first woman attorney general of Guatemala in 2010, the politician made news worldwide when it was announced she was a nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize this year. In a country that has seen countless human rights abuses, civil war, and genocide, as attorney general Paz y Paz has prosecuted organized crime, reduced political corruption, and brought to justice former military dictators for human rights abuses.
What do you do after the love of your life has died, and a law doesn’t recognize you as her surviving spouse? That was the problem that plagued Edie Windsor, who had to pay a large amount of estate taxes because the Defense of Marriage Act didn’t recognize Windsor as the surviving spouse of Thea Spyer. New York–based lawyer Roberta Kaplan, a lesbian, argued her first case before the U.S. Supreme Court against DOMA, one of two decisions that helped make gay marriage legal in California. Kaplan said, “The love affair and the marriage that Edie and Thea had is the kind of marriage that any of us, gay or straight or young or old, rich or poor, would be so lucky to have."
At 32, Serena Williams this year became the oldest woman to hold the No. 1 ranking in the world. Forbes ranked her No. 2 among the world's highest-paid female athletes in 2013. The tennis champion also has Olympic gold medals and French and U.S. Open singles titles to her name. On the tennis scene since 1995, Williams proves women athletes, no matter their age, can be inspirational by competing with grace and agility.
The 64-year-old made history this year by becoming the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage, in 54 hours and 52 minutes. She had tried to swim the distance four times before but had succumbed to jellyfish stings and other setbacks. “You’re never too old to chase your dreams,” she told spectators after she succeeded on her fifth attempt. Goes to show, perseverance pays off at any age.
It's the story of the little housewife who could. The 82-year-old Canadian author hoped she would be an inspiration for other women writers who combine the demands of raising a family with writing—and she fulfilled that hope by winning the Nobel Prize in Literature this year for her mastery of the contemporary short story. In a video interview on the Nobel Prize website, Munro recounted that, while growing up in Ontario, Canada, she would make up stories on her walk to school.
In December, the 32-year-old megastar dropped her self-titled album on iTunes, much to fans' and the media's delight, selling more than 600,000 copies in the first three days. But Beyoncé has been enchanting us all year—pushing for a no-boundary concept of feminism that shows up in the new album's track "Flawless." The raucous number samples Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's TED talk, titled "We Should All Be Feminists." Adichie—a bonus inspiration!—this year published a book, called Americanah, about love and race in Nigeria. In interviews the musician has been voicing support for feminism, calling herself a modern-day feminist in Vogue. Bringing messages like Adichie's to the masses is something Beyoncé didn't have to do but chose to. That's big in our book.