Taylor Swift and Angela Merkel may not seem like they have much in common. One has six Grammy awards to her name and one chairs the 27-member European Union. But they share an important bond: Swift and Merkel are two women who have pushed for dramatic changes in their respective worlds. Here is a roundup of other women who shook 2012.
U.S. Secretary of State
In April 2012, two guys launched an unusual Tumblr: TextsFromHillary. The pop culture memes featuring a serious, sunglasses-adorned Hillary Clinton went viral, and within just a few days, Clinton herself called up the founders to participate in the fun.
From meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi to helping negotiate a Middle East ceasefire, advocating for the empowerment of women and dancing the night away in Columbia, Clinton’s popularity in 2012 reached an all-time high.
Sixteen-year old Gabby Douglas says she was “prepared for anything” going into the 2012 London Olympics. The petite 4’11” gymnast, nicknamed the “Flying Squirrel,” became the first African-American woman to capture the sport’s most prestigious title and returned to the U.S. as an international star.
Since helping Team U.S.A. take home the gold medal, she has appeared in Vanity Fair, flipped across the Video Music Awards stage and visited the White House with her teammates. To finish out the year, she’s sitting down with Barbara Walters as one of her “10 Most Fascinating People of 2012.”
Attorney and Women’s Health Activist
Congressional Republicans snubbed Georgetown law school student Sandra Fluke, refusing to let her testify at House hearings. After Fluke spoke at a Democratic forum on the cost of birth control for women at her university, conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh called Fluke a “slut” and a “prostitute,” turning her into an instant celebrity.
The president of Georgetown University and President Obama, among others, came to her defense, and she was invited to speak at the Democratic National Convention. Fluke, now an attorney, campaigned actively for Democratic candidates and has continued her advocacy efforts.
Girls’ Education Activist
By the time she was 11 years old, Malala Yousafzai dreamed of becoming a doctor. But in her village in Pakistan, Taliban extremists have tried to stop girls from attending school. In 2009, she wrote a blog for BBC detailing her life under Taliban rule.
In October, the Taliban retaliated, shooting the 14-year-old in the head and neck. She survived the shooting, sparking a global “I am Malala” campaign in support of education for children around the globe. United Nations Secretary Ban Ki-Moon designated Nov. 10 “Malala Day.” And a number of prominent people are supporting an effort to nominate Malala for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Yahoo surprised the business world in July when it wooed Marissa Mayer from Google to become its chief executive officer. She is the youngest CEO of a Fortune 500 company and joins a small club of influential women tech leaders.
As Google’s first female engineer, she played an integral role in the design of Google Search, Google News, Google Maps, and other key features. Now investors and the tech world are watching closely as she develops her turnaround plans for Yahoo. She also moved into the center of the mommy work-life debate when she announced she was pregnant, returned to work quickly and declared her baby “easy.”
Chancellor of Germany
Angela Merkel, a physical chemist by trade, is the first woman to be Chancellor of Germany. In the past year, she’s navigated the unruly European debt crisis as the head of the 27-member European Union while managing to earn the approval of two out of three Germans at home.
She was also a leading voice on the Russian government’s human-rights record and an outspoken supporter of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Through it all, she’s earned the title of the “‘good shepherd’ in turbulent times,” said Josef Joffe, publisher-editor of German weekly Die Zeit.
Russian Feminist Punk Band
Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alekhina, and Yekaterina Samutsevich were arrested last February when their punk band protested against the rule of Russian President Vladimir Putin in front of Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior.
Since then, the women have become an international cause, sparking feminist movements across Russia, Ukraine, and the world. In August, the women were sentenced to two years imprisonment for hooliganism; in November, Samutsevich was released. “Life behind bars is a waste of time,” she said. “Authorities should realize that prison will not stop the protest.”
Aung San Suu Kyi
The daughter of the founder of the modern Burmese army — the man who negotiated Burma’s independence from the British Empire in 1947 — Aung San Suu Kyi grew up surrounded by political activism. But it was her own non-violent political fight for democracy that led to her off-and-on house arrest from 1988-2010. Suu Kyi could have left but would not have been able to return. She decided to stay.
2012 was a big year for the courageous leader. In June, she delivered her Nobel lecture, 21 years after receiving the Nobel Peace prize. In September, Suu Kyi received the Congressional Gold Medal, Congress’ highest honor. She has been instrumental in urging the U.S. to ease outdated sanctions to help bring stability to her homeland political career.
You might have heard that Taylor Swift was nominated for this year’s Record of the Year Grammy. You might have heard that in March 2012, Michelle Obama presented her with The Big Help award for her philanthropic efforts, or that Ethel Kennedy is slated to recognize Swift in December for her various advocacies. But no matter how you know her, Swift has defined herself in 2012 as a force to be reckoned with.
Only a few years ago, Swift was a teenager writing sweet country ballads in Nashville. Today, she has thrown all of her energy behind her grittiest album to date, Red. Her rockstar presence has been compared to Leonard Cohen and Bruce Springsteen, in that Swift brings “intricate craft” to her lyrics like few, if any, of her pop peers today.