Forget two turtle doves or five golden rings. This holiday season, I'm celebrating contraception, women increasing their ranks in Congress, women stealing the show at the Democratic National Convention and women using a new roadmap to win office (and a partridge in a pear tree). Here are my 12 standout moments for women in 2012, tied up with a bow:
1. Women Win Big: This year, women took their places in the House (and Senate). On a triumphant election night, women increased their ranks in the upper chamber to 20 Senate seats, the most in our country's history. With Senator Patty Murray chairing the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, 10 Democratic women senators earned seats in the Senate, including four elected for the first time.The 2012 Project, an organization with which I'm proud to partner, was a non-partisan campaign of the Center for American Women and Politics with a mission to increase women's representation in Congress to 20 percent. Theirs was a powerful, nonpartisan voice in this election.
2. Open Mouth, Insert Foot: We heard about binders full of women and "legitimate rape." We heard old, white men question the merits of equal pay for equal work for women and the value of access to birth control. Rush Limbaugh called Georgetown law student (now graduate and powerhouse activist) Sandra Fluke a "slut" and "prostitute" for advocating for insurance coverage for birth control. Those comments, and the ill-informed sentiments behind them, mobilized women -- and I'm glad they did. The attacks on women's autonomy resulted in more autonomous women in Congress. Thanks for the publicity, guys.
3. Women Steal the Show at the DNC: As I wrote in a September Huffington Post column, women took their rightful place on the Democratic National Convention stage -- and they knocked it out of the park. One of the most vocal "Nuns on the Bus"Sister Simone Campbell, got a hearty "Amen, sister" for her measured and meaningful speech. Elizabeth Warren, now the first woman to hold the title U.S. Senator-elect in Massachusetts, proved that her strong message of fighting for fairness for the middle class is not simply a political talking point -- it is her mantra and her life's work. And First Lady Michelle Obama used her genuine warmth and wit to connect with voters and viewers.
4. New Hampshire Makes History: This election was a milestone for the granite state: New Hampshire's corner office and entire bipartisan Congressional delegation, including its two Senators, will be all women. Maggie Hassan's win is a groundbreaking victory for New Hampshire and for women. Governor-elect Hassan will be the only Democratic, pro-choice woman Governor anywhere in the country, and I am proud to be her strong supporter. Live free or die, indeed.
5. Planned Parenthood Takes to the Web and Wins: When the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation cut $680,000 in grants for breast cancer screenings at Planned Parenthood facilities, Planned Parenthood supporters took to the web in droves -- and they won. Within a week of the announcement, more than 1.3 million Tweets mentioned the foundation, Planned Parenthood, and related hashtags. The foundation did a quick about-face and restored Planned Parenthoods' eligibility for grants. For telling a fundraising juggernaut like Komen for the Cure to take politics out of women's access to healthcare, Planned Parenthood supporters earn a spot on this list of gifts.
6. Ladies Take their Seats in Leadership: Democratic women made gains in House leadership this year, with the makeup of the party's ranking House committee members becoming more reflective of our country. Republican leadership, on the other hand? Not so much. Democratic women will hold seven of 22 committee roles in the next Congress. Republicans named white men to chair every one of the 19 major House committees. Take a cue from the minority party, here, GOP.
7. The Pill, Minus the Bill: We hit a milestone for women's health this summer when on August 1, contraception became available without a co-pay. Being a woman is no longer a pre-existing condition, thanks to the Affordable Care Act.
8. Pragmatic Research Provides a Roadmap for Women Candidates: It may sound intuitive, but research released post-election by the Barbara Lee Family Foundation confirmed that voters believe there are still higher hurdles for women than men. Women must show they are qualified, competent and confident straight out of the gate. They must get third-party validators to vouch for their qualifications. They have little room for mistakes. And there is a double-bind for women candidates: qualification and likeability are linked, and those traits rise and fall together. That is not the case for men. Sound like bad news? Not necessarily. Research released this spring also revealed breakthrough messages women can use to connect with voters. Turns out, voters like a qualified woman.
9. Hillary Clinton's Popularity Soars: First it was Texts from Hillary. Then it was a viral video of her dancing in South Africa. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's popularity is soaring along with her pop culture hip factor. Despite her insisting there won't be a Clinton campaign in 2016, her supporters (myself included) are still hoping for another run from the woman who successfully served as the nation's highest-ranking diplomat and remained above the fray of a presidential election to graceful effect. She absolutely has the qualifications to be the first woman president. And her 66 percent favorability rating is a record high. Now that's tackling the double bind.
10. Sisters are Doing it For Themselves: With Senator Kirsten Gillibrand's leadership, the Senate passed a bipartisan amendment calling for health insurance coverage of autism treatment for military children. Senator Jeanne Shaheen worked across the aisle to unanimously pass energy-efficiency legislation. Congresswoman Niki Tsongas worked to improve sexual assault prevention training in the military. It's important to have women at the table on campaigns and in government. This year's results in both arenas prove it.
11. Young Girls Make Big Moves: It was not only women climbing the ranks in politics this year. Girls flexed their advocacy muscles, too. This year we saw high-profile examples of girls empowered to make change. From the Girls Scouts' 100th birthday celebration, to a successful petition to name a woman to moderate a presidential debate, to a charge for gender-neutral marketing for the Easy-Bake Oven, girls raised their voices in 2012. No doubt, they'll grow into women who do the same.
12. President Obama Wins Re-Election: Mind the (gender) gap. The bow on top of these gifts is President Barack Obama's re-election. This is the president who signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act into law. This is the president under whose watch the military repealed Don't Ask Don't Tell, allowing gay Americans to openly serve. This is the president who has appointed 72 women to the federal bench, more than any other president in one term. This is the president for whom women voted with an 18-point gender gap in November. Thanks for having our backs, Mr. President.