“This is the year of the woman,” comedian Chelsea Handler tweeted after multiple women came forward to reveal they had been sexually assaulted by Hollywood executive Harvey Weinstein. “From Fox, to Silicon Valley, to Hollywood. We may have the lost the election, but it raised sleeping lions.”
And the proclamation is not unfitting to a restless and turbulent 2017.
Only 21 days into the year, an estimated 5 million women worldwide participated in the Women’s March. The international protest set the tone for the year ahead, and the fight for women’s rights grew in the nation’s focus, more than it had been in recent years.
This fight for equality, of course, stretches back much earlier than January: Women demanding equality has been one of the most consistent aspects of human history, especially in the last century, and 2017 is hardly the first “Year of the woman.” First in recent history, the United Nation’s deemed 1975 “International Women’s Year.” In 1977, the federal government sponsored an International Women’s Year Conference, and later many referred to 1992 as “The Year of the Woman” after the election of multiple female senators.
History really repeats itself within this movement, and fortunately, there are photographs documenting it along the way.
“We’re looking back over 100 years plus and essentially still taking the same photograph,” said Bob Ahern, director of archive photography at Getty Images.
“It’s still so relevant, disappointingly relevant in some ways,” he explained, comparing images of the first suffragist parade in Washington, D.C., in 1913 to the Women’s March this past year.
Though some photographs celebrate the momentum and victories the Women’s Rights Movement, they remind us the fight is not yet over.
“The 1970s were a period where there was incredible progress on Women’s Rights. Before the 1970s, a woman couldn’t get a credit card in her own name…and marital rape was not a thing,” said Sara Bijani, Ph.D. candidate in contemporary U.S. history at Michigan State University.
But in the 1980s, the movement hit a wall. “They had been so successful in the 1970s that all of the powers-that-be kind of targeted them” Bijani said.
A shot of JFK signing a bill into law that assured women equal pay for equal work in 1963 is one of celebration, yet in 2017—54 years later—women are making 80 percent of every dollar that their male counterparts earn.
“It’s because of the successes of feminism,” Bijani explained, “especially this kind of social-oriented feminism in the 1970s, that feminist goals now are [negatively] targeted.”
These images, stretching back over a century, can still serve as a point of inspiration moving forward. Unique to the medium, photographs can transport us back in time, placing us in the middle historical events, and they have the power to evoke emotion and change.
“I think it’s really important to recognize all of the real policy changes that the feminist movement has made,” Bijani said, “and to use those as inspiration to push for better policy.”
And there’s hardly a better inspiration than photographs taken while it all unfolded. This may be the year of the woman—but it is certainly not the first—and hopefully it is far from the last.