THE BLOG

The Year in Women: The Good, Bad, and Iffy

02/21/2010 12:33 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

On paper at least, 2008 was the year that women took it on the chin: The electorate sent Hillary packing, Marion Jones fessed up to doping, and Sarah Palin couldn't name any newspapers she reads. Still, we at Marie Claire have calculated that womanhood managed to clock in with at least a few notable advances over the course of the year. We detail them in our December issue.

Let's start with the hijabulous Ruqaya Al Ghasara. The 26-year-old sprinter from Bahrain became the first Muslim woman to run in the Olympics wearing a hijab (covering everything but her face and hands). She reached the semifinals in the 200-meter sprint -- in the process, carrying the flag for countless young women in the Muslim world by defining the often too-elusive middle ground between religious stricture and reaching for a dream.

Author Stephenie Meyer, with her Twilight series, rode the vampire trend to multimillionairehood, with 12.2 million books sold and a buzzy hit film that raked in $70 million at the box office on its opening weekend.

Tina Fey rocketed up the Hollywood power lists on the strength of 30 Rock, Baby Mama, and a $5 million book deal.

And of course, there's the rise of the celesbian. LiLo and Sam hooked up, Ellen and Portia got hitched, and club music went bi-curious with Katy Perry's "I Kissed a Girl," which became a global hit. Once upon a time (actually, not too long ago), this kind of refreshing openness might have been career suicide.

To be sure, there were some grim developments this past year as well. Like the new Sony PlayStation game "Fat Princess," in which players stuff a damsel with cake until she's too obese for opponents to move her.

Meanwhile, Olympic beach-volleyball player Misty May-Treanor invited President Bush to smack her on the butt when the leader of the free world paid a courtside visit. Not exactly a way to gain respect for the sport.

In Iraq, the new growth industry among women became suicide bombing. At least 27 female bombers struck this past year in Iraq, compared with eight in 2007.

Then there's Samantha Power. What happens when a highly esteemed, Pulitzer Prize-winning Obama adviser calls Hillary "a monster"? She gets the boot, and quickly becomes collateral damage for the campaign.

But hey, there's always the comeback. Take Carly Fiorina. Three years after getting ousted as Hewlett-Packard's chief executive, she returned as McCain's top economic adviser. And chatterbox Kathie Lee Gifford, who'd long been relegated to the "Where are they now?" file, landed a plum hosting gig on the Today Show.

Even human punchline Paris Hilton had a laugh at the expense of John McCain, who'd famously likened Obama's celebrity to hers. "Thanks for the endorsement, white-haired dude," Paris purred in her retaliatory Web video, a tour de force of self-deprecation while looking skankily fabulous in a bathing suit.

And while the U.S. ultimately didn't pick a female president, or vice-president, this year, the world will still be able to watch some fascinating women take up powerful new roles on the geopolitical stage. Israel's foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, is in line to become the country's first female prime minister since Golda Meir. Her goal: nothing less than making peace with the Palestinians. And in India, Mayawati Kumari, the chief minister of India's most populous state, is favored to become the country's first prime minister from the Dalit community, India's lowest rung on the social ladder.

Who's untouchable now?

-----

Abigail Pesta is an award-winning journalist who has lived and worked around the world. Currently she is the deputy editor of Marie Claire. Previously Abby worked at Glamour, where she launched Mariane Pearl's popular column about women who are changing the world. She is a former editor at The Wall Street Journal in Hong Kong, where she ran a team of reporters Asia-wide. Before that she worked in London for an international wire service. She has traveled the world -- climbing the ruins of Angkor Wat, motoring across Wales, bar-hopping in Shanghai with a minor-league Mafioso. She writes short stories for her website, Fine Words Butter No Parsnips.