December 19, 2016 10:00 am

2016 was a year of strides and setbacks for women

Ashley Graham poses with her Sports Illustrated cover in New York, NY February 15, 2016.

Steven Ferdman/Everett Collection

2016 was the year of female empowerment. Until it wasn’t.

“The subject of ‘women’ was everywhere this year,” Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly remarked at an annual Women in Entertainment event this month in Hollywood. “And sometimes, let’s face it, in disturbing ways.”

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She may have been alluding to the long list of sexual misconduct allegations made against Donald Trump before he was elected. Or perhaps his lengthy history of sexist and crude comments about women. She has, after all, been on the receiving end of them repeatedly.

WATCH: ‘Blood coming out of her wherever‘ and other questionable comments Trump has fired at Kelly

Researchers like Amy Kaler with the University of Alberta’s sociology department, had warned that women would be in deep trouble if Trump won (something she never saw coming). She told us ahead of election day “it would be a big blow for feminism” if someone with Trump’s track record was elected.

READ MORE: What a Donald Trump presidency will mean for women 

While some may blame Trump for derailing what would otherwise have been a banner year for women (had Hillary Clinton managed to shatter the glass ceiling in the White House), his victory did have some positive fallout.

Let’s talk about sex

Relationship expert Carlen Costa believes there’s now an increased awareness around issues of consent, for example.

“Clinton’s loss and Trump’s victory sparked a renewed dialogue on women’s rights, reproductive rights and LGBTQ rights,” added sexologist Jessica O’Reilly.

“We are now talking more openly about so-called locker-room talk and how this impacts how men treat women and how women see themselves.”

So far it looks like women aren’t underestimating their power. Kelly, for one, seems ready to fight any of Trump’s potential slights against women “with composure and with grace,” she said at the Hollywood event.

In November, thousands of anti-Trump demonstrators in the U.S. took to the streets for days, protesting his election while holding signs like “Don’t mourn, organize.”

The message seems to be getting through.

Planned Parenthood reported a spike in donations and demand for long-acting contraceptives the week Trump was elected. Officials at the organization said people are worried about the impact his presidency might have on access to abortions and birth control in America.

“We’ve seen an unprecedented outpouring of support, with more than 315,000 people donating since the election — a quarter of whom pledged to be monthly supporters, recognizing the long-term work that is needed,” Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America told USA TODAY last week.

READ MORE: Where in Canada can you get an abortion? 

Women on both sides of the border have also taken to social media, sharing pledges of plans to volunteer or donate to causes that promote women’s rights.

Beyond Trump

Issues around female sexuality in general have attracted a lot of attention in 2016.

Going commando

We saw a trend of more women freeing their breasts by going braless this year, for example.

“Our movement is about regaining freedom and making a women’s choice to wear a bra, or not to wear a bra, her own… We are working towards the de-sexualization of the female body,” reads a Facebook page for “No Bra No Problem.”

It was started by Montana teen Brooke Lanier, a former classmate of Kaitlyb Juvik, after Juvik’s teacher complained that the 18-year-old not wearing a bra made him “uncomfortable.”

The school principal seemed to side with him, telling PEOPLE Juvik created a “manufactured crisis.”

Juvik had ditched her bra due to the discomfort it caused her. Toronto plastic surgeon Mitchell Brown says some women even go under the knife so they can wear whatever they want without worrying about finding the right bra for support..

Model Kendall Jenner became one of the most famous braless crusaders, titillating millions with sheer tops that show off her nipple ring.

In a blog post she titled “Free the Nipple,” Jenner wrote that she doesn’t see “what the big deal is with going braless.” She finds it sexy, comfortable, and is “cool” with her breasts.

READ MORE: Young women’s pubic hair grooming practices ‘concerning’ to doctors

Body confidence

Women who regularly go braless have said they’re comfortable enough in their own skin to do so.

It’s part of the continued growth of the body positive movement that O’Reilly feels helped land a plus-size model on this year’s swimsuit issue of Sports Illustrated.

“This cover is for every woman who felt like she wasn’t beautiful enough because of her size,” Graham wrote on Instagram of the front-page splash.

READ MORE: Nicole Arbour posts fat-shaming video targeting model Ashley Graham

The desire to see more “real” bodies may also have helped propel a B.C. woman’s post-baby boudoir photos — that show stretchmarks and all — to viral fame this summer.

Melanie Varney gave birth to three kids (two of them being twins), within a 364-day time frame a couple years ago.

“It wasn’t until a full year postpartum that I finally let go and started to celebrate the journey my body had been through,” she told photographer Trina Cary after the shoot.

Female pleasure

There was a lot of attention as well on the female anatomy in 2016 — specifically, the clitoris.

Kids in France may soon know more about the pleasure spot than most Canadians because they’re now being taught about it in sex ed using the “world’s first open-source, anatomically-correct, printable 3D clitoris,” according to The Guardian, which compared the model to a high-tech “boomerang.”

Its goal is to properly educate kids about the role (and location) of the pleasure spot.

Did you know this is what a full anatomically-correct clitoris looks like?

Marie Docher/Company Handout

Toronto-based author Sarah Barmak dedicated a whole book to demystifying the organ and associated female orgasm.

“We have denied female desire for so long, that now we see it through a lens of male sexuality… and expect it to work like male sexuality — to be goal-oriented, to be linear, to work quickly,” Barmak told us when her book Closer: Notes from the Orgasmic Frontier of Female Sexuality was released this summer.

WATCH: Women getting hands on in quest for better sex

Costa has seen first-hand the effects of  a lack of knowledge about female sexuality.

“I still have women who come and sit on my couch who’ve never had an orgasm in their life,” the therapist said.

But things are getting better.

Women now have more and more resources to get in touch with their sexuality, like the site OMGYes, which puts tried, tested and true methods for reaching orgasm literally at their fingertips.

“The touchable simulations are a way of modeling different ways women actually give feedback to guide their partners to what feels best for them,” said the site’s co-founder Rob Perkins. “This turns out to be the most important ‘technique’ when it comes to women’s pleasure – guiding, suggesting, experimenting, listening and responding in real-time. As important as it is, it’s also the part of sex completely missing from sex scenes in TV, movies and porn.”


READ MORE: 6 ways women are getting ‘hands-on’ in quest for better sex

What can we expect in 2017?

“I think 2017 is going to be a big year in terms of women’s empowerment,” Costa predicts.

“Women are starting to wake up to the fact we’ve got to rally together and build community together if we really want to create change.”

The key, Costa says, is not to leave men out of the conversation.

“The voice of men is being called upon to speak in support of the female experience, from the perspective of women, and to proudly say that they too are and identify as feminists, and are proudly raising feminist daughters.”

Think of the examples set by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and President Barack Obama.

“By talking about what the life of a woman is really like, by including [men] as bystanders, by correcting their language,” women can help the opposite gender understand what it’s like to be female in today’s society, adds Costa.

“We want you present, we want you to see, we want you [to] know the truth and we want you to be included, as we grow and move forward, together.”

— With files from The Canadian Press and The Associated Press

© 2016 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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