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The Italian art historian Barbara Jatta. (Musei Vaticani / Handout)


The Week in Women: Pregnancy brain, an election surprise, and the Vatican’s most powerful woman

December 23, 2016

Happy Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa/Festivus! It’s the most wonderful time of the year, so we’ve curated a selection of stories that warmed our hearts this week. Let’s take a look back, shall we?

Researchers at the Autonomous University in Barcelona made a cool new discovery about the impact of pregnancy on a woman’s brain. The study, which examined 25 brain scans taken before conception and after labor, found that first-time mothers showed a loss of gray matter in areas of the brain involved in registering how other people perceive things. Rather than dampen social cognition, this loss in gray matter might “prune” certain parts of the brain, making women more efficient at “mothering” skills like nurturing and teaching. So yes, the term “pregnancy brain” can now refer to something other than forgetting your own name and putting cereal boxes in the fridge.

Faith Spotted Eagle, a 68-year-old woman from South Dakota’s Yankton Sioux Reservation, became the first Native American in U.S. history to receive an Electoral College vote. When Washington state’s 12 electors cast their votes this week, four of them bailed on Hillary Clinton, who won the state’s popular vote. Three of the dissenting electors voted for Colin Powell, and a fourth voted for Spotted Eagle, who has been an outspoken opponent of the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline project. The vote caught Spotted Eagle completely by surprise—“I thought it was fake news,” she said—and also marked one of the only cheer-inducing things to come out of the cursed 2016 election.

Pope Francis has appointed Barbara Jatta as the director of the Vatican Museums, making her the first woman to hold the position. Jatta, an art historian and the current deputy director of the Museums, will become the highest-ranking female administrator inside the Vatican when she assumes her post on January 1. The Roman Catholic Church still has no chill when it comes to appointing women as clergy, but we’re taking this as a win nonetheless.

Legendary folk singer Joan Baez will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2017, along with the likes of Pearl Jam, Journey, Electric Like Orchestra, Yes, and Tupac Shakur. She is the only woman among the 2017 class, and one of just three women to receive the honor within the last four years. “I am proud that some of the songs I sang made their way into the rock lexicon,” Baez said in a statement. “I very much appreciate this honor and acknowledgement by the Hall of Fame.” A woman gaining recognition for her contributions to a musical genre? It’s a true Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa/Festivus miracle!