2013 was a year when women roared

For the first time ever, women were selected to run both the U.S. Federal Reserve and a Big Three automaker. A state senator won praise from the Fonz for fighting a restrictive abortion bill in Texas. Saudi Arabian women took to the roads to protest a ban on women drivers, and women set new records in entertainment and sports.  

These are the women who defined the year. 

Serena Williams stays on top, sets a new earnings record

SerenaSerena Williams celebrates a point against Na Li of China during the final of the TEB BNP Paribas WTA Championships in Istanbul, Turkey. (Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

Instead of putting away her racquet in her early 30s, tennis star Serena Williams captured 11 new titles in 2013 and became the oldest female tennis player ever to be ranked No. 1 in the world. She also earned $12.4 million from winning matches in 2013, more than any other female tennis player in history has brought home in a single year. 

Obama nominated a woman to lead the U.S. Federal Reserve 

US President Barack Obama applauds, as he along with economist Janet Yellen, leave after announcing the nomination of Yellen as Federal Reserve chair. (Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images)

Janet Yellen joined the Fed in 1977. She met a man in the cafeteria, married him, left her Fed job and eventually made her way back to the U.S. central bank. Except this time, she's set to become the country's first female Fed chair and even Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul — who had vowed to fight her nomination — has stepped out of the way.

Saudi women defy the country's ban on women drivers

Saudi activist Manal Al Sharif flashes a victory sign as she drives her car in Dubai to show of solidarity with Saudi women preparing to defy a Saudi government law against women driving. (Marwan Naamani/AFP/Getty Images)

Dozens of Saudi women took to their cars on Oct. 26 to protest an informal law against women driving in the kingdom. A couple of months later, two of Saudi Arabia's most well-known woman activists were picked up by police for driving in Riyadh, the country's capital. Two other women also were caught driving in Jeddah. All were eventually released. 

A similar protest in 1990 didn't go nearly as well. All the drivers from that demonstration, along with their husbands, were barred from foreign travel for a year. Some with government jobs were fired. 

Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world where women aren't allowed to drive. They can, however, fly planes as long as they don't drive themselves to the airport. 

Beyonce became the queen of iTunes

Beyonce performs on stage during a concert in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Buda Mendes/Getty Images)

Beyonce Knowles surprise December album release sold more than a million copies in its first day, setting an iTunes record and becoming iTunes fastest-selling album ever. Queen Bey's album "Beyonce" is her fifth solo project and includes a video with every song. 

Earlier this year, Beyonce sold more than $100 million in concert tickets for her Mrs. Carter Show world tour.

Wendy Davis fought abortion restrictions in Texas — and almost won

State Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Ft. Worth) contemplates her 13-hour filibuster in Austin. (Erich Schlegel/Getty Images)

Texas state senator Wendy Davis launched a fight against stricter abortion laws in Texas with a 13-hour filibuster aimed at keeping lawmakers in the heavily Republican state from passing the measure. Ultimately, she and her supporters were able to delay a vote on the measure until after midnight. By then, the congressional session had ended, stopping the bill in its tracks

Davis won praise from President Barack Obama, Happy Days star Henry Winkler and author Judy Blume for her effort. 

But the next day Texas governor Rick Perry  announced a special session to consider measures that hadn't made it through the previous congressional session. Texas lawmakers passed the measure in July. It was signed into law a few days later and efforts to block it have been unsuccessful. 

The Lean In movement takes hold

Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg speaks at Fortune magazine's Most Powerful Women Summit in Washington, DC. (Paul Morigi/Getty Images)

2013 was the year that Sheryl Sandberg leaned in. The Facebook chief operating officer released her first book Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead, a project aimed at helping women overcome gender barriers in the workplace. The book encourages women to work smarter instead of harder and is linked to a network of Lean In circles aimed at getting groups of women together encourage and support one another in their careers. 

A woman is selected to be GM's next CEO

Mary Barra, GM's next CEO, introduces the 2013 Buick Encore at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Mich. The NAIAS opens to the public January 14th and continues through January 22nd. (Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)

For the first time in history, a woman will be in charge of a major American automaker. General Motors said in December that Mary Barra would take over the CEO spot when Dan Akerson leaves the post in January. 

Barra is a second-generation GM employee who started working at the company when she was 18. She had been in charge of GM's product development division. 

This is how GM's outgoing CEO Akerson described her in a conference call with journalists: “She understands all the internal machinations. This is an executive who has a vision of where she wants to take the company.”

Millennial women earned almost as much as millennial men

The Narrowing of the Gender Wage Gap, 1980-2012Millenial women starting their careers are better educated than their mothers, grandmothers and millennial male counterparts. They've also been narrowing the pay gap with men. 

Millenial women now make 93 cents for every $1 a male counterpart earns, according to the latest data from the Pew Research Center. For the population as a whole, women earn about 84 percent of what men earn.

Pew notes that there's no guarantee that millennial women will maintain their ground as they age. "Recent cohorts of young women have fallen further behind their same-aged male counterparts as they have aged and dealt with the responsibilities of parenthood and family," it wrote. 

But at least they're off to a strong start. 

Kate Middleton let the world see her real post-baby body

Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, departs St Mary's Hospital after giving birth to a baby boy. (Chris Jackson/Getty Images) Kate Middleton let the world see her real post-baby body
When Kate Middleton left a London hospital after giving birth to a baby boy she didn't go out of her way to hide her postpartum belly. 

Instead, after weeks of being out of the public eye, Kate emerged from the hospital wearing a dress fitted enough to let the world see her belly. 

"Kate shows what a real mum looks like—and natural is beautiful," British motherhood guru Siobhan Freegard told The Daily Beast. "On her first appearance as a new mum she's proved herself a healthy role model for real mums around the world.”

Kate's since lost her post-baby belly and has been showing off her flat abs.