Forbes' odd most powerful women list

The magazine's tribute to female movers and shakers can't help noting their marital status and children

By Mary Elizabeth Williams
October 7, 2010 5:18PM (UTC)
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Michelle Obama, first lady of the United States, arrives at the 65th session of the United Nations General Assembly at United Nations headquarters on Thursday, Sept. 23, 2010. (AP Photo/David Karp) (AP)

Ladies, do you ever have that not-so-empowered feeling? On Wednesday evening, Forbes released its list of the 100 most powerful women in the world, an impressive litany of the most formidable, influential females in politics, business and entertainment. From top-ranked Michele Obama through Irene Rosenfeld, Angela Merkel, Oprah Winfrey, Lady Gaga and Arianna Huffington, the Forbes list acknowledges that women wield power differently than their male counterparts, and gives due respect not merely to net worth but "cultural impact": "Our assessment is based less on traditional titles and roles and more on creative influence and entrepreneurship."

It's all well and good to acknowledge that any way you slice it, a Martha Stewart has a different job than a Vladimir Putin, and what constitutes a sphere of influence in 2010 isn't strictly masculine criteria. But why, as NARAL's Mary Alice Carr  pointed out Wednesday, did Forbes feel the need to include the marital status of and number of children produced by each of its world-shaking women? One might understand that in highlighting the achievements of television host and gay rights advocate Ellen DeGeneres, marriage, and the right to be married, are a huge part of what she stands for. But Danica Patrick? Not so much. Hey, Forbes readers, meet Indra Nooyi! She's 54, she runs PepsiCo -- and she's married and has two kids. And say hello to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano -- and note that she is "single." 


Did Forbes, when it compiled its comprehensive annual coed list of the most powerful people in the world back in November, feel it necessary to note that Michelle Obama's husband, Barack, is just as married with two children as she is? It did not -- but it did list Hillary Clinton's duties as "Must deal with two foreign wars, resolve Israeli-Palestinian conflict, improve America's image abroad, tame Iran, North Korea and husband."

So thank you, Forbes, as you celebrate achievement and "cultural impact," for reminding us yet again that you can be one of the most influential, "powerful" human beings on the planet, and if you're female, you'll still be ranked, assessed and quantified by your ability to mate and reproduce.

Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a staff writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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