AfterNewsweek/Daily Beast launched a Digital Power Indexwhichcame underlegitimate firefor excluding women (and people of color, and people outside the US)Fast Companyintroduced a list of sixty (come on, you couldn’t even try for a hundred?) extraordinary women in their July/August issue (left) who are “changing the world one girl or woman at a time”. Yet this list also has a problem – holding extraordinary women to a lower standard than it would extraordinary men.
The list does some things right. Good on Fast Company for noticing that women are awesome and making it their cover story and for including women of color and women outside the US. Seriously, this is a step forward.
Still, I think next time they could push themselves harder. A list of extraordinary men is unlikely to include male models or the husbands of powerful women. I am sure that Angela Merkel’s husband is an excellent person and if a male model started aCenter For Children Who Can’t Read Good, then that makes me really happy, but they would certainly not rank as extraordinary. Yet somehow, women in this position are extraordinary in the eyes ofFast Company.
The problem here is not a lack of amazing women. The problem is thatFast Company applies a double standard. Factors that would make us less impressed with a man’s achievements – nepotism, the post-hoc do-gooding of celebs, being the employee of a corporate foundation – are still acceptable for impressive women. Fast Company is holding women to a lower standard of excellence and thus perpetuating the harmful myth that we need to lower the bar for women because – gosh darn it – if we hold women to the same standards of excellence as men, they just won’t be able to compete.
For the sake of argument I’ve curated the list, noting women whom I think would not be included were it not for this double standard. I’m aware of the sad truism that no one is more critical of women than other women, and I know that I may be guilty of this. To clarify, my goal in re-writing the list is not to denigrate the accomplishments of women who happen to be fashion models or have risen to power through the preceding power of men they were related to, but rather to highlight that we live in a world where the support and approval of men are still an important stepping stone for smart and capable women to succeed. These male connections and affirmations should beirrelevant.
How I would re-write theFast Company list:
1) No Nepotism: Women who gained their stature on the coat-tails of a male relative. No famous husbands, dads, or brothers.
- Laili Ali (daughter of Mohamed Ali)
- Cherie Blair (wife a former Prime Minister Tony Blair)
- Hillary Clinton (I know some people will hate me for this but – wife of former President Clinton)
- Abigail Disney (granddaughter of Walt Disney Company co-founder)
- Melinda Gates (wife of Bill Gates)
- Laura Pincus Hartman (sister of Zynga co-founder Mark Pincus)
- Jennifer Newson Siebel (wife of former San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom)
- Jennifer Buffett (daughter-in-law of billionaire investor Warren Buffett)
2) No Pop Stars or Models: Women who gained pop culture status first and then parlayed it into doing good.
- Maria Bello(actress)
- Tory Burch(fashion designer)
- Lily Cole(model)
- America Ferrera(actress)
- Liya Kebede(model)
- Alicia Keys(pop singer)
- Shakira(pop singer)
- Christy Turlington (model)
3) No Corporate Employees: Women who are putting a compassionate face on multi-national corporations. Would we give special attention to people in these positions if they were men?
- Susan Davis(Master Card Foundation)
- Maria Eitel(Nike Foundation)
- Carolyn Everson(Facebook)
- Charlotte Oades(Coca Cola)
- Dina Powell(Goldman Sachs Foundation)
- Gabi Zedlmayer(Hewlett Packard)
Which still leaves a list of thirty-eight extraordinary women like Kathy Calvin, CEO of the United Nations Foundation, Dr.Helene Gayle, President and CEO of CARE U.S.A.,Tiffany Dufu, President of The White House Project, Noorjahan Akbar, who led a march through Kabul to protest the street harassment of women,Jessica Jackley, Cofounder of Kiva.org,andLeymah Gbowee, who… well…won the Nobel Peace Prize! (Fun fact: there were three winners in 2011 and they were all women.)
So no, there are no shortage of amazing women in the world. Media outlets likeFast Company just need to hold themselves to a high standard when identifying them.