The Fame Monster and Feminism | Bleader

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Fame Monster and Feminism

Posted By on 12.30.09 at 02:29 PM

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The Sexist is dyspeptic about a recent Gallup poll that determined which women Americans admire the most. I guess I am too, but I'm also sort of cynical, so I'm not especially upset. Let's break it down:

1. Hillary Clinton. A fair enough choice - a popular senator, jury's still out on her as Secretary of State. Hard to argue with. A tough, smart woman who has been patient in her political rise.

2. Sarah Palin. She has a fan base; dunno what you want me to say. A nontrivial portion of the country is inclined to support the (vague) political philosophy she purports to represent, and there are precious few female political leaders in the conservative movement.

3. Oprah. I have mixed feelings about Oprah; in some ways I think she's a malign influence. But she's the most successful figure in American broadcasting and, like Jay-Z, she's not a businesswoman, she's a business, man. Specifically topical beefs aside, a gimmie.

4. Michelle Obama. An admirable role model, and seems fine in the vaguely defined position of First Lady.

5. Condoleezza Rice. Was very powerful, wasn't really good at her job. I find it difficult to admire Bush's closest adviser, give or take, but I can see why she's on the list.

6. Queen Elizabeth II. I think we're getting down to the "name recognition" part of the list.

7. Margaret Thatcher, Maya Angelou, Angela Merkel, Elin Nordegren Woods.
We're down to the 1% club, so I don't know how seriously to take any of these. Thatcher makes sense, obviously. I loved I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings when I was a kid, so, sure, why not. Merkel makes sense; Elin doesn't, but also does, for reasons Hess explains. Since we're bordering on statistical noise, I'm not especially concerned. The list is as much a measure of fame at a very specific point in time as it is anything else.

Hess has more to say about how this list represents the volk, and makes good points, but I see the not particularly inspired Gallup results as a media/framing problem as much as anything else. There are a lot of women out there who are women, and admirable, who don't get the attention they deserve, or else just aren't framed as women who are admirable; they're just admirable people who are women.

Anyway, the only way to right these sort of wrongs is to propose alternatives. Here's a very off-the-cuff list of women I admire in no particular order (biased towards media, politics, and tech, just because that's what I pay the most attention to).

1. Jane Mayer. One of the best living investigative reporters; probably the most valuable reporter on the New Yorker staff; her intelligence reporting has been absolutely essential to understanding the past decade; The Dark Side is a must-read.

2. Brooksley Born. Her accomplishments are legion, as a pioneering lawyer, but is perhaps most notable for being arguably the single person whose advice, had it been taken, would have made the past few years suck much less.

3. Elizabeth Warren. Possibly the only person in the current administration's economic team that gives a shit about you if you don't work on Wall Street.

4. Pattie Maes. Legendary MIT Media engineer, who's done some of the most important research behind the Web as we know it now.

5. Marilynne Robinson. My pick for best living American novelist. Gilead is a perfect book, one that gets richer the deeper you go into it, and crossed over into mainstream success. She's also a great essayist on the subject of religion; The Death of Adam is an outstanding collection.

6. Marissa Mayer. Google's 20th employee and one of the most influential CS engineers in the world.

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