In case you haven't caught the brouhaha: the BBC published one of those supposedly humorous (if they were funny) lists of "faces of the year", in which the female face of the December was an animal, and most of the other faces were either brides or rape victims -because hey, one way or another getting fucked is all women are about.
There was a bit of a dust up on Twitter, shall we say. Not, as you might think, because women are humourless harpies who can't take a good natured item about a cute panda; but because many women simultaneously realised that even in a year as serious as 2011, when women worldwide have made enormous strides and gained amazing achievements, the natural instinct is to minimise and belittle those achievements. Or, as is the case here, simply ignore them as if they didn't happen. It's a prime example of the gendercide endemic in our cultural narratives: women are held back by the absence of precedents and role models, and existing precedents and role models are either erased or distorted.
Anyway, it got me thinking, who would be my women of 2011? I was delighted to discover that I can't actually fit them all into a list of just 12, so like on Desert Island Disks, I cheated a bit:
I get well pissed off with the characterisations of Merkel as either the dominatrix or the mummy, trying to keep wayward and naughty Europe from imploding on itself. But it does seem to be largely true. For well over a year now, Merkel has been all but eulogised by the press: the tightrope she has to walk between holding the Eurozone together and not pissing off her truculent electorate is tortuous. And yet, she's doing it - and if our luck holds out, she'll make a success of it in the end. Basically the only major European leader (Papandreou doesn't count) to put real political skin in the game, she deserves plaudits at the very least for being a dedicated and serious politician.
The first in a long list of firsts, Lagarde is the first woman to step into the IMF's chief role, during a tumultuous period when both the financial and the moral credibility of the insitution were under attack. She hit the ground running and has exhuded nothing but good sense and quiet confidence ever since. I'm not a huge fan of the IMF and its policies, but if we've got to have it then at least it's good to have it managed by someone who's not going to turn into a rutting chimpanzee.
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee & Tawakkol Karman
Joint Nobel Peace Prize winners for 2011. 'Nuff said.
Cristina Kirchner, Julia Gillard, Dilma Roussef & Helle Thorning-Schmidt
In order: first ever female president elected in Latin America; first ever female Prime Minister of Australia; first ever female President of Brazil; first ever female Prime Minister of Denmark. There are others - in Kosovo, at the head of the Scottish Labour Party, in Thailand. I haven't checked any official charts, but I get the distinct feeling that this has been a bumper year for female political firsts. Not one of them made it on the BBC list - but the woman who designed Kate Middleton's wedding dress did.
This award winning Egyptian-American journalist has become the face and voice of the Tahrir revolution in the West. Eloquent, fearless and incisive, Eltahawy served as a much needed bridge between the Arab Spring and the West that struggled to comprehend it. Arrested and severely beaten in December by Egyptian security forces, Eltahawy remains undaunted.
This is not a popularity contest. If anyone can come up with a better figurehead for the News of the World scandal, go right ahead.
I think this is the only point of contact between the BBC's list and mine. Diallo is a hero to women everywhere who are frightened, bullied or gaslighted into pretending that their rape was not a rape and that the outrage done them does not, in the great scheme of things, deserve restitution. I am filled with grovelling admiration for this woman who, as a poor immigrant in a foreign country where she doesn't speak the language and doesn't hold any social or material capital, nevertheless believed that her body was not a dumping ground for the violent perversions of powerful men. Truly a survivor rather than a victim.
Michelle Bachmann (And her UK mini-me, Nadine Dorries)
So, the world economy is collapsing, long-standing political accommodations are exploding all over the Middle East, the war in Iraq is officially lost and fat cats continue to award themselves billions of our money in bonuses. I mean, what would your priorities be in a year likes that? I know! Vaginas, right?
It is usually the case that converts and collaborators are the worst zealots; this is just as true in reproductive rights as anywhere. Bachmann, Palin, Dorries and their ilk are convenient standard bearers for the mainly male-lead campaign to deny women basic human rights, and boy, have they had a busy year.
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and finalist for the Faukner Prize. But that's not made her a "face" in 2011 - nope, what she got coverage for was nabbing those plaudits right from under Jonathan Franzen's genius nose. I mean, I'm sure Franzen is a very nice man and a great author, but the spectacle of male journalists across the English speaking world clutching their pearls in dismay at his unforseen defeat put Egan's name in virtually every literary supplement there is this year. Heh. (PS: great book, btw)
JK Rowling & Stephenie Meyer
Further to the subject of writing, these two ladies hold the double distinction of being among the best selling authors of all time and being behind the two highest grossing Hollywood franchises of the year. Together with a third film based on a book penned by a woman (and one that passes the Bechdel test for a change), The Help, these women have earned the studios $819 million in 2011, in the US alone.
Goodbye, dear Amy. You were chiefly in the news this year for reasons we would all rather have not heard about. You were one of the great talents of your generation.
The Japanese Soccer Team
Because come on. Winning the World Cup? Right after the earthquake and Tsunami? Not only did they put women's football on the map overnight, they made even me care about it for like, a whole day.
Ideas? Additions? Trenchant disagreement? There's a comment section below the line!