Dec 28, 2011

Actual real human women of 2011

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:

Angela Merkel

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.

Christine Lagarde

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.

Mona Eltahawy

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.

Rebekah Brooks

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. 

Nafissatou Diallo

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.

Jennifer Egan

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.

Amy Winehouse

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!


  1. Yay!! A fantastic article, and a sensible, decent response to the insulting rubbish churned out by the BBC.

  2. Very refreshing to read after the BBC's list. Thank-you!

  3. That's more like it. Thank you Marina.

  4. The FT does much better than the BBC. I think it helps that they list prominent women by their profession and don't have a "victim" or "married to a famous man" category.

  5. I did consider including Sheryl Sandberg, but given that I was trying to offer an alternative to the BBC list, I tried to stay close to women who've been in the mainstream news a lot. Basically, if I didn't immediately have a face to put to the name and vice versa, it was a no. A lot of that (excellent) FT list is in that grouping.

  6. That's a much better list, I wouldn't have even minded if you'd included the panda at the end. ;) The Japanese soccer players are much better though!

  7. I came sailing in here through places abroad on the internet, expecting a cathartic read about the great triumphs for women in the year 2011 represented by their figure heads. Instead I found an article straw manning the BBC into a chauvinistic anti-feminist organisation. I don't have much of a problem with your reading of the BBC article, I have a problem with the anger. The BBC author was only a little miss guided, was there really the need to crucify him? The name of your blog is "not a zero sum game", I agree that feminism is not a zero game game in that; to use another common metaphor a rising tide lifts all ships. However I worry that your anger makes the conversation more adversarial, and by definition a zero sum game, one side wins the other looses.

  8. I'm sorry, did you comment on the right article? I didn't even mention the name of the person (not sure it was a man) who compiled the list, how can I have "crucified" them?

  9. Tra-la, tra-la :)

    Good article - I especially agree with your line:

    "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."

    I was last night having a friendly disagreement with someone on women and geography - he asked how many female explorers I could name (this was, natch, in relation to women having poorer spatial awareness - not the same thing as geographical exploration but this was not a serious grudge match or intellectual argument). I could name none - and assume this is because a single (respectable) woman, unescorted by a male relative, would never be let out of the house alone, and that if she were to accompany a man on an exploration mission would not feature in any credits (I think Dr Livingstone might have been accompanied by his wife, as Wordsworth was accompanied by his sister when "alone" with daffodils.

    Long story short - I agree, and btw, do you happen to know of any female explorers? And would my conclusion about writing history be along the right lines?

  10. Hmm, I think your intuition is largely correct, given that we do know that some male explorers/discoverers/missionaries were accompanied by women... But no, I can't think of any off the top of my head. It's not an area I'm particularly interested in, and given the likelihood that women explorers' discoveries have been suppressed, their renown simply hasn't reached me...

    Having said that, there have been female pole expeditions and lots of female round the world sailors, rally drivers and aviators. Tasteless jokes about Amelia Aerheart aside, I'm sure at least some of them could read a map... :)

  11. Oh and also, don't you find that the great explorers tend to be famous for having failed in the first place? Columbus didn't find India; Livinstone didn't find the source of the Nile; Shackleton failed to reach the South Pole. Some advertisement for the vaunted male sense of direction.

  12. The real problem is that the panda wasn't in the kitchen...

  13. I'm kidding, by the way. All in all, I find the argument to be rather stupid. Maybe I don't understand the issue aas much, but I think there are better things to be furious about.

  14. First of all, who gets to say that other things are "better" to be furious about? You? Why?

    Secondly, even accepting that there are, how do you know I'm not furious about them too? Or have you just waltzed in and bestowed us with your opinion without so much as glancing at the rest of my blog?

    Feminists are not Tinkerbell. We can have more than one emotion at a time.

  15. This kind of 'Feminists should concentrate on 'better' things' bullshit it so prevalent, it's really starting to bore me.

    Yesterday when I pointed out that the men responding to Helen Lewis-Hastley's question about feminism in 2012 were all just saying we should be less 'shrill' and 'angry', some dude who'd never read my tweets or blog started telling me I should actually be angry about 'female circumcision, starvation and child abuse'. I responded sarcastically, thanking him and telling him it had never crossed my mind to be angry about those things before. He responded, saying it was 'obvious' I hadn't, and apparently 'self-indulgence was more to my liking'.

    Which was when I pointed out that only two tweets before the one he had seen I'd been raising awareness for an anti-FGM event taking place in London, and that my most recent blogpost had been about a conference where I'll be having an anti-FGM speaker. After he demanded I RT the tweet at him because apparently he 'couldn't see it' on my timeline (two tweets down!), he apologised, saying 'Oh, OK, so you do some good".... uhm, thanks. Glad I got this opportunity to prove myself to you since you can't do any research on your own.

    Sorry that was a bit rambly, but seriously, fuck that shit. I don't know a single feminist who would get pissed off at the BBC thing but not at (e.g.) child poverty. Such a shitty strawman of an argument.

    Great list and great post as ever, M.

  16. To expand on the above rant - what also pisses me off about the 'shouldn't you be furious about this more important issue' thing is that the people who make those comments are rarely doing anything to combat FGM/child poverty etc etc, because you know, that's feminists' job. And the fact that you've been observed doing one piece of social justice activism means you now have an obligation to right all the wrongs of the world. It's like a person who has never done one thing to try and address homelessness watching a stranger purchase a copy of the Big Issue and then walking up and having a go at them for not volunteering at a night shelter. Just, WTF?