Disgusted by Forbes’ Methodology for Determining the World’s 100 Most Powerful Women

Labour Party

World's fourth most powerful woman (right) and seventh most powerful woman (left). Apparently.

This morning, I read the newly published Forbes list of the 100 most powerful women in the world. As it loads up I wonder to myself, will Merkel be ahead of Hilary Clinton? Where will Catherine Ashton come? I wonder which female CEOs have been judged as the most powerful?

To my horror, Lady Gaga is number 7. Oprah Winfrey is number 3 – ahead of both Hillary Clinton and Angela Merkel. Ellen Degenres beats Nancy Pelosi to the last spot in the top ten. The most powerful woman in the world is listed as Michelle Obama, undoubtedly an influential woman, and very able in her own right, but there because she is the wife of a powerful man. Catherine Ashton is not mentioned at all. Lower down the list Madonna, a singer who (I checked) last released an album 3 years ago, is 2 places above Ruth Bader Ginsberg, a Supreme Justice in what could be argued to be the most powerful court in the world (numbers 29 and 31 respectively).  Whilst Lady Gaga, Madonna and Beyonce have the very highest level of influence within the world of fashion and music, I am unsure as to how that possibly entails they are more powerful than Catherine Ashton, who co-ordinates the foreign policy of the world’s largest economic area, or Dilma Rousseff, the President of a G12 country (Brazil).

Perplexed, I turn to  Forbes’ list of the 68 most powerful “people” in the world. Since there are only 4 women I don’t feel it’s entirely unreasonable to refer to this list as the list of the 68 most powerful men in the world. Funnily enough, there are no singers or actors in sight. Indeed, it seems a far more reasonable list; being topped by Hu Jintao, Barack Obama, the King of Saudi Arabia and Vladimir Putin. Men who without a shadow of a doubt wield large amounts of tangible power.

So why the difference in the two lists?  It turns out the lists are compiled using different methodologies.  In considering the men the factors taken into account are the size of populations they hold power over, their financial resources, the extent of their sphere of influence and the active use of their power. When it comes to the women however, they have instead been split into 4 categories; business, politics, media and lifestyle. So, half dedicated to women who influence real things and half dedicated to women who influence media and “lifestyles”.

Why the difference in approach? Well, I guess it can only be because women are still judged to be successful on different gounds than men are. A female singer (Beyonce) can be considered more successful than a female politician (Rousseff) because fundamentally that’s what women should be doing isn’t it? The idea that (for example) Usher or Kanye West could be considered as successful or powerful as a male head of state is of course ludicrous. Sadly, the same attitude still does not apply to women. It is also highly apparent that Forbes still considers women as defined by their husbands but not vice versa. Michelle Obama is, according to them, the world’s most powerful woman, by virtue of being the First Lady, of being someone’s wife. Melinda Gates is number 27, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy is number 35, Maria Schriver (Arnold Schwarzenegger’s soon to be ex-wife) is number 53 and the wife of the Emir of Qatar is number 74.  Shockingly Angela Merkel’s husband is not on the men’s list however. Well, I guess that’s because he’s a man; and is evaluated on the basis of his own achievements rather than those of his spouse. Forbes’ list is a depressing indictment of how our society still views and judges the female half of the world’s population. So women if you want to be powerful don’t bother trying to become a head of state or a business CEO! Instead, either try and marry someone powerful, or just make sure you have a good hairstyle, can carry a tune and are willing to wear skimpy clothes. Because clearly that’s still (nearly) all that matters.

Encourage Reading and keep our Libraries

Labour Party

I was pleased to see this article by Lisa Jardine on the BBC website today.

Lisa, who incidentally is a neighbour of mine, living in the same Bloomsbury mansion block, hits the nail on the head.

It’s the content – what the book is about, what it says, how it says it and how the reader reacts – rather than its cover and binding which really matter. 

It was interesting to see that Lisa is reading Tony Blair’s much vaunted biography A Journey in e-book form. I have bought the hardback and am about to start my own particular journey through its 690 pages.  Faced with the prospect of carrying it to St Pancras International and then on the Eurostar, then from Brussels Midi station to the European Parliament and finally back to my flat in Brussels, I am seriously beginning to wish I had bought something which would allow me to read it electronically.  May be this will be the incentive I need.

The huge sales of Blair’s biog is just the latest in a line of best-selling books which truly demonstrate that reading is not in decline.  Lisa Jardine mentions the phenomenal success of the Harry Potter books and the way Oprah Winfrey built up her book club.  I would perhaps add Dan Brown, Stieg Larsson and Labour Party supporter Ken Follett as two further authors who prove the art of reading is still very much alive and well.

However, I have to concede that the public library is not what it was.  Nevertheless, libraries still provide a valuable resource for adults, and particularly children, to explore the written word and become the readers of the future.

As the Coalition Government seeks to make massive cuts in public spending, let’s hope there are those in their midst who understand the importance of the arts in general and reading in particular.  The cultural industries generate considerable wealth for the UK.  They should be supported and encouraged.