Thursday, December 6, 2012

The 100 Most Influential Women of All Time by Deborah Felder

So I already had a mini-rant about this on Goodreads, but wanted to complain a little further. The book is a list of ranked women in order of influence on history, each gets 1-3 pages of biography. I'll say up front that the problem is not Felder's writing, it's fine and engaging. My problem is the ranking and myopic world view presented in the list.
Out of 100 women, only 5 are not from either the U.S. or Europe: The Virgin Mary (#10), Indira Gandhi (#56), Murasaki Shikibu (#73), Cleopatra (#84--I'm including Cleopatra in this list since although her father was of Greek descent, her mother was most likely Egyptian), and Wu Chao (#89). There are a few more that get honorable mention status at the end in a list of 50 additional women: Christina Ama Aidoo, Hatshepsut, Lillian Ngoyi, and Tz'u Hsi. So I guess that's really 9 women out of 150.
Only 8 women from earlier than the 19th century (with another 6 in the honorable mentions--so 14 out of 150). Very few scientists or really any profession outside of the arts. There's not one indigenous American woman, although both Frida Kahlo and Christina Mistral have Indian ancestry. For some examples who should have at least been considered (especially with the low criteria of many of the other inclusions): I'd say La Malinche, since the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs would have been very different and much harder without her help; Pocahontas, since without her help Jamestown would have been another failed endeavor and delayed British settlement on the east coast; Sacajawea since U.S. expansion would have been harder without her help on the Lewis & Clark expedition; Wilma Mankiller first female chief of the Cherokees, created many improvements, and was activist in the AIM movement; Dahteste, warrior for the Apache, who later helped mediated peace between the Geronimo and the Apaches and the US military (ending the longest war the US has ever fought); Rigoberta Menchu, Nobel Peace Prize winner who works for indigenous rights not just for Guatemalan Indians, but indigenous peoples everywhere. 
Other candidates from outside Europe/U.S.: 
-Enheduanna, the first known writer of any gender in the world, daughter to the Mesopotamian king Sargon, she also helped her father unite the Sumarian city-states 
-Khadija bint Khuwaylid, first wife of Mohemmad, without her help both emotional and financial, and without her conversion encouraging other relatives to follow, Islam would not have been as successful (she definitely should have been included if the Virgin Mary gets a space)
-Jiang Qing, wife of Mao Tse-Teng, very influential in her husband's decisions and used her position to target enemies, she helped bring about the Cultural Revolution in which millions of Chinese were imprisoned or killed (estimates range from 500,000-3 million or more killed)--look I didn't say she was an influence for good 
-Dolores Huerta, helped found the National Farm Workers Association for better treatment of migrant workers; and although Cesar Chavez usually gets all the credit/glory, she was/is the driving influence in the organization 
-Nzinga of Ndongo, she fought off the Portuguese slave traders for 40 years, in her forays against the Europeans she freed and resettled those who had been captured as slaves, kept both the Portuguese and Dutch out of the interior of southwestern Africa which delayed European settlement and meant thousands under her rule were protected from being sold/captured as slaves
-Sirimavo Bandaranaike, the first non-royal female head of state in any country (1960 Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, served 3 terms), opening the doors for all the women that followed
-Meerabai/Mirabai, mystic and Hindu saint, one of the most beloved and respected poets in India
-Queen Tomyris, she led her Massagetae people to defeat the Persian army (the army that had just conquered the Babylonian empire) and killed Cyrus the Great, checking the Persian empire expansion
-Candace of Meroe, she so intimidated Alexander the Great that he decided not to continue invading Ethiopia, instead of getting tied up in a losing battle in Ethiopia, he turned to Egypt and then eastward on his great march to his death.
-Empress Theodora, probably the most influential woman in Byzantine or Roman history, she saved her husband's reign during riots, increased the rights of women, helped rebuild Constantinople into what was considered the greatest city in the world for centuries.

And finally last complaint, Eleanor Roosevelt is at number one. Roosevelt certainly helped change the role of the U.S. First Lady, and was active in the UN and charities, but the most influential woman of all time? How is that exactly? At least with someone like Marie Curie (#2), you can say that her discoveries literally affected billions and changed medicine forever. I don't know that I can pinpoint something concrete that Roosevelt did that is still being felt today like that. The thing is, words matter. And if you're going to call your list the most influential of all time, you better make darn sure you are looking at candidates from all time. If this was titled the 100 Most Influential Women of the Western World for the last 200 years or something, I wouldn't be so angry at it. But a list that claims to be of all time, yet almost completely ignores the contributions of women from 3 continents and 99% of human history, that's disturbing.

Felder's full list:
1. Eleanor Roosevelt--U.S. First Lady
2. Marie Curie--Scientist (Physics/Chemistry)
3. Margaret Sanger--Birth Control Advocate
4. Margaret Mead--Anthropologist
5. Jane Addams--Humanitarian
6. Mary Wollstonecraft--Author
7/8. Elizabeth Cady Stanton & Susan B Anthony--Suffragists
9. Harriet Tubman--Abolitionist/Spy/Humanitarian
10. The Virgin Mary--Christian icon
11. Georgia O'Keeffe--Artist
12. Frances Perkins--First female U.S. Cabinet Member
13. Jane Austen--Author
14. Mary Harris "Mother" Jones--Union Activist
15. Simone de Beauvoir--Author
16. Queen Elizabeth I--Queen of England
17. Rosa Parks--Civil Rights Activist
18/19. Helen Keller & Anne Sullivan--Disability Rights Activits
20. Sojourner Truth--Abolitionist/Suffragist
21. Queen Isabella--Queen of Spain
22. Florence Nightingale--Nursing pioneer
23. Melanie Klein--Psychoanalyst
24/25. Angelina Grimke & Sarah Moore Grimke--Suffragists
26. Elizabeth Blackwell--First female Doctor
27. George Eliot--Author
28. Ida Bell Wells-Barnett--Civil Rights/Anti-Lynching Activist
29. Betty Friedan--Author
30. Rachel Carson--Conservationist
31. Dorothea Lynde Dix--Mental Illness/Poor Activist
32. Hannah Arendt--Author
33. Mother Teresa--Humanitarian
34. Karen Horney--Psychoanalyst
35. Emily Dickinson--Poet
36. Golda Meir--Prime Minister of Israel
37. Virginia Woolf--Author
38. Queen Victoria--Queen of England
39.  Martha Graham--Modern Dance pioneer
40. Zora Neale Hurston--Author
41. Harriet Beecher Stowe--Author
42. Rosa Luxemburg--Revolutionary/Marxist
43. Mary McLeod Bethune--Civil Rights Activist
44/45. Charlotte & Emily Bronte--Authors
46. Catherine the Great--Queen of Russia
47. Ida Tarbell--Investigative Journalist
48. Jane Goodall--Primatologist
49. Emma Goldman--Anarchist
50. Coco Chanel--Fashion Designer
51. Dorothy Thompson--Journalist
52. Grace Murray Hopper--Computer Programmer
53. Barbara McClintock--Scientist (Cytogenetics)
54. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross--Psychiatrist
55. Joan of Arc--French Military leader
56. Indira Gandhi, Prime Minister of India
57. Louise Nevelson--Sculptor
58. Emmeline Pankhurst--Suffragist
59. Dorothea Lange--Photographer
60. Agnes De Mille--Dancer
61. Sappho--Poet
62. Nadia Boulanger--Sculptor
63. Gwendolyn Brooks--Author/Poet
64. Maria Montessori--Educator
65. Marian Anderson--Opera Singer
66. Anne Frank--Author
67. Babe Didrikson Zaharias--Athlete
68. Margaret Thatcher--Prime Minister of Great Britain
69. Mary Cassatt--Artist/Impressionist
70. Sarah Bernhardt--Actress
71. Barbara Tuchman--Author
72. Amelia Earhart--Pilot
73. Murasaki Shikibu--Author, wrote the world's first novel
74. Jessie Redmon Fauset--Editor/Poet
75. Hillary Rodham Clinton--U.S. First Lady/Senator
76. Leni Riefenstahl--Film Director
77. Margaret Bourke-White--Photographer
78. Frida Kahlo--Artist
79. Gabriela Mistral--Poet/Diplomat
80. Flannery O'Connor--Author
81. Katharine Graham--Newspaper Publisher
82. Bessie Smith--Blues Singer
83. Joan Ganz Cooney--TV Producer
84. Cleopatra--Queen of Egypt
85. Madame C.J. Walker (Sarah Breedlove)--Hair/Beauty products Developer
86/87. Sandra Day O'Connor & Ruth Bader Ginsburg--U.S. Supreme Court Justices
88. Diana Arbus--Photographer
89. Wu Chao--Empress of China
90. Billie Holiday--Blues Singer
91. Helen Gurley Brown--Author/Publisher
92. Julia Morgan--Architect
93. Rosa Bonheur--Artist/Sculptor
94. Mary Pickford--Actress/Film Studio Owner
95. Maria Callas--Opera Singer
96. Katharine Hepburn--Actress
97. Billie Jean King--Tennis Player
98. Edith Head--Film Costume Designer
99. Elsie de Wolfe--Interior Decorator
100. Lucille Ball--Comedian/Actress

Honorable Mentions: Berenice Abbott--Photographer, Christina Ama Aidoo--Author, Maya Angelou--Author, Clara Barton--Founder of the Red Cross, Boudicca--Queen of Iceni (British tribe), Julia Margaret Cameron--Photographer, St. Catherine of Siena--Christian mystic, Bessie Coleman--Pilot, Dorothy Day--Journalist/Humanitarian, Isadora Duncan--Dancer, Mary Baker Eddy--Founder of Christian Science, Eleanor of Aquitaine--Queen of England, Rosaline Franklin--Scientist (discovered DNA helix), Anna Freud--Psychanalyst, Margaret Fuller--Author, Sophie Germain--Mathematician, Althea Gibson--Tennis Player, Lillian Gish--Actress, Lorraine Hansberry--Playwright, Hatshepsut--Queen of Egypt, Lillian Hellman--Author, Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin--Scientist (Genetics), Lois Mailou Jones--Artist, Mary Kingsley--Explorer, Sofia Kovaleskaia--Mathematician, Maggie Kuhn--Founder of the Grey Panthers, Doris Lessing--Author, Juliette Gordon Low--Founder of the Girl Scouts, Lise Meitner--Scientist (Physicist), Maria Mitchell--Astronomer, Marianne Moore--Poet, Grandma Moses-Artist, Lucretia Mott--Abolitionist/Suffragist/Minister, Lillian Ngoyi--Anti Apartheid Activist, Emmy Noether--Mathematician, Christine de Pisan--Author (first woman in Europe to make her living writing), Sylvia Plath--Poet, Jeanette Rankin--First female U.S. Representative, Sally Ride--Astronaut, Wilma Rudolph--Athlete, George Sand--Author, Augusta Savage--Sculptor, Gertrude Stein--Author, Ellen Stewart--Theater Director, Lucy Stone--Abolitionist/Suffragist, St. Theresa of Avila--Christian mystic, Tz'u Hsi--Empress of China, Phillis Wheatley--Poet, Eudora Welty--Author, Emma Hart Willard--Suffragist/Educator                           
(Also, really? No Aphra Behn either--first English woman to make a living as an author, worked as a spy, and wrote the first English novel. Centuries after Murasaki Shikibu's novel, but it was Behn's novel that really started it all for the Europeans.)

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