Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s seven-country summer trip to Africa encapsulated two contradictory perspectives on modern feminism and the consequences of women’s liberation.
In a moment that took hold in the American press, Clinton lost her cool when a Congolese university student asked her to relay her husband’s opinion of an international economic issue. “You want me to tell you what my husband thinks?” she shot back. “My husband is not secretary of state. I am.”
For her supporters, this “you go, girl!” kind of moment ripped from the pages of Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique raised questions about just how far women have come since the days when big-skirted, pie-baking women were viewed as second-class citizens compared with their bread-winning husbands.
But the other story that emerged from the Africa trip was Secretary of State Clinton’s addressing of gender inequality on another continent rather than here, where most would agree that women’s rights issues — suffrage, equality in education and the workplace — largely have been won. Instead, she spoke with female farmers in Kenya, heard from rape victims in the Congo, toured housing projects built by impoverished women in South Africa.
Clearly women’s issues abroad are a big part of her diplomatic platform, and the injustices there offer a startling contrast to the lives women in America have come to enjoy and demand. Two stories, two commentaries on modern feminism: A wildly successful American woman still fights to escape from beneath the dwarfing shadow of her husband, while that same woman delivers the inarguable triumphs of American feminism to foreign shores.
So which paints the more accurate picture? There’s some truth in both, but Clinton’s precarious position as a “pop feminist icon,” as The Washington Post labeled her, highlights the difficulty of summing up the collective successes and failures of the women’s movement, and raises the question: Is feminism still relevant today?
Quick answer: Yes. But as anyone who survived the whiplashing effects of the 2008 presidential campaign can attest, it’s not all that simple.
In that contest, a black man was elected president, and a woman, Hillary Clinton herself, gave him a serious run for his money, affirming that both civil rights and gender equality here in America have made huge strides.
But at the same time, sniping behind the scenes about Clinton’s unfair treatment at the hands of the press and the Obama team reveals all is not quiet on the feminist front. Clinton supporters claimed she was held to unfair standards because she is a woman; she was subject to undue scrutiny that the boys club could simply avoid.
And it wasn’t happening just on the Democratic side of the ticket.
Infinitely worse than Clinton’s struggles were the persistent attacks on conservative vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, who was assailed — by women especially — for positions that feminists characterize as anti-woman. Her intelligence, her pedigree, her family, her accent, her hairstyle, her high heels didn’t just provide fodder for the gossip magazines, or scripts for Saturday Night Live. They made actual headlines in the mainstream press.
Palin, a hard-working, self-achieving, successful career woman and mother of five, is either the unequivocal result of feminism or the unintended consequence of it.
In December 2008, Gallup’s annual Most Admired Woman poll put Hillary Clinton on top of the list. Sarah Palin was next, ahead of Oprah Winfrey, Angelina Jolie, Ellen DeGeneres, and Michelle Obama. So who is the feminist icon, Clinton or Palin? Such ambiguities crystallize the struggle for women and prompt a retrospective on the complicated and controversial feminism movement.
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Though equal rights between the sexes have been achieved, dictionaries such as Webster’s still define feminism as a definitive protest for equality. Though dictionaries lag behind, women are ahead of the curve, thanks to that achievement triggering the celebration of “new feminism.” Plainly put: choice.
Females today can choose to have a family, a career, or both. These options are a direct result of the women’s movement, a generational gift passed on by that often-annoying, abortion-obsessed bunch that is debilitated by their double standard. Yes, them.
Women now have more choices than men.
Shiloh Roehl, a former senior aide to House Republican leadership turned stay-at-home mom, told me, “I’m so grateful to have the choice to pursue a career, to raise my child on a day-to-day basis, or do both if I want.
“Success isn’t just breaking the glass ceiling — as perhaps it was back when feminism sprouted. It’s evolved into a greater spectrum of what success means. We are more accepting as a society of the choices women make, and we are empowered by them.”
Or are we? While the benefits of that gift are many, so are the complications. What started as a fight to effect change in how society views women has become an internal struggle with how women view ourselves.
I have two sisters: One, 37, gave up a successful career in corporate America to be a mom; the other, 40, chose not to have children but is a thriving self-employed entrepreneur. They are both at peace with their decisions. But many women aren’t.
“We suffer inside,” says Eileen Conlan, assistant editor at Marie Claire. “You hear stories about women who are racked with guilt about not staying home with their kids, and others who feel stunted when they choose to stay home. I’m sure, for some women — do they go to work and feel guilty, or stay home and feel as if they have lost a part of themselves?”
Perhaps women can have it all, just not all at once. Wonder Woman’s powers were mighty, but she had only one job (and no husband or kids). Wonder Woman also wore the same outfit every day (talk about a time saver). Women today are saddled with many more pressures than saving lives and killing bad guys — not to mention the pressure they, and society, put on themselves.
With a level playing field in front of us, are we our own obstacle when it comes to taking full advantage of these choices? And if we allow the prejudices of others to affect us and our choices, aren’t we back at square one?
Roehl recalls a light-bulb moment: “I used to say ‘I’m so lucky my husband supports my decision to raise our child day to day and enables me to make this choice.’ While this is true, he once said to me, ‘You gave up a successful career to raise my son. I’m so lucky that you feel confident about your decision to choose to raise our child.’”
She had never thought of it that way. Neither had I.
Choices are great, but only if you choose to be at peace with the decisions you make.
Sarah Palin was vilified for her choice to have five children, be a governor, and run for the vice presidency of the United States at the same time, mainly by liberal women and so-called feminists. However, she embodies the concept of new feminism: embracing her choices, no matter what others said, and inspiring millions of women around her to do the same.
The new feminism is not about the women of the past who fought for our rights. Under that definition, it would be dead. It’s not about our best friend, our mothers, women on television, or even Superwoman. From the kitchen to the corner office, feminism is now defined by each and every woman, the selections she makes for herself — but most importantly — her ability to be satisfied with those choices. Webster’s take note.
The Long Struggle Upward
Pop culture has left us with colorful, if insufficient, iconographic relics of the feminist movement in the United States — bra burning, Betty Friedan, Roe v. Wade, and marches on the Mall are the go-to View-Master moments that we remember most readily, clickable snapshots of a significant American movement that can’t possibly offer an accurate panorama. For many women in their 20s and early 30s, those are the only moments that filtered through the zeitgeist. Very few people alive today remember first-wave feminism, the movement of the 19th and early 20th centuries when the real groundwork was laid, winning women the right to own property and earn some equality in marriage. Women only achieved suffrage in 1920 as a result of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution.
Women (and men) of all political leanings fought for women’s rights at that time in efforts that often included a simultaneous push for civil rights.
“The goal of the first American feminists, the original suffragettes 150 years ago, was a specific demand for women to have the same rights in the law that men enjoy,” says Michelle Easton, president of the Clare Boothe Luce Policy Institute, a nonprofit think tank seeking to advance women’s rights through conservative policy. “Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton and their supporters concentrated on legal reforms and the main goal was equity.”
The second-wave feminism of the 1960s through the 1980s was far more political and ideological, and as a result, more personal, as proved in Carol Hanisch’s memorable term: “The personal is political.” That statement became the rallying cry of a women’s lib movement focused on social and political inequalities from the bedroom to the boardroom. The role of women — were they defined by their husbands, children, and home, or by their own individuality? — was finally up for debate. It wasn’t so much about whether the feminine ideal was attainable anymore, but whether it was something women even wanted.
Feminists such as Friedan, Gloria Steinem, and Simone de Beauvoir mapped a new language directly on the female body. Sex was no longer just a topic of men’s locker rooms, but one of serious academic scholarship and psychological analysis in ways that directly implicated women. Sex, they declared, was now about pleasure for women, not some perfunctory performance to please a man or have a baby.
As Friedan put it: “No woman gets an orgasm from shining the kitchen floor.”
Penis envy was out, the vestigial organ of a pre-war, male-dominated societal psyche. Paycheck envy was in. Friedan, Shirley Chisholm, and others got women organized, laying the foundation for the National Organization for Women (NOW) and countless women’s advocacy groups to follow, addressing the new challenges of modern womanhood. The post-war technological boom may have made housework easier, but it also diminished the value of women’s work as housewives and mothers. If they weren’t appreciated at home, maybe they’d just up and leave. And leave, they did. Women entered the workforce in unprecedented numbers.
Steinem and others argued for universal day care and against the “ultimate myth . . . that children must have full-time mothers, and that liberated women make bad ones.” It was also an effort to relieve men of the societal burden to be sole breadwinners and, as Steinem put it, strangers to their own children. Along the route, there was always pushback. Men such as libertarian philosopher Murray N. Rothbard claimed the debate was a one-sided hatchet job on men, “the harmless, hard-working, adult WASP American male, William Graham Sumner’s Forgotten Man.”
Rothbard alleged that the media unquestioningly backed feminism’s claims that “the society and economy are groaning under a monolithic male ‘sexist’ tyranny.”
“If the men are running the show,” Rothbard said, “how is it that they do not even presume to print or present anyone from the other side?”
Opposition came from women, too. The liberation movement characterized women who may have wanted more pay equality, but also wanted to preserve traditional gender roles, as traitors and puritans. And nothing deepened the divide between feminists and traditionalists quite like the debate over abortion and reproductive rights.
During first-wave feminism, women such as Susan B. Anthony were staunchly against abortion and campaigned for abstinence rights: the right of a woman to refuse sex with her husband as a means of preventing an unwanted pregnancy. Now, a century later, abstinence is beside the point, and sex is no longer a shackle but an act of emancipation.
The pro-choice movement meant women could decide what happened after that act, not just before it. Pro-life women, on the other hand, argued it was an irresponsible way for women to have their cake and eat it, too. Suddenly, women weren’t just at war with men anymore — they were at war with the state, with conservative and religious women and with biology itself.
The backlash against feminism grew in the ’80s and ’90s, giving birth, so to speak, to post-feminism and so-called anti-feminism, both of which describe ideological shifts away from the women’s liberation movement of the ’60s and ’70s.
The former suggested that gender equality had been won, the latter that modern feminists actually were holding women back now. Feminists argued about the intrinsic nature of differences between the sexes, and whether or not they should be celebrated as biological or combated as societal. So where does all of that leave us today, and have the goals of feminism been achieved?
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I was in college in the ’60s, when the “feminista” movement took over the thinking of women . . . including me!
Hey, any time you tell anybody that their circumstances are not of their own doing, you find receptive ears. Anytime you tell people they are victims of the dark side, but you have a way to bring them to the light, well, you’ll have an audience.
So there I was, young and impressionable, hearing that men were chauvinistic pigs if they helped you with your coat, opened a door for you, paid for dinner, asked your father for your hand in marriage, or expected anything homey or caretaking from us.
The root word of “feminism” is “feminine,” and that’s what always was missing from the movement. The movement highlighted — and still does — the horrible burden of being female. So, what are these horrible burdens?
â€¢ Having a uterus and mammary glands to co-create and sustain life became burdens to be eliminated with birth control and abortion. Virginity has become a joke instead of a value.
â€¢ Committing to a man was a burden dispensed with by either shacking up or hooking up.
â€¢ Mothering and child care became a burden avoided with nannies, day cares, and babysitters.
â€¢ Bothering with men at all became a burden, lifted in many girls’ colleges and women’s circles through “social” lesbianism.
â€¢ Getting a complete education, which means giving due credit to the value and accomplishments of men, was a burden dealt with through women’s studies courses.
â€¢ Acknowledging the importance of masculinity was a burden dispensed with through revisionist textbooks, denigration of the military, and emasculated male images.
â€¢ Femininity was a burden cured through crass, insensitive, unloving, ungiving, often nasty attitudes toward being soft, loving, caring, warm, sweet, sensual, motherly, or care-taking.
The young women of today automatically think of themselves as feminists because they’ve been brainwashed by their mothers and much of society. These women don’t understand much about the male mind. They are convinced that men should be just like women.
Their men end up either withdrawn or hostile.
I have told women day after day that, if they want to get something of value out of their men — such as attention, affection, and the plumbing fixed — they are better off being more like a girlfriend than like a fish wife.
When women forgive themselves their petty annoyances and act like their husband’s girlfriend, they’re happier. When women stay home to raise their own children and enjoy the blessings of investing in and influencing the next generation, they are happier. When women get to experience their man putting them on a pedestal, worshiping the ground they walk on, they are happier. I’m all about making women happy.
I am 62 years old. I’ve seen the whole evolution of woman-power and it saddens me. I’m all for equal pay for the same work. Unfortunately, it didn’t stop there. And life is not better because of it.
The Thoroughly Modern Woman
In 1970, Steinem wrote that the purpose of women’s liberation was for men and women to “unlearn” the popular wisdom that taught us “patriotism means obedience, age means wisdom, woman means submission, black means inferior.” In that sense, tremendous strides have been made over the years in all of those categories.
Joan Callahan, a professor of philosophy and gender and women’s studies at the University of Kentucky, says the successes aren’t just about the rights women won. “Feminism is also helping to transform society in ways that make social spaces more congenial to families and to others (men and women alike) who have been marginalized by mainstream society.” In 2005, a CBS News poll found that a majority of women said their opportunities to succeed are better than their mothers’. Nearly 70 percent said the women’s movement had made their lives better.
The successes of feminism are indeed inarguable. As Carrie Lukas, vice president for policy and economics at the Independent Women’s Forum, puts it, “Women have certainly achieved equality of opportunity. Women are going to college and graduate schools more frequently than men. Women are succeeding in all sorts of professions.”
A Gallup Poll in 2007 found that women, if “free to do either,” preferred to work outside the home rather than stay at home to take care of their families, by 58 percent.
The number was slightly down from 62 percent in 2001. And in 2008, another Gallup Poll found that fully 72 percent of Americans polled reported being satisfied with the position of women, up 5 points since 2001.
K.T. McFarland, one of the first women in the national security field — she held senior posts in the Nixon, Ford, and Reagan administrations — says, “This is the greatest time in history to be a woman, at least in America. For the first time a woman can have it all — an education, a job, a husband, and children — and not have to choose between a career and a family.”
But that doesn’t mean that those within the movement think feminism is irrelevant now. To ask some women’s advocacy groups, the battle is very much alive and well.
Marcia Pappas, head of the New York State chapter of NOW, offers the following as proof: “Women still do not have equal pay or a full range of reproductive rights. Same-sex couples still do not have the same rights as heterosexual people.
“Women are still not represented in the U.S. Constitution. Men are still not willing to give up their power. They think that giving up power makes them less powerful. But in fact leveling the playing field is good for everyone, even men.”
But there also is some ambivalence about women’s rights that is harder to qualify, and it’s most visible when looking through the lens of the younger generation of women who, perhaps, view feminism as a closed chapter in American history.
The argument here is that feminism’s ultimate success is that we don’t need it anymore, now that millions of young women have been born into a society in which their gender isn’t a limitation.
These are women who see any initiative that separates the sexes as sexist, not feminist, and that men are just as qualified to fight for women’s rights as women. It is a vantage point that modern feminism has had a hard time reconciling.
“My generation doesn’t see gender bias,” says Andrea Tantaros, a 31-year-old conservative columnist and Fox News commentator. “And if we do, we certainly aren’t about to start burning our bras in the boardroom to overcome it.”
In the 2005 CBS poll, in fact, only 24 percent of women said they considered themselves to be feminists, and 70 percent said they did not. Perhaps even more revealing, only 12 percent said calling someone a feminist is a compliment.
The dismissal of what many women in this generation perceive as militant feminism, espoused by so-called “feminazis” (a term that those women largely reject), came into focus during the 2008 presidential campaign when Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin were the targets of nasty gender invectives that prompted many to question whether modern feminism had lost its way.
In Clinton’s case, the attacks were perceived as coming from her opponent, Barack Obama, while in Palin’s case, they came from self-proclaimed feminists themselves.
Comedian Margaret Cho called Palin “the worst thing to happen to America since 9/11.”
Actress Roseanne Barr called her “bad Mother Palin,” and liberal talk-radio personality host Randi Rhodes joked that “she’s friends with all the teenage boys. You have to say no when your kids say, ‘Can we sleep over at the Palins’?’ No! NO!” And comic diva Sandra Bernhard warned that she’d be “gang raped in New York City.”
Bloggers and television personalities called her the b-word and worse for her conservative policies.
Clinton supporter Gloria Steinem said Palin was the “wrong kind of woman,” who shared “nothing but a chromosome with Hillary Clinton.” This kind of rhetoric was reminiscent of Steinem’s attack on Kay Bailey Hutchison during her Senate campaign more than a decade earlier in the ’90s, when Steinem called Hutchison a “female impersonator.”
And again, many of the voices so vocal in the ’70s were perceived as either joining in the attack or missing in action when Palin was targeted in 2008. As Carrie Lukas says, “That’s one of the things that’s frustrating about modern feminism — they don’t seem to want to recognize their success, or that women really do have equal opportunity today. Palin was very different from what the modern, traditional feminist movement espoused — as exemplified by groups like NOW — in that she doesn’t believe in big government and doesn’t see women as all victims.”
Michelle Easton of the Clare Boothe Luce Policy Institute says the derailing of modern feminism occurred during the Clinton administration, when many of them defended Bill Clinton against accusations of marital infidelity. And a decade later, many conservatives slammed today’s feminists for the vicious attacks on Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin as political hired guns who’d lost their message. “The sorry secret is that most of today’s feminist women groups and women’s movement organizations don’t work on behalf of women but rather exist to promote the liberal and left-wing policy agenda,” Easton says.
The confusion over what groups like NOW and women like Steinem, despite their valuable contributions to the feminist movement, have to offer “today’s woman” hasn’t gone away since the ouster of Clinton and Palin from the two highest offices in the land.
In January of 2009, Steinem’s Ms. magazine put President Obama on the cover, wearing a T-shirt that read, “This is what a feminist looks like.”
If that’s true, Obama was a controversial feminist during his first few months in office, earning criticism from women’s groups who say he hasn’t done enough for women’s rights. After he announced a new Council on Women and Girls, Martha Burk, a former chairwoman of the National Council of Women’s Organizations, said, “I think it falls far short of what’s needed.” Women’s issues blogger Linda Lowen wondered whether the council was merely “an empty (pant) suit.”
Even scholars can’t agree on what Obama means for feminism. Callahan, of the University of Kentucky, says, “I would certainly not say President Obama represents modern feminism. He doesn’t. But . . . he is committed to equality in ways that promise to attend seriously to the barriers to recognition of the rights and needs of all citizens.”
Hutchison now is running for governor of Texas. Clinton and Palin surely could run for president or vice president again.
All of this means that debates over modern feminism will continue, and today’s young women will have to decide where the women’s movement really belongs — in the past, present, or future.
Women Who’ve Done It Their Way
When it comes to defining the new feminism, who fits the bill? There are stay-at-home moms who double as entrepreneurs, supermodels-turned-moguls worth billions, and straight-talking, unapologetic celebrities and politicians.
These women aren’t the man-hating, bra burners of yesterday. More often than not, they join forces with their powerful partners to achieve mutual goals. Take Suzy and Jack Welch, who co-author motivational business books. Others, like former Alaskan Gov. Sarah Palin, work in unison with their husbands to juggle careers, homemaking, and childrearing. And then there are women like race car driver Danica Patrick and evangelist Joyce Meyer, who have achieved success in male-dominated professions, making their gender a moot point to those who ever doubted them.
A team of Newsmax editors mulled a host of strong, successful women and considered their achievements, notoriety and influence when picking these 21 women who, we believe, have redefined feminism today.
Birthplace: Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India
Best Known As: Chairman and CEO, PepsiCo
The New Generation: Nooyi beat out friend and colleague Mike White for PepsiCo’s top leadership spot and now presides over three male CEOs at one of the world’s largest and most competitive corporations. She’s made some bold moves by spinning off Yum! Brands (KFC, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell) and acquiring Tropicana and Quaker Oats. PepsiCo revenues have grown 72 percent under her direction, according to Business Week. The Indian-born Yale graduate, wife, and mother of two has turned her sights to creating healthier products — such as bottled waters and veggie chips — and expanding international sales, which now account for 40 percent of the company’s revenue. Forbes named her the third-most-powerful woman in the world — certainly not only for her corporate savvy. She also is known as a formidable performer at the karaoke mic.
Birthplace: Glendale, Calif.
Best Known As: Model, actress, entrepreneur, activist
Breaking the Mold: Discovered at age 17, Kathy Ireland, the model, became a household name by the mid-1980s with her huge blue eyes, wide smile, flowing brown locks and athletic physique. She was pictured in 13 Sports Illustrated swimsuit issues, including three covers. But instead of drifting into has-been supermodel obscurity as she aged, she became one of the first of her kind to use her well-known name to launch a second career.
Ireland first designed a line of socks, picked up by Kmart stores, and additional clothing lines sprouted from head to toe. It was then that Kathy Ireland, the mogul, began to emerge. Her name now graces everything from ceramic tile flooring to exercise videos to floral designs.
While she continues to run her $1.4 billion Kathy Ireland Worldwide, this mother of three has focused her efforts on helping other busy mothers with her Real Solutions self-help books, sharing wisdom from her personal experiences and faith in Christianity.
And this year, to remind us of her undoubted celebrity status, she appeared for a brief stint on ABC’s Dancing with the Stars, paired with professional dancer Tony Dovolani.
Birthplace: Beloit, Wis.
Best Known As: Race car driver, model
Life in the Fast Lane: It’s that perfect moment after the race car blazes across the finish line, the wheels screech to a halt, and the driver emerges. When the helmet comes off, long, black hair frames piercing, dark eyes. But this is no sports fan’s fantasy. This is Danica Patrick, all 5-foot-2 and 100 pounds of her. She’s the first woman to win an Indy car race (the 2008 Indy Japan 300) and the woman with the best Indianapolis 500 finish ever — she came in third in 2009. She barged unashamed into the boys club of racing, and has parlayed her racing success into a career as a spokeswoman and model, including two appearances in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. Despite her 36 top 10 racing wins, some of her male competitors continue to question her driving acumen. Perhaps it’s just that they can’t handle being beaten by a girl.
Birthplace: Sandpoint, Idaho
Best Known As: 2008 Republican vice presidential candidate
The Great Divider: It would seem that traditional feminists would applaud the overnight rise of Sarah Palin, as a career woman, supermom and potential role model. Yet her traditional conservatism caused a wave of hateful spouting from liberal feminists, who went so far as calling Palin “an insult” to feminism and our collective intelligence. Simply being a woman was not enough for their support — her pro-life, pro-gun stance, and political party affiliations made her a polarizing figure rather that champion of all women.
But Palin, in some ways, seemed to have achieved what feminists have fought for over the years. She’s the family bread-winner, and mother of five who became governor of Alaska with the at-home support of her husband, Todd, who worked a flexible job in order to let his wife flourish.
Her inexperience in the national political scene and thin-skinned responses to criticism may have been major factors in her retreat from the spotlight, but she’s still considered by some a great hope for the GOP, and has been busy supporting others through her political action committee, SarahPAC. Will we see more of this lightning rod in the future? You betcha.
Hometown: Los Angeles
Best Known As: Ms. magazine executive editor
Keeping Feminism Alive: As executive vice president of the Feminist Majority Foundation, Spillar also serves as executive editor of the revitalized magazine, Ms., which the FMF bought in 2001. While continuing to fight for old-school feminist issues such as equal pay, voting rights, abortion rights and sex discrimination, she also speaks out for causes that make today’s headlines, including gay marriage and women’s suffrage around the world. She says feminism still is going strong — and nearly 70 percent of young women consider themselves feminists now. An oft-quoted champion for women’s rights since the early 1990s, Spillar recently fought against what she deemed sexist coverage of Hillary Clinton when The Washington Post ran an analysis of the then-presidential candidate’s cleavage. Her outrage bringing to light that traditional feminism still has a pretty powerful voice.
Hometown: Peoria, Ill.
Best Known As: Founder of Susan G. Komen for the Cure
Promise Keeper: Anyone who has run the Race for the Cure, made mammograms a regular part of their medical check-ups, or just simply felt more comfortable saying the word “breast” in public, likely has Brinker to thank. Her devotion to raise money for breast cancer research started with her sister’s dying wish and grew from the most humble grass-roots efforts. Since its beginning in 1982, the foundation has raised more than $1 billion and helped foster awareness of this manageable disease.
As Susan Komen was dying of breast cancer in her mid-30s, Brinker promised she would do something to help other women.
The first Race for the Cure was held in Dallas with 800 participants. Today, a million people annually join the race in 125 affiliates across the United States.
This former businesswoman was able to stop working when she married restaurateur Norman Brinker, and committed her time to the cause. In August, she was awarded the coveted Presidential Medal of Freedom by Barack Obama. Her efforts have also earned her a U.S. ambassadorship to Hungary from 2001â€“03, where breast cancer dropped from the No. 1 killer of women to No. 3 during her term. She also served as chief of protocol of the United States in 2007â€“08. She is currently the World Health Organization’s goodwill ambassador for cancer control.
Hometown: Portland, Ore.
Best Known As: Business journalist, author, commentator
The Write Stuff: This best-selling author, columnist for O, The Oprah Magazine, and former Harvard Business Review editor developed the gist of her latest book, 10-10-10, when struggling with one of the most common dilemmas for today’s women: balancing kids and work. Her four children, she stresses, are her first priority. Welch, who has written extensively about leadership and management, met her husband, former GE CEO Jack Welch, while preparing to interview him for the HBR. The two began what became a very public affair (she was divorced; he was still married). She talks candidly about getting fired over the tryst, but maintains that it’s led to a true love story. Now, after eight years of marriage and continued career success for both, the two stay busy jointly producing “The Welch Way,” a weekly column for BusinessWeek, and they’ve written two books together.
Ages: 29 and 27
Hometowns: Lynwood, Calif., and Saginaw, Mich.
Best Known As: Professional tennis players
Double Aces: When these sisters burst into the professional tennis world in the mid- to late-1990s, the most shocking thing on the prim women’s courts was a little loud grunting. But these women brought wild, colorful outfits, intensely fit bodies and — most noteworthy — powerful, aggressive play. Together — Serena with the best backhand in the Women’s Tennis Association, and Venus with her 125-mph serve — they won many world championships, several battled against one another. Serena holds the record for winning the most prize money for any female athlete in history, and both have battled back from sidelining injuries to dominate once again. But their stardom doesn’t end there. Both have designed fashion lines. Both have dabbled in entertainment and modeling. And in August, the sisters diversified further by becoming limited owners of the Miami Dolphins in the notoriously male-dominated National Football League.
Hometown: Athens, Greece
Best Known As: Co-founder of The Huffington Post
Left, Right, and Center: Earlier in life, Huffington seemed to align her political affiliation with her romantic ones. Once considered a liberal (during her involvement with California Democrat Jerry Brown), she switched parties in 1986 when she married oil millionaire Michael Huffington, who had GOP aspirations of his own. Single in 2003, she announced her independent candidacy in the California gubernatorial recall election, during which she heatedly battled Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger. In 2005, she launched the online Huffington Post superblog with a heavy leaning to the left, and serves as its editor in chief. HuffPocovers politics, news, and entertainment and features a long list of big-name contributors. With 7 million monthly followers, Huffington earned the No. 12 spot on Forbes’ Most Influential Women in Media in 2009.
Age: 62 (Oct. 26)
Best Known As: Former first lady, New York senator, serious presidential contender, now secretary of state
Second Won’t Do: Her life and career tally a lot of firsts — for a lady. The Yale Law School graduate was the first female partner at Rose Law Firm and the first lady of Arkansas (when husband Bill was governor). She was the first, and so far only, first lady to be subpoenaed (during the Whitewater controversy) and the first first lady to run for public office, which she won in 2000, becoming a U.S. senator from New York. She also took at run at history, trying to become the nation’s first female president, giving Barack Obama a good race in the primaries before conceding. She’s also the first former first lady to serve in a president’s Cabinet, in her role as secretary of state.
Hometown: St. Louis
Best Known As: Christian speaker and author
Downhome Religion: No other woman has succeeded in the male-dominated business of televangelism like Meyer. With her common Midwestern accent, humor, and simple, straightforward delivery, she tackles universal struggles including forgiveness and living with God on her TV, online, and radio program, Enjoying Everyday Life. Her audience is estimated at 3 billion, primarily women. She overcame sexual abuse and a difficult first marriage to form a Bible study group in a cafeteria in 1976. Her ministry has evolved to include 15 conferences a year, 12 million book sales, and nearly $80 million in assets at the end of 2008 — the kind of numbers more commonly posted by her male counterparts. Her extravagant lifestyle draws ire from critics, but Meyer remains unapologetic for “being blessed.”
Hometown: Medicine Lodge, Kan.
Best Known As: Country singer-songwriter
An Independent Streak: Country songbirds have been known in recent years to be politically outspoken, sprinkling their albums with slings and arrows aimed at their adversaries. McBride takes a different approach and creates music that celebrates the strength of women and their ability to overcome obstacles. Her most chilling example — the song “Independence Day” — tackled domestic violence and, using her powerful soprano voice, she implored suffering women to “let freedom ring.” She released her 10th album, Shine, in March, which includes more girl-power songs. But instead of banking on inspirational hits, McBride also is spokeswoman for three organizations that work to end domestic violence. Her music also honors love and relationships. She’s been married to sound engineer John McBride for 11 years. They have three daughters.
Hometown: New York City
Best Known As: Businesswoman, model, heiress
You’re Hired: It’s no surprise that Donald and Ivana Trump turned out a whip-smart, stunningly beautiful daughter. But it’s astonishing that two outspoken, attention-seeking parents ended up with a poised and private child like Ivanka. She may not have her father’s in-your-face persona, but she does possess his business savvy and multitasking skills. She juggled college with a budding modeling career. She is vice president of real estate development and acquisitions at the Trump Organizations, as well as being a cast member of her father’s reality show, The Apprentice. But she doesn’t rest on being the boss’s kid. She speaks as articulately about the state of the market as any of her male counterparts, which include brothers Donald Jr. and Eric. She also possesses what she calls her parent’s “infectious energy” for her projects, which includes a new exclusive jewelry line.
Hometown: Kosciusko, Miss.
Best Known As: Talk-show host, magazine publisher, actress, producer
O, Yes: Born into poverty to an unwed teenage mother, Winfrey has achieved the seemingly impossible, becoming arguably the country’s most influential woman. She started by beating Phil Donahue’s ratings in the male-dominated TV talk-show genre. Her affable on-air interviewing style, paired with her willingness to work through personal struggles in public, gained her viewers’ trust and ballooned her audience to 8.5 million each day. When she switched the focus to self-help, her influence exploded. Her show has been the scene of epic celebrity interviews, including Tom Cruise’s couch moment, and a launching pad for best-selling books and the careers of self-help stars, including Dr. Phil and personal trainer Bob Greene. This Academy Award-winning actress further diversified her career by adding a television channel and O, The Oprah Magazine. The payoff for “The Oprah Effect”? She is worth more than $2.7 billion, according to Forbes.
Hometown: Long Island, N.Y.
Best Known As: Former president and CEO of eBay, California gubernatorial candidate
High Bidder: A veteran of the corporate world — she’s held posts at Procter & Gamble, Bain & Co., Stride Rite Corp., and the Walt Disney Co. — Whitman took the helm at eBay in its infancy and held on for 10 years through its meteoric rise until she stepped down in March 2008. She quickly moved on to her political aspirations, working on Mitt Romney’s and John McCain’s presidential campaigns. She’s now thrown her hat into the ring for the 2010 California gubernatorial race, citing her corporate skills as her edge. When asked whether she considers herself a feminist, she replied to the San Francisco Chronicle, “I am a big believer in equal rights for all people . . . in a level playing field.” But she said, “I’m not a big label person.”
Hometown: Austin, Texas
Best Known As: Technology business Executive, former CEO of Hewlett Packard
Wired for Success: It’s a career path any young exec would kill for. Climbing the ranks at AT&T for two decades, Fiorina led the company’s successful IPO of spin-off Lucent and later became its president. For these feats, Fortune magazine put her at the top of its inaugural list of the most powerful women in American business in 1998. The next year, she was tapped as Hewlett-Packard’s CEO. She served in that highly visible role for six years, engineering deals such as the takeover of rival Compaq. After stepping down over differences with the board of directors, she returned to the national spotlight in support of John McCain’s presidential run. This year, talk began of her eyeing Barbara Boxer’s California Senate seat. Personally, she is a breast cancer survivor and has been married to former AT&T executive Frank Fiorina for 24 years.
Hometown: Glens Falls, N.Y.
Best Known As: Television cooking-show host, author
Sugar and Spice: In the early days of her career, Ray bopped around her on-air kitchen, encouraging viewers to use “whatever you got” ingredients to pull together three easy but tasty courses on her Food Network program 30-Minute Meals, which initially aired in 2001. Her giant smile and self-effacing every-girl attitude, sprinkled with a few cheeky phrases, such as “yum-o,” “delish,” and “EVOO” (extra-virgin olive oil), landed her squarely in America’s heart. She soared to instant celebrity with nearly 20 books, a magazine, Every Day with Rachael Ray, and an Emmy award-winning talk show, Rachael Ray, cooking product and pet food lines and product endorsements. Forbes named her the 10th-most-powerful woman in the media, joining other female powerhouses such as Oprah and Martha Stewart. As she commonly asks viewers, “How good is that?”
Hometown: Mardela Springs, Md.
Best Known As: CNBC Business News anchor
Not Just a Pretty Face: She doesn’t need to rely on her looks to get the job done as one of CNBC’s leading Wall Street anchors, but that doesn’t stop her male fans — and even counterparts — from noticing (ahem, Hardball host Chris Matthews, who, like a schoolboy, teased her and straight-up called her a “knock out” on-air). Some contend she’s objectified with the nickname “Street Sweetie” and being pitted in a so-called rivalry against fellow CNBC Business anchor (and equally attractive) Maria “Money Honey” Bartiromo. But Burnett makes her own mark as a fierce new feminist to contend with, with her chatty reporting style, button-pushing analysis, and ratings boost (since she debuted on Street Signs and Squawk on the Street, young adult viewership has increased 142 percent and 57 percent, respectively).
Hometown: Brooklyn, N.Y.
Best Known As: Radio host, commentator, author
A Woman’s Work: Dr. Laura came into our lives when we needed her most. Children were spoiled, and marriages were falling apart. The brassy radio host fielded calls from whiny folks complaining about their failing relationships. Her no-nonsense tough talk set them straight and propelled the marriage and family counselor into the limelight as our favorite reality checker. She’s been attacked for her strong stance on traditional marriage, but as of 2008, she maintains the third-highest-rated radio talk show — after The Rush Limbaugh Show and Sean Hannity. In addition, her advice, religion, and children’s books continue to land on best-seller lists. As far as feminism is concerned, Dr. Laura says the movement has “turned the family life upside down.” She encourages women to return to the home, raise their children, and tend to their husband’s needs as a way to reignite and save their marriages. Quite a departure from the feminism of old.
Best Known As: First lady of the United States
Code Name, Renaissance: When Michelle Obama entered the public arena as the wife of presidential candidate Barack Obama, it was clear right from the beginning that she wouldn’t be a typical first lady. This Harvard-educated lawyer met her future husband when she was assigned to mentor him at the law firm Sidley Austin. On the campaign trail she quipped about day-to-day life with him and seemed to keep him and their relationship humble. In regard to her desire to see change in America, she was aggressive and publicly outspoken — at times to a fault.
Now in the White House, Michelle presents a more calm persona of a dignified first lady, as she relishes the relative normalness that life there provides for her daughters, Malia, 10, and Sasha, 7, she said in Time magazine. Her focus seems squarely set on raising her two girls and creating a regular childhood for them — from picking out a family dog to completing their daily chores.
She’s devoting herself to causes such as homelessness and supporting working and military families as they face their challenges. She’s also advocated legislation for equal pay and the economic stimulus package. But all of her smarts and contributions can’t seem to save her from the most common plight of all first ladies: the constant wardrobe critiques.
As originally published in Newsmax magazine.