The 2010 Forbes World’s Most Powerful Women list: Empowering or embarrassing?

Laura Donovan Contributor
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Nearly a quarter of those on Forbes magazine’s newly release list of the World’s Most Powerful Women are celebrities, fashion designers, pop stars, television anchors, and other entertainment figures – a big difference from last year’s list.

According to Forbes, the rankings have been redefined, with criteria for the list “based less on traditional titles and roles and more on creative influence and entrepreneurship.” The 2009 list had significantly fewer celebrities and cultural icons, with Oprah Winfrey the only person linked to the entertainment world.

Indeed, Oprah is a good barometer of just how much the list has been altered by the new criteria. Last year, Oprah was listed as the 41st most powerful woman. This year, she shot up to third place.

While the 2009 Forbes list included mainly CEOs, presidents, prime ministers, senior vice presidents, and other political figures, this year’s list includes many more cultural figures easily recognized by the public at large.

While first lady Michelle Obama tops the list, Lady Gaga takes the 7th spot, just two spots below Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and several places above Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, former Alaska Republican Governor Sarah Palin, and Queen Elizabeth II, to name a few.  Other celebrities on this year’s list include model Gisele Bundchen, actress Sarah Jessica Parker, culinary guru Rachael Ray, singer Madonna, designer Vera Wang, and “Twilight” author Stephenie Meyer.

Karin Agness, founder and president of the Network of Enlightened Women, expressed mixed views on the 2010 ranking.

“If these women are really the most powerful in the world, this list really shows that cultural figures matter and are shaping the [political] debate. It might indicate a problem if people prefer to hear from entertainment figures than business women,” Agness told The Daily Caller. “It’s interesting that some presidents of nations are ranked below these figures, and it’s hard to imagine that the president of a nation is less powerful than an American singer.”

Agness continued by noting that while it is true that celebrity can lead to power, she warned that misuse of that power can harm the very celebrity that helped achieve it.

“I think celebrity status can often lead to power, but as we’re seeing with President Obama, if power is not used wisely, popularity can quickly drop,” Agness said.

Charlotte Hays, senior fellow of the Independent Women’s Forum, described the list as a visibility ranking rather than a power ranking.

“This seems to me like a list of women who are visible, not powerful,” Hays said. “Nancy Pelosi is ranked the 11th most powerful woman, and she’s arguably been the most powerful woman for many years, having changed the way healthcare has gone. So why is she only at 11?”

Hays believes the ranking was mainly based on the amount of publicity the women have received.

“There are people on that list who have real power, but they’re all ranked very low on the list,” she said. “They’re [Forbes] probably just trying to have clean fun.”
Hays thinks Michelle Obama was ranked highest because she is a “visibility pick.”

“I think it’s just a first lady thing. It seems to me she’s doing the job a first lady always does, have good causes, make some statements, but she’s probably more interested in clothes and appearances,” Hays said.

While Hays added that Michelle Obama is probably the most visible woman in the world, to determine exactly how powerful she is you would have to ask the president.

“Only he knows how powerful she actually is,” Hays said.

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