TIME and Out: influence and intersectionality

TIME released its list of the 100 most influential people in the world today, with Egyptian activist Wael Ghonim, Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and Netflix CEO Reed Hastings at the top. Just below them was comedian Amy Poehler, star of Parks and Rec, and a woman to whom we often point when we talk hopefully about the improving representation of women in comedy.

Poehler was one of 33 women honoured, bringing the proportion of women on the list to 32.5% (future princess Kate Middleton is responsible for that slightly awkward .5%, as she shared her spot with Prince William). Other women who made the list include media magnate Arianna Huffington, Planned Parenthood CEO Cecile Richards, political leaders Angela Merkel and Dilma Rousseff, and three Michelles: Obama, Rhee and Bachmann. Also, Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who is still recovering from the severe injuries she received when a gunman opened fire on a crowd earlier this year. President Obama penned the entry on Giffords:

Before that morning, Gabrielle Giffords may not have been a household name. But the reason she has long been admired by people of all political stripes is that she embodies the best of what public service should be: hard work and fair play, hope and resilience, a willingness to listen and a determination to do your best in a busy world… she’s got the prayers of a nation rooting for her, a model of civility and courage and unity — a needed voice that cannot return soon enough.

It’s a touching tribute, and it’s encouraging that the women on the list are pulled from a range of industries, from activism to entertainment. But the fact remains that of the people deemed the most influential in the world this year, barely a third are women.

Meanwhile, the Out Power 50 list was also just released. The list, which ranks the country’s most powerful openly gay and lesbian public figures, includes Rachel Maddow, Anderson Cooper, Barney Frank, Matt Drudge and Christine Quinn. It is also, to put it lightly, very white and cisgendered. Seriously, check out the graphic that accompanies the list. Nary a person of colour in sight and, as far as I can tell, not a single transperson. Oh, and only twelve women made the list.

TIME and Out aren’t the be all and end all of who’s influential and powerful in this world. These lists aren’t exhaustive, nor are they a reflection of anything other than the biases and decisions of the people who put them together. But a list of one hundred influential people that contains only thirty-two women, or a list of fifty powerful people that contains almost no people of colour and no transpeople, is a problem.

Intersectionality, as these lists make painfully clear, is still a challenge, even in marginalized communities. If you live at the intersection of white, cisgendered, gay and male, you’re likely to see someone like you on the Out list. If you live at any other intersection, say, the intersection of Black and transgendered, you don’t get that privilege. Not on the TIME list, and not on the Out list, either. Not this year, anyway.

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2 Comments

  1. Posted April 22, 2011 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

    Here’s where I think the problem lies: These lists put out who is most influential or powerful. It’s not the top 100 or 50 people who are working hard to make a difference, where would you be very right to expect ~equality. It is rather the top 100 or 50 “winners,” many of whom owe their success in part to privilege (if for no other reason than some of the would-be contenders never got the same quality of opportunities because of some characteristic about them).

    I can’t speak to the Out circumstances, but in the case of Time I think you are (more or less) shooting the messenger. If you think that including other deserving omissions and excluding unworthy members would happen to vault women significantly above 40%, that would be another matter, but I’m more inclined to believe the problem isn’t that Time is wrong but that Time is right. It is a call to continue fighting the broader discrimination rather than going after a magazine.

  2. Posted April 29, 2011 at 6:53 am | Permalink

    Is this pure bias though? It really depends on what measure of influence and power we use. I suspect that neither source had a metric, or if they did, didn’t disclose, but there are possible metrics, and they can be as objective as you’d like them to men. Lets take one: financial holds. World assets when I last checked (theres problems with data collecting here to be sure) were concentrated about 90% in the hands of men. There seems to be a strong relation between access to assets and power.

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