May 22, 2013
Five Women Who Matter Most
Posted on Oct 4, 2011
The Forbes list of the World’s 100 Most Powerful Women is an obscenely wealthy international sisterhood of politicians, celebrities and billionaires who crashed through the glass ceiling. Forbes describes them as “the women who matter most.”
How is it that Irene Rosenfeld, the CEO of Kraft, whom Forbes lauds for “announcing the divorce between the brands Oreos and Mac ’N Cheese,” matters most? Deciding the fate of cookies and carbs defines power?
Why does Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton, art patron and trust fund progeny with a penchant for collecting expensive oil paintings (she paid $4.9 million for Norman Rockwell’s canvas “Rosie the Riveter”), matter most? The woman never worked a day in her life. Walton’s fortune of $21 billion was made off the backs of millions of female workers at Wal-Mart who are discriminated against in pay and promotions.
(Forbes explains on its website that it chooses these women from a predetermined list of 200, which is then narrowed down on the basis of “three metrics: dollars, a traditional and social media component, and power base points,” whatever those are.)
No. The women on the Forbes list are not the ones who matter most. They use their power in the pursuit of profit for themselves and for shareholders to sustain a global system of economic and social inequality.
FORBES: Michelle Obama, first lady and attorney.
She’s listed because “the first lady keeps a high profile with her mission to end childhood obesity and her stylish fashion picks.” You are what you wear and Obama has the ability to make or break fashion trends and designers. Now that is power! She heads the anti-obesity campaign Let’s Move.
Obama spoke to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and stated, “We are living today in a time where we’re decades beyond slavery, we are decades beyond Jim Crow, when one of the greatest risks to our children’s future is their own health.” She blames obesity on individuals and the family. In a lecture worthy of Bill Cosby, Obama chastised the NAACP audience: “Our parents made us get up and play outside. … Kids nowadays don’t even know how to jump double-dutch!” She added, “Shoot, I can’t tell Malia and Sasha to eat their vegetables if I’m sitting around eating French fries. … And I can’t tell them to go run around outside if I’m spending all my free time on the couch watching TV.” Really? The high rate of obesity in the black community isn’t caused by the racism that’s plunged 4 million black children, more than 1 in 3, into poverty? Since her husband took office, child poverty has increased by 10 percent. It’s not the stunning racial disparities in health care or that more than 20 percent of African-Americans are uninsured? Obama avoids those issues and doesn’t tackle the interconnectedness of racism, poverty and poor health outcomes. That would require going up against her husband’s record, which has favored military spending, bank bailouts and tax cuts for the rich at the expense of social programs for the poor. Instead, Obama wants folks to plant organic gardens full of arugula and Japanese eggplant. Obama is working on a book about the White House garden tentatively titled “The Audacity of Organic.”
FORUS: Michelle Alexander, attorney and author.
Alexander argues that the United States is not “decades beyond Jim Crow.” This Michelle isn’t afraid to use the “R” word: Racism. In her brilliant book, “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness,” she takes a scalpel to the criminal justice system and cuts through layers of lies and myths. Alexander documents, in a way that only a legal scholar and a former attorney for the ACLU can, the endemic and vindictive racism that is entrenched in the American justice system. Who is incarcerated in the world’s greatest democracy? One million black people. How did the majority get behind bars? The War on Drugs. Alexander catalogs how SWAT team drug raids invade black neighborhoods and cast a wide dragnet, and then the system “lock ’ems up” and throws away the key for decades using racist mandatory minimum sentencing laws.
Alexander exposes the hidden and devastating plight of ex-prisoners with felony convictions. She unapologetically defends felons—no one defends felons in tough-on-crime America. That matters. Her book documents how the scarlet “F” permanently strips millions of African-Americans of basic rights and creates a racial caste of second-class citizens. The new, old Jim Crow.
In part because of Alexander’s uncompromising, won’t-back-down advocacy, the NAACP has officially called for an end to the War on Drugs. “Driving over the speed limit puts more people at risk than smoking marijuana in the privacy of your own home,” Alexander asserts. Hallelujah!
FORBES: Hillary Clinton, secretary of state.
She’s chosen because “in her second year on the job, Hillary Clinton continues to earn high marks for advancing U.S. interests and policies overseas and pushing women’s issues, development and education to the top of the foreign policy agenda.”
She has also gained a reputation as an enthusiastic hawk who often favors the stick over the carrot.
The job description for secretary of state never changes: Defend U.S. interests abroad by any means necessary. Use secret back channels to bully and berate enemies, spin on behalf of targeted assassinations and, as we know from the State Department cables published by WikiLeaks, lie. A lot.
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