Who Run The World

Women are really making the news, lately. If you’re like me and like to consider yourself culturally literate, you may have heard of this lady named Beyoncé (last name irrelevant). I think she was at the 2011 Billboard Music Awards last week? If you haven’t, I suggest you do yourself a favor, hop onto YouTube and treat yourself to a nice big helping of girl power. Of the Beyoncé videos that will undoubtedly surface, the most recent and, in my opinion, most spectacular, is her latest single “Run the World (Girls),” which she performed before receiving the Billboard Millennium Award, an honor that has only ever been given to Michael Jackson. After this performance, haters everywhere had to stop and wind their jaws back up. It was just that good.

Also last week, a lady named Oprah (last name irrelevant), wrapped up her 25-year-long talk show. The TV mogul’s departure from The Oprah Winfrey Show to the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) was emotional and not without documentation by all the major news networks and publications. Despite all the fanfare, the event itself was surprisingly simple and forced me to rethink my preconceived notions of the Oprah. As much as Oprah scares me, I can’t deny her presence in mainstream media and the influence she’s had over American women from multiple race, age, and gender backgrounds. I used to think of her daytime talk show as a “soft” show for soccer moms, but sometimes Oprah’s commitment to her favorite issues speaks louder than the opinions of “hard” news shows at night.

As the media zeroed in on these two women’s accomplishments, I noticed a lot of attention was paid to their gender, as they were both the first females to reach certain accomplishments. In addition to being Destiny’s favorite child, Beyoncé is often described as one of the only women to have written 3 number one hits on Billboard Hot 100. And, also known as the first typo to make it big, Oprah is commonly reported as the first black woman billionaire.

All the attention these two have received regarding their gender made me realize that almost every time I hear of a woman succeeding in something, she is listed as the “first woman” to do so. This reminded me of another wise woman’s words. Last year when she became the third female recipient of the Mark Twain Award for American Humor, Tina Fey said, “I do hope women are achieving at a rate that we can stop counting what number they are…but I’m not going to get emotional tonight because I’m a stone cold bitch.”

What Beyoncé is to high-belting divas and what Oprah is to middle class soccer moms, Tina Fey is to me. In addition to the fact that she glamorized intelligence (use of the word “glamorized” debatable), what she said at the Mark Twain Award Ceremony is totally commendable. When people use numbers or ranks to provide meaning to a woman’s achievements, it demeans their success. For instance, when magazines like Forbes makes a list of the world’s “Most Powerful Women,” in addition to their list of “Most Powerful People,” it implies that there are different standards for both lists and that women cannot possibly be given inclusive access to a group of “powerful people.” It also doesn’t really help that out of last year’s list of the world’s top sixty eight power players, 5 of them were women.

When I read about a leader who has become the “first woman” to do something, I have two reactions. First, I’m excited that women are gaining more leadership positions. But I’m also annoyed that a woman’s accomplishments can only be relayed to the public if they are first compared to how many times a man did it first. Distinguishing a woman for being the first of her sex to do something is patronizing. Unless of course, that “something” is having an orgasm.

Anyway, instead of counting which lady did what and when, let’s talk about more movers and shakers who are doing things without the same level of press as the big BO (no, not Barack Obama, Beyoncé + Oprah). Warning: lots of personal bias ahead.

Jill Abramson – It was recently announced that Ms. Abramson will be replacing Bill Keller as the New York Times‘ Executive Editor. The idea of a press room being an “old boys club” dies on September 6 as she assumes her new position and, as she calls it, “ascends Valhalla.” Ms. Abramson is currently the news managing editor and has been, among many things, an investigative journalist and the Times’ Washington bureau chief. This job may not be as overtly sexy as Beyoncé’s but it may just be the most important position in the fourth estate.

Jessica Hische – Ms. Hische is probably responsible for half of the hipster hobos living on the streets of New York. She made a highly successful career out of doing what she loves (lettering, illustrating, designing) and her work inspires people to do the same. Sure, there are people who might think designing fonts would be a really boring job, but her portfolio says otherwise. Her whimsical style is so distinctive that I once spotted a book that reminded me of her, only to open the cover and see that she did the design. You don’t have to be old to be experienced. To me, she exemplifies what it means to be an artist during this age.

Ashlee SImpson – Just kidding.

Sonya Barnett and Heather Jarvis – These two ladies are redefining what it means to be a “lady” by including the word “slut” in their definition. Earlier this year at a York University safety forum, a Toronto police officer said “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.” In response, Ms. Barnett and Ms. Jarvis founded SlutWalk, an event to protest a victim-blaming society that warns “don’t get raped” rather than “don’t rape.” The event sought to demystify the concept of a “slut” and explain that “no one should equate enjoying sex with attracting sexual assault.” It was such a success that 24 other SlutWalks have been organized worldwide. Businessmen meandering on sidewalks have never been so lucky.

These women, as well as many others, are rising above others professionally. Not because they want to be the first at something or because there’s some sort of race between women to get to the top, but because they just generally kick ass. So instead of tallying the “few” women who have accomplished things men have already done, let’s toast them by becoming leaders in ways neither sex has achieved yet. TC mark

image – Bossypants


More From Thought Catalog

  • bruno

    *ashlee simpson

  • http://twitter.com/DougLain Douglas Lain

    Is it egalitarian of me to despise both the Most Powerful People and the Most Powerful Women as class enemies?

  • Mark24

    Beyonce copied that performance, right down to the graphics. The songwriting credits are questionable. She does not run the world, sorry.

    • Anon

      Receipts? And she worked with the same creative team behind that Italian girl's performance. http://www.rap-up.com/2011/05/

    • Jay-Z

      She didn't copy it, she was inspired by it. Two different things. She also never said SHE ran the world. She said girls run the world, she just feels it's her responsibility to be a positive role model for female empowerment. Nothing wrong with that.

  • heyoh

    “Ashley Simpson: just kidding” 
    haha, great!
    loved this article!

  • http://twitter.com/rhodeislander rhodeislander

    I've had ingrown toenails funnier than Tina Fey. She's as unfunny as three Will Ferrells, and almost as unfunny as .7 of Jimmy Fallon.

    • shellbell


  • Aelya

    Beyonce is so annoying

  • beck

    great article!

  • max

    1. Beyonce is the only woman to have written 3 number 1 hits on the Billboard Hot 100? Um, maybe, but that's pales in comparison to Lady Gaga having written 6 songs to reach number 1 on the Hot 100. Plus, Beyonce's writing credits have always been disputed.
    2. “Ashley Simpson – Just kidding” ..If you're going to insult someone, who's done nothing to undermine women and their accomplishments, at least spell her name correctly.

    • Ruth Tam

      1. True; I could have easily discussed Lady Gaga. Like you said,  she blows records out of the water.  But I had B on my mind and her recent single seemed appropriate for the piece.
      2. Right?? Typos suck!

    • umm

      Why is everyone so eager to defend Ashlee Simpson? Is it 2004? Should I go retrieve my jelly bracelets and Brand New tees from my parents' garage?

  • B/O supporter

    I am similarly conflicted in wondering why our accomplishments need to be qualified, but read/watch this before you completely write off the male-domnated media: http://www.businessinsider.com… 

    Just as Asians are clearly smart enough to hold leadership positions, but have not been culturally socialized to break through the corporate 'bamboo ceiling' (I didn't say it, this guy did:  http://nymag.com/news/features… women don't have a long enough history of tackling the work force in droves to be lumped in with the men, who have been at it longer (beginning with the manual labor forces that literally built this country, which, for clear biological reasons, were largely male) and in larger numbers (to support their women who were growing and caring for the families). As a child of a single mother, I am in no way asserting that women need men to protect and provide for them, just pointing out the history or gender-based socialization in our society.Since we're clearly not where we need to be yet, I think it's important for young girls to have prominent examples of successful women whose footsteps they should aspire to follow.

    • Ruth Tam

      Thanks so much for your comment. Tact and intelligence! I really appreciate it. 

      Anyway, I see your point. There ARE historical, societal, and biological explanations for why women can't always be evaluated with the same standards as men. It sucks that we have to play catch up and I think Sheryl Sandberg's charge to close the ambition gap before closing the achievement gap is an exciting and realistic goal. In addition to the 4 women I mentioned at the end, I'm also a supporter of B/O! I think they, and many other female leaders, are closing the ambition gap. It just sucks that when they reach milestones of closing that gap, they need to be qualified in a way so many of us find patronizing.

  • Fox

    Let me begin by saying I totally get where you are coming from. If women could just be seen as people without unnecessary labeling, then there wouldn't be any diversity in accomplishments in relation to person. True, this is not only ideal for sex, but from a racial stand-point as well. Now, although I see your point as an ideal, I also disagree on a pragmatic basis.
    First, if the supposed world leaders included in this article are media moguls, I'm scared shitless. Could you imagine a military power and economic crisis put into the hands of Lady Gaga and Tina Fey? I doubt even they would be willing to step up to the position (not as if I'm condemning that, neither would I). Also, why didn't you make note to Rosalind Franklin or Susan B. Anthony, a few women who have done something besides make tons of money and brought Key West's fantasy fest to the streets of New York? Confuscious say, 'key that opens many locks good key. Lock that open by many key shitty lock'.
    Secondly, I think by putting such a discriminating tone to the first women to succeed, you are completely perverting the real intention of such distinction: honor and pride. Although no one from my generation may recall, it is only the latter 20th century that women have gained such a contemporary posture in society. Even that being only in a few places that they have fully equal rights and acknowledgment. Just as JFK was widely known as the first Irish president, Frederick Douglas the first great African American writer, and Forest Gump the first mentally challenged everything (Come on, gotta have a little fun!), women are sharing in the age long tradition of categorical triumph. Although I agree the world would be ideally  better of there were no discongruence, it would also have to be inhabited by mindless robots for such to occur, and that is a pretty boring picture. Lets just be happy for the achievements of all people and throw away the malice involved in mutual diversity.
    That being said, great article!

  • eggophilia

    you had me at ashley simpson

  • Victoria
  • http://www.facebook.com/gregpphoto Greg Petliski

    “it implies that there are different standards for both lists and that women cannot possibly be given inclusive access to a group of “powerful people.” It also doesn’t really help that out of last year’s list of the world’s top sixty eight power players, 5 of them were women.”

    You just said it. If only 1 out of every 13 are women, then they ARE in a different class.

  • padface

    Beyoncé MASSIVELY fails to understand feminism. If I Were a Boy (or whatever that bile-inducing song is) alone is super sexist. Also the song Nasty Girl from her Destiny's Child days is pretty darn mysogynistic.

    I'd go into detail further but I'm a bit loopy through a mix of intense pain and buckets of pain killers. Suffice it to say that she is not a good poster child for female empowerment and equality.

    • m bell

      agreed. and, while i give you mad props for writing about the standards by which me measure successful women, i am incredibly disappointed in the examples you gave. beyonce?  slutwalk founders?  a graphic designer?  while i don't deny the success of these women in their chosen fields, i find their brands of female empowerment to be almost selfishly individualistic.  i would have really appreciated mentions of women who succeed in fields dominated by men and make real changes that tangibly improve the lives of their sisters. people like michelle bachelet (chilean president, agnostic single mother of 3, got her country to have a corruption level lower than most 1st world countries) and ruth bader come to mind. not only were this women firsts; they were professionally the best people for their jobs and they went through hell to get there.
      but i suppose it's a testament to your point–that women often get only a grudgingly qualified nod for their significant achievements–that the first examples that pop into most peoples' minds are the women who go to great lengths to make themselves most visible.

      • Ruth Tam

        Thanks for your comments! The reason I chose to discuss Beyonce, the SlutWalk founders, and Jessica Hische is that they've all been featured recently in the media and I wanted to make the article as timely as possible. If they don't excite you, I think Jill Abramson, the NYT's next executive editor, is a great example of the kind of person you're looking for. I believe she is making real changes to tangibly improve the lives of her sisters. I would LOVE to read another article about successful women who have made it to the top by simply being the best. You should write it!

    • http://profiles.google.com/mopeyprincess mopey P

      Yea If I Were a Boy totally blew. Ciara's Like a Boy wasn't unsexist but a little bit Too Real Life to dismiss all the way (plus it was actually catchy and the video was fucking dope). 

      Love Bey but she is def descended from the Spice Girls school of female “empowerment.” Shoot even Upgrade U is horribly misguided (I give u money U take me to mtgs just to complement the deals/look pretty?)

  • Teukros

    Don't you think you undermined your entire point by writing this article at all?

  • Kathryn Proulx

    key powerplayer missing here:

    suzy hotrod – roller derby player to be fucking feared… went from just a general punk rock gal to a fucking athletic powerhouse AND a down to earth motherfucker.  she rules.

  • Aa

    people make note of gender-based achievements because women have been marginalized through most of history, so the idea of a self-made female billionaire would have been crazy. seems like a good reason to point it out. same logic applies to “first black billionaire” which didn't seem to bother you

  • uouk4
  • http://profiles.google.com/mopeyprincess mopey P



  • Feminista

    Beyonce is delusional. This video nicely sums up why “Run the World” sucks: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v

    • Ro


  • coffeeandinternets

    The success of Bridesmaids is another example of what you're describing here.  Many reviewers feel the need to talk about the fact that it's done so well 'despite' having a predominately female cast.  As Kristen Wiig said, “”I’ll be happy when the day comes when people don’t think it’s such a big deal to have a movie with a lot of women in it.”

  • Duke Holland of Gishmale

    I completely agree with your first argument; people are making a bigger deal than they should about women successes and are setting different standards for women thereby patronizing them. But at the end of your article you begin to do almost the exact same thing. You point out women that are doing special/unique/awesome things. Why? Because they are women? I thought that was something that annoyed you. Why not an awesome/special/unique PERSON section of your article? YOU HAVE BEEN JUDGED: SEXIST HYPOCRITE.

    • Ruth Tam

      Sup, Duke?? I get your grief with me, but that list really wasn't made specifically for women. I started naming “movers and shakers” that inspired me by their recent actions. Their achievements were all very timely and they all happened to be female. The intention behind recognizing these people at all was to discuss their achievements FIRST before merely listing them as “only the third woman to ever have…”
      <3, Sexist hypocrite

  • Elyse

    This is why I fucking love this site.

  • alexandra


  • http://michaelasante.blog.com Michael Asante

    Great write, Ruth. I think this stereotyping has its roots in history, but I am optimistic that things would change (just as it is better now than before).

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