~ Posted by Robert Butler, August 14th 2012
During the titanic struggle between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton to win the Democratic nomination, the designer Diane von Furstenburg remarked to our deputy editor, Isabel Lloyd, that her friend Hillary Clinton would have “a more positive effect on women’s lives globally" if she didn’t become the next US president than if she did. Why? “Because then she’ll be able to concentrate on Vital Voices”. This was Clinton’s NGO, which trains women around the world to become leaders. It was a telling point. As Isabel wrote—in a special supplement for Intelligent Life about inspiring women—"even a woman as high-profile as Clinton might have more impact by concentrating on one cause, rather than taking the world's biggest job."
When Clinton conceded defeat to Obama in June 2008 at Washington's National Building Museum, she famously told her supporters, "Although we weren't able to shatter that highest, hardest glass ceiling this time, thanks to you, it's got about 18 million cracks in it." You only have to glance at some of the stats included in the supplement to see how pervasive that glass ceiling can be. Here, for instance, is the ratio of men to women holding positions or receiving honours that range from popes and presidents to Oscar-winning directors and Nobel laureates:
- Popes: 265-0 (St Peter, c. 32AD, to Benedict XVI, 2005-)
- Winners of the Academy Award for best director: 65-1 (Frank Borzage, 1927, to Michel Hazanavicius, 2011)
- Presidents of the United States: 44-0 (George Washington, 1789-97, to Barack Obama, 2009-)
- Prime ministers of Great Britain: 51-1 (Sir Robert Walpole, 1721-42, to David Cameron, 2010-)
- Presidents of France: 24-0 (Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, 1848-52, to François Hollande, 2012-)
- Directors of the Metropolitan Museum of Art: 9-0 (Luigi Palma di Cesnola, 1879-1904, to Thomas P. Campbell, 2009-)
- British MPs, August 2012: 505-145
- Winners of the Man Booker prize for fiction: 30-15 (P.H. Newby, 1969, to Julian Barnes, 2011)
- Nobel laureates, all prizes, 1901-2011: 783-43
Our supplement—which was supported by Patek Philippe—highlighted more notable cracks in that ceiling. But the emphasis, from activists and actresses to chefs and factory workers, was on people worth emulating. The supplement carried contributions from a variety of influential women, including a prime minister, a philosopher, a designer, a sailor, a charity founder, a psychotherapist and two editors. Each was asked to name a woman in public life who had been an inspiration to them. Only one chose a politician. The other choices were all admired for their acts, not their bills. Isabel wrote, "It seems you don’t have to be in politics for your actions to make a difference. Now that is inspirational." We start the series today with Camila Batmanghelidjh, founder of the charity Kids Company, and her choice: Sister Frances Dominica Ritchie.
Robert Butler is online editor of Intelligent Life
The Inspiring Women series comprises: