How can Beyonce and Bridget Jones EVER be considered to have the calibre of Maggie? Anger over Woman's Hour's list of the most influential women of the past 70 years
Beyonce was listed as one of the most influential women from the past 70 years
It was billed as a celebration of the seven most influential women from the past 70 years.
So it was little surprise that Margaret Thatcher topped the ‘power list’ drawn up by Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour.
But scroll through some of the other names and things start getting rather unconventional. The decision to feature US pop star Beyonce, a strike leader and even fictional singleton Bridget Jones was described as ‘unbelievable’.
Britain’s first female prime minister was an obvious choice for the top spot, while second place went to Helen Brook, who set up Brook Advisory Centres in 1964, offering contraceptive advice to unmarried women.
They were followed by Labour MP Barbara Castle, who was behind the Equal Pay Act.
Feminist writer Germaine Greer and Jayaben Desai, who campaigned for better working conditions for women, were also chosen.
The list was completed by Bridget Jones and Beyonce – apparently leaving no room for influential women such as current Prime Minister Theresa May, American civil rights activist Rosa Parks, or Catholic missionary Mother Teresa.
Also noticeably absent was the Queen, the longest-reigning living monarch.
Former Conservative minister Ann Widdecombe said the selections were ‘unbelievable’.
‘Sadly it sums up the way we celebrate the trivial in the modern age. I really thought Woman’s Hour could have done better,’ she said.
‘There must be room for more weighty figures than Bridget Jones and Beyonce. What about Helen Sharman, the first British astronaut?
'Or Betty Boothroyd, the first woman Speaker? And I don’t want to state the obvious, but isn’t Bridget Jones fictional?’
Justifying their choice, the Woman’s Hour judging panel said Bridget Jones illustrated the ‘complexity’ of women’s lives, while Beyonce was as a ‘beauty icon’ and a budding race relations figure.
Margaret Thatcher: As Britain’s first female prime minister from 1979 to 1990, Baroness Thatcher was credited with playing a pivotal role in the end of the Cold War
Bridget Jones: The much-loved singleton was first introduced in 1996, with the publication of Bridget Jones’s Diary
Jayaben Desai: A trade unionist who led strikers in the 1976 Grunwick dispute in London, Jayaben Desai campaigned against low pay and poor conditions for women workers
Panel chairman Emma Barnett, who is also a presenter on BBC Radio 5 Live, said: ‘We hope the list inspires, educates and shines a light on the work of some women who history may already be starting to forget.’
The Duchess of Cornwall attended a reception at Buckingham Palace yesterday where the list was unveiled in front of high-profile guests. Other judges included businesswoman Karren Brady and former Labour adviser Ayesha Hazarika.
■ Wonder Woman has been dropped as honorary women’s ambassador for the United Nations. It followed protests that a white, skimpily dressed American prone to violence was not the best role model for girls around the world.
WOMAN'S HOUR POWER LIST
Margaret Thatcher: As Britain’s first female prime minister from 1979 to 1990, Baroness Thatcher was credited with playing a pivotal role in the end of the Cold War. Despite being a controversial figure, the former Tory leader – who died in 2013 – also demonstrated that it was possible for women to hold positions of authority.
Emma Barnett, chairman of the Woman’s Hour judges, said: ‘Love or loathe her, it is hard to think of another woman who has had more impact on British women in the last seven decades.’
Helen Brook: Family planning adviser Helen Brook wanted to reduce the number of illegal abortions, encourage sexual responsibility and cut ‘illegitimate’ births. In 1964, she set up the Brook Advisory Centres to offer contraception advice to unmarried women.
Panellist Jill Burridge said: ‘I think the biggest change [of the past 70 years] was probably contraception, which freed women to think about what choices they had – in terms of whether staying at home or developing a career.’
Barbara Castle: A Labour MP between 1945 and 1979, Baroness Castle of Blackburn was responsible for bringing in the Equal Pay Act in 1970. As a result, she was seen as a heroine of women’s legal rights. Miss Barnett said: ‘Every negotiation I’ve ever had I know I’ve got her standing behind me with what she put into legislation.’
Germaine Greer: The Australian writer is recognised as one of the major voices of the feminist movement. In 1970, Miss Greer published bestseller The Female Eunuch. She has also written several other books, is a former fellow of Newnham College, Cambridge and an expert on Shakespeare.
Panellist Abi Morgan said: ‘She’s a warrior for me – she’s somebody who went to the front line of feminism and said bring it on.’
Jayaben Desai: A trade unionist who led strikers in the 1976 Grunwick dispute in London, Jayaben Desai campaigned against low pay and poor conditions for women workers.
When she walked out of the film processing firm’s factory, she told her manager: ‘What you are running is not a factory, it is a zoo. But in a zoo there are many types of animals. Some are lions who can bite your head off. We are those lions, Mr Manager.’
Panellist Ayesha Hazarika said: ‘She highlighted the plight of low-paid women, immigrant workers, racism – but also dignity and basic human rights.’
Bridget Jones: The much-loved singleton was first introduced in 1996, with the publication of Bridget Jones’s Diary. Novelist Helen Fielding put the seemingly hopeless Bridget through a series of embarrassing scenarios – famously involving oversized underwear and her disastrous love life.
Renee Zellweger later brought the character to life in the hugely popular film versions. Judge Julia Hobsbawm said the character ‘narrated her own banality as well as her complexity.’
Beyonce: Best known for her catchy pop tunes, Beyonce has also become a figurehead for racial justice issues. The American singer has spoken out against police brutality, and is a campaigner for the Black Lives Matter movement.
She is also lauded as a fashion icon, and has encouraged fashion designers to create a world where ‘any girl can look at a billboard and see her own reflection’. Panellist Ayesha Hazarika said: ‘She put out a positive feminist message, right from the start.’
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