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The BBC's 'Ten Most Influential Women in the World' List Is Really Weird

Radio 4's 'Woman's Hour' put Sia at number fucking six.

by Helen Nianias
02 July 2015, 6:00am

Sia is, allegedly, the world's sixth most influential woman. (Photo via Flickr Commons)

It's official. The top 10 most influential women in the world have been decided by BBC Radio 4's Woman's Hour. And fucking Sia is number six.

The word "list" might be a tad generous for what appears to be a vague sort-of mind-map, sketched out on scraps of paper in the back of knackered Filofaxes and discussed tersely over instant coffees made by the intern. There doesn't appear to be any rhyme or reason to anything that happens on it and there's the all too real feeling that Siri would have a better idea of who's actually influencing people in 2015 – or should have a place on it herself.

As it is, the list reads as follows:

1. Nicola Sturgeon – SNP leader

2. Anna Wintour – editor of US Vogue

3. Angelina Jolie – actress and activist

4. Katharine Viner – newly appointed editor of the Guardian

5. Camilla Cavendish – Sunday Times columnist and director of Downing Street Policy Unit

6. Sia – pop star

7. Caitlyn Jenner – reality star and transwoman

8. Karen Blackett – CEO of MediaCom UK

9. Zanny Minton Beddoes – editor of the Economist

10. Sara Khan – co-founder of women's human rights organisation, Inspire

To start with, the five-strong panel responsible for deciding who made the cut – Telegraph's Women Ed Emma Barnett, Whistles CEO Jane Shepherdson, human rights lawyer Helena Kennedy QC, Radio 1's Gemma Cairney and good old Sarah Vine of Ed Miliband's kitchen fame – have selected nobody under the age of 39 or older than 65. So, if you're not a middle-aged lady with a blow-dry there's scant chance you're going to be seen as influential. (The question about who these women are actually meant to be influencing is never really answered.) Nicola Sturgeon takes the top spot – fine, whatever – but it's from two down that it all starts to get a bit prog.

Caitlyn Jenner in her first magazine shoot for Vanity Fair. (Photo by Alberto Frank, via)

Because Anna Wintour? Really? It feels like she could have featured on any list over the last 26 years other than this one. Dwindling magazine circulation aside, can you think of one thing she's done in the last 12 months that was more interesting than anything she's ever done since she started editing Vogue? She wore sunglasses at the Oscars, I think. That's it.

Jane Shepherdson said Wintour was given the silver medal in this peri-menopausal Olympics because she "influences the world in what to wear, how to look, and who to celebrate", which only begs the question: Why wasn't Alexa Chung, or Kate Middleton, or Kylie Jenner, who famously influenced a generation of girls across the world to destroy their lips with the aid of a shot glass, given the slot instead? Because surely, surely, they're the actual people who decide what we look like. Not an editor of a magazine everybody's now too poor to buy.


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Then we've got Sia at number six. SIA. There's the vague sense here that a Woman's Hour producer was on the school run and desperately trying to think of a way of injecting some pop culture onto the list, and then "Chandelier" came on Capital FM and that was it. Job done.

It's awesome that Caitlyn Jenner is included – some might say her inclusion is an attempt at bandwagon-jumping but she's globalised the conversation around trans rights in a way that, say, Laverne Cox probably couldn't.

That said, there are clearly people who do commendable, important work on the list, but to scale the upper reaches it seems that those who have entered into the "media elite" get a disproportionately massive shout-out. What is the top 10? Is it a celebrity thing? Is it a celebration of worthiness? Is it about money? Is it about giving your mate a leg-up? Is it a code that needs to be cracked?

There's nothing more annoying than people going "but why wasn't X person chosen?" when an award is announced. Awards and lists are reductive and subjective by nature. But there are so many glaring omissions that you wonder whether any of the panel has opened a web browser since 2013. Or if they're maybe just trying to think of slightly more "leftfield" personalities to mark this list as different to the dozens of others, and then chucking Angelina Jolie and Anna Wintour in there anyway because they ran out of ideas.

How about Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the 82-year-old US Justice of the Supreme Court who ushered through the law allowing gay couples to marry? Or Taylor Swift, who is probably the most famous woman in the world right now, and known for high-profile acts of good will, not to mention her ability to get major corporations such as Apple to eat out the palm of her hand. If that's not influence, then what is?

Not to bang on and on about this, but Katy Perry featured on the front cover of Forbes this week because she is SO GOOD at making money – why Sia? What about Emma Watson for launching a hugely media-friendly and influential UN campaign to try to get men interested in feminism?

Michelle Obama? Angela Merkel? Amy Schumer? Reddit CEO Ellen Pao? Naz Shah?

Hillary fucking Clinton?

@HelenNianias

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