Forbes Thinks Women’s Marital Status Matters More Than Men’s

World’s most powerful women still defined by marital status

Posted Oct 26, 2010

Earlier this month, Forbes named the 100 most powerful women in the world. Included at the top of each profile, along with information about such matters as their title and education, was...you guessed it, marital status.

That in itself was bad enough. But as I learned from Jezebel and Salon, it got worse. Forbes also publishes a Most Powerful People feature (which mentions mostly men, but some women). There, Forbes does not include marital status on top of each profile as it does for the all-women's list. It does, though, find a way to underscore the marital status of at least one of the women. The profile of Hillary Clinton (ranked #17 among the powerful people) includes this:

"Tough job, though: Must deal with two foreign wars, resolve Israeli-Palestinian conflict, improve America's image abroad, tame Iran, North Korea and husband."

I like how Mary Elizabeth Williams wrapped up her post at Salon:

"So thank you, Forbes, as you celebrate achievement and ‘cultural impact,' for reminding us yet again that you can be one of the most influential, ‘powerful' human beings on the planet, and if you're female, you'll still be ranked, assessed and quantified by your ability to mate and reproduce."

I would like to think that what just happened with the Forbes' lists is one of many examples that situate us at a particularly telling historical moment. Publishing non-parallel lists in which marital status matters for women but not men is not anything new. The mockery of Forbes for so doing, though, is something we can more reliably anticipate now than in the past. We see the same two-step again and again. Condoleezza Rice, Janet Napolitano, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and others got the singles treatment - totally irrelevant or scurrilous or stereotypical questions were raised about them simply because they are single. (Also, check out the latest from the Oklahoma race for governor.) But the practitioners of singlism were called on it. That's progress. It may be small but we can see it.

The double standard is not just a matter of singlism, but of sex differences in singlism. What is not clear to me is whether things are changing at different rates for single men compared to single women. In the Forbes example, men's accomplishments were allowed to stand on their own, whereas women's were framed by their marital status. In other ways, though, single men are treated as fair game. If some scary criminal is on the loose, we'll still hear speculation about how he's probably a single man. In both the popular press and in academic writings, single men are too often demeaned unapologetically (see the section on single men here). We need to challenge singlism no matter whom it is targeting.

[Thanks to Molly for the heads-up about the Forbes lists.]