On 22 September 2014 The Women’s Weekly magazine launched their Power List, naming the 50 most influential women in Australia. However, before reaching the first name, I came across this statement from editor-in-chief, Helen McCabe who said, “Women tend to have an uneasy relationship with power – not so much the wielding of it, which they do as well as any man, but the owning of it.” My first reaction was to think, “how ridiculous and backwards, the women I know would have no trouble owning their power.” Why would McCabe and her panel of expert judges say this just before announcing who they believe to be the most powerful and influential women in Australia?
The majority of women on the list can be sorted into political, professional, philanthropic and entertainment categories. I’ll say now that I will be paying the most attention to women who I was able to recognise (unfortunately I knew only 13 out of 50 women). I want explore the work these women do but also how they are portrayed in the media. These two sides of the women do not always match up, disfiguring their influence or perceived power in Australia.
The top two positions went to political personalities, Julie Bishop the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Peta Credlin, Chief of Staff to Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Both these women hold positions that are very politically influential. Bishop is often seen on television and played an important media role during the MH17 disaster earlier this year. Credlin also has a very influential position as the Chief of Staff for the current Prime Minister, although her work takes place in a backstage environment. In the last few years the number of women in Australian politics has decreased. McCabe makes mention of this herself so perhaps she relates the decrease in women in political positions to her statement that women have trouble owning power.
It seems that most of the women on this list are professionals with backgrounds in business or law. I’m sorry to say the only women I recognised in this category were Gina Rinehart (ranked at number 7) and Therese Rein (number 35). While both of these women are incredibly powerful in their own fields I see them in the news more often for their family feuds or politically inclined husbands, respectively. It seems that these women’s personal lives are more broadcast than their business achievements. They are powerful business women however the media often portrays a different side to them, less of a powerful role and more of a supportive one.
A study conducted by Jean Baker Miller, a psychiatrist from Boston University, found that women who were recognised for outstanding work would say things like, “well, I really don’t know how it happened” or “this must have been a good month”. However men in the same position were more likely to say how they achieved such a good outcome and describe the amount of work they put into the project. The women and men were doing the exact same job, just owning their success in different ways. These results support McCabe’s statement that women have trouble facing their power, or more specifically owning up to the fact that they earned their power.
The highest ranked philanthropic personality is Deborra-Lee Furness, coming in at number 10. While I am aware of Furness’ work in the area of adoption, a quick Google of her name came up with more articles of the fact she is married to famous actor, Hugh Jackman than her work in the area of adoption. Furness founded the National Adoption Awareness Week and is a globally-recognised adoption advocate. Furness is definitely an example of a woman who is owning her power. However, as the Google search revealed, her influential work advocating for adoption reform is overshadowed by the fact she is married to a famous actor.
At least six of the women on the list came from backgrounds in television or media. Cate Blanchett at 12, Tracy Grimshaw at 28, Nicole Kidman at 31, Sarah Murdoch at 36, the Minogue sisters at 47 and Jessica Mauboy at 50. I can say that these women are probably the most influential to me, simply because I know who they are and see them in the media the most. I am aware of that a number of these women support charities however I could not tell you which ones. These women appear in the media usually for trivial reasons like their weight loss or gain, bloopers they’ve made on national television or someone new they’re dating. While a lot of these women promote work their doing like a new movie or album, they do not commission most of the media they appear in.
The Women’s Weekly Power List is a good representation of influential women in Australia. In my opinion each of these women own their power in their own way, but the media often portrays these women in a less powerful light. I don’t think Australian women have trouble owning their power, I think the media has trouble representing them powerfully.