Thursday, October 20, 2005

The Top Public Intellectuals are Not Moms

The hand that rocks the cradle may rule the world, but it does not lead the list of public intellectuals.

The Prospect/Foreign Policy poll of the world’s leading public thinkers was just released. As the editors note, this is a parlor game, and should not be taken too seriously. The editors listed 100 candidates they had chosen, and offered a “bonus ball” option to readers to write in others. About ten percent of the original list were women, and no women made it to the top ten on the write-in list. The top ten are men:

Noam Chomsky
Umberto Eco
Richard Dawkins
Václav Havel
Christopher Hitchens
Paul Krugman
Jürgen Habermas
Amartya Sen
Jared Diamond
Salman Rushdie

The first women comes in at #11, and begins an interesting trend: very few of them are mothers, and fewer still are married mothers. So who is #11? Naomi Klein, activist journalist and author of No Logo. She is the daughter of two well-known Canadian activists, and married to another. As far as I can tell, though, she does not have children. Her work, which is a critique of globalization, is not about family life, so it is hard to know directly what her attitude is toward marriage and children. At the least we can say that children have not been central to her work.

The other women in the top 50 are:

Camille Paglia (20), a famously single, childless, every-sexual critical feminist;
Ayaan Hirsi Ali (46), a Muslim feminist and Dutch parliamentarian who fled an arranged marriage;
Julia Kristeva (48) and Germaine Greer (49), feminist icons who do not treat motherhood as a primary female role, to say the least;

The one exception to the “subordinate motherhood” rule is Shirin Ebadi (12), the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize winner. Ebadi, a married Iranian lawyer and mother of two grown daughters, is a crusader for the rights of women in post-revolutionary Iran. She has been successful, in part, because she works as a wife and mother, and makes her arguments within the Muslim tradition.

The Prospect poll was of public intellectuals. I imagine that if we could have such a thing as the list of top “domestic intellectuals,” the list would be much richer in married mothers.

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