It’s almost 2012, but you wouldn’t know it from the BBC’s bafflingly retro new list of 12 women who it calls the “Faces of the Year.” Who made the cut? Christine LaGarde? Jill Abramson? Perhaps Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee, and Tawakkol Karman, the trio of women who won the Nobel Peace Prize? None of the above. Instead, the news service chose a bizarre list that included two women in the news because they were sexually assaulted, one notable for being a bridesmaid, another for marrying a prince, and — seriously — a giant panda named Sweetie.
The inclusion of the panda is already drawing fire on Twitter, where some are complaining using the hashtag #pandagate. Labor Party leader John Prescott wrote “So the BBC couldn’t find a woman for Sports Personality of the Year but they could find a panda for a female face of 2011
But forget the panda. The rest of the list is obnoxious, too. Three women on the list are only there because they were alleged victims of violent crime. Three are there because of their participation in big fancy weddings. One made headlines because she went on a date with Justin Timberlake. In fact, only four women on the list of 12 is a “face of the year” because of her career, and one of those four is a glamorous singer.
Here’s the full list:
January: Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who most people had never heard of before she was attacked by a gunman. Giffords’ recovery is inspiring, but her national fame began with victimhood.
February: Adele, on the list because of her talent. (Though I’d rather see LaGarde or Abramson here.)
March: Eman al-Obeidi, a young Libyan woman who was beaten and raped by members of Muammar Gaddafi‘s militia. Again, a story defined by victimhood.
April: Pippa Middleton, the most famous bridesmaid in the world.
May: Nafissatou Diallo, who made headlines when she accused IMF head Dominique Strauss-Kahn of attempted rape; the case was dismissed when Diallo proved to have changed her story. At this point, 60% of the list is made up of women notable because they were viciously attacked (or claimed to be).
June: Li Na, a Chinese tennis player who won the French Open. The BBC reports that she also has a tattoo (gasp!) and once told some fans to “Shut up” (double gasp!!!).
July: Charlene Wittstock, an apparently very boring woman “lucky” enough to marry the boring, philandering prince of Monaco.
August: Congresswoman Michele Bachmann. Love her or hate her, she’s at least on the list for ambitiously pursuing the presidency.
September: The president of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff. The BBC is on a roll, naming two women in a row with legitimate political careers. Surely this can’t last.
October: This is more like it! The Duchess of Alba, an eccentric 85-year-old Spanish heiress who made “news of the weird” headlines this year for marrying a much younger man.
November: Corporal Kelsey de Santis, a no-doubt hard-working Marine from Virginia who is only famous for asking Justin Timberlake to the Marine Corps Ball.
December: Sweetie the panda bear, who traveled from China to Scotland, with the hopes that she’ll have a few cubs.
So there we have it! I don’t mean to imply that there’s no room in this world for fun news stories. I’ve clicked on my share of Kardashian updates this year. But lists like this do matter because they tell us what it means to be a newsmaker — is it someone who acts, or someone who reacts? And then there’s the matter of how little room women are given in the news overall. An international study last year found that only 24% of people featured in print, radio and TV stories are female. So when a panda or a princess bride gets one of those precious few slots, it matters.
The BBC’s list of men, by the way, includes two prime ministers, a mass murderer, the dude who got Osama bin Laden, and the guy who started the Arab Spring by setting himself on fire. They’re not all heroes, but they’re largely men of action, not victims and bridegrooms. Let’s hope for a better list of ladies next year.