What is excellence, this speculative and subjective notion? Does it connote singular achievement or does the idea of Ms. magazine naming 10 Women of the Year strain our relationship with the very idea of competition? In other words, is this a competition and if so isn’t that a bad thing?
Annie Dillard, that poet and sage, writes, “There are 1,198,500,000 people alive in China now. To get a feel for what this means, simply take yourself—in all your singularity, importance, complexity, and love—and multiply by 1,198,500,000. See? Nothing to it.”
Dillard goes on to note that there are 5.9 billion or so of us now living on the planet, and another 80 billion, once alive, are now dead.
The competition for distinction then, it could be suggested, is stiff. So here we are at Ms., singling out a handful of living women. In 1985, Gloria Steinem wrote that excellence could be private as well as public, unique as well as elite, innovative of new content as well as perfection of existing form.
The women on the following pages embrace all that and more. Indeed, we hail their singularity, their importance, their complexity and their love.
Some of them are single-minded and focused, as achievers often are. Others, I like to think, got in the way of excellence. They were open and awake to possibility and opportunity as it stalked them. To find these women, to be touched by their accomplishments, we need only to have visited our local libraries, opened our email, stopped by the mall, watched the nightly news or wandered out to a movie theater.
We define excellence this year as Joan Blades’ successful combining of technology and tenacity to change the way politics is run in the U.S. We celebrate the bravery of Carla Diane Hayden in the face of governmental intrusion, the compassion of Loune Viaud in empowering women’s health care, the commitment of Jessica Neuwirth to justice. Dr. Sima Samar’s dedication to women’s rights in the face of danger inspires us to do more. Niki Caro’s creativity in showing a young girl’s leadership makes us whoop out loud. The corporate trail blazing of Pamela Thomas Graham makes us hopeful for change. The pairing of elegance and social responsibility by Eileen Fisher makes us – hear Bette Midler here—“Look good!”
The unflinching leadership of Martha Burk, and Salma Hayek’s focus and drive make us confident—no, exuberant—that feminism is alive and well.
One request of you, dear reader: Celebrate with us, be inspired, but please…join in!