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Is Michelle Obama really the world's most powerful woman?

List-loving magazine Forbes explains that they are “redefining the idea of power as influence” after they put US First Lady top of their 100 New Forbes Power Women.

A LIST OF the world’s most powerful women from Forbes magazine seems to have ruffled some feathers among current affairs commentators. US First Lady Michelle Obama tops the 100 New Forbes Power Women list, knocking German Chancellor Angela Merkel – named Forbes Most Powerful Woman last year – out of the prime slot and into fourth place.

The list is eclectic with Obama joined in the top ten by pop stars Lady Gaga and Beyonce Knowles , Hilary Clinton, chat show hosts Oprah Winfrey and Ellen deGeneres and the female CEOs of PepsiCo, Kraft Foods and Australian bank Westpac.

Much of the excitement surrounds the inclusion of Lady Gaga – who recently attended the VMA awards wearing a dress made of raw meat – in the top ten. ABC News in America pointed out that:

House (of Representatives) Speaker Nancy Pelosi may be second in line to the presidency, but her influence apparently pales in comparison to a good poker face.

The Guardian newspaper also highlighted the usurping of Pelosi, saying:

Earlier this year, Pelosi was heralded as the most powerful woman in US history and the most powerful Speaker in a century. But apparently this was not enough to make the Forbes top 10.

The paper also points out that Obama – who was 40th on the list last year – has an unusual entry in the “money” category listed beside each Power Woman. The Guardian says:

In the “money” column alongside the “power women” Forbes mostly lists earnings that an individual or her company has made over the past year. However it does not calculate Obama’s wealth, instead stating simply “National Budget $3,5620bn”.

The point being that this figure is of course the content of the US federal coffers – and whose pursestrings are presumably held by Barack Obama, rather than her wife.

The reaction to the fact that Angela Merkel has been replaced at the top is more muted than the reaction to Obama’s ascension. In May of this year, The Huffington Post claimed that although “it was only nine months ago that Forbes magazine named German Chancellor Angela Merkel the world’s most powerful woman for the fourth year in a row”, she had become “widely disliked at home and increasingly isolated and even reviled abroad” for her handling of Europe’s economic crisis and for “being too focused on German national interests”.

Forbes.com says in an accompanying article to their Top 100 list that “when it comes to power, cultural impact means as much as money and political influence”.

The magazine divided their “power women” into four groups: politics, business, media and lifestyle. The latter group they define as “entertainment, sports and fashion”. They further explain their methodology for arriving at the top 100 places:

We ranked the women in each group, and then gropu against group. Not that easy, but that’s today’s reality: an unpredictable, diverse mash-up of hard power (currencies and constitutions) and dynamic power (audience and audacity).

The author does not make explicit which of the original four groups Michelle Obama was longlisted in.

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