It's 'best' lists time: here's Ms. magazine's

This is the time of year when newspapers and magazines are full of lists. Critics pick the best albums of 2001, financial magazines tell you what the smart investments of 2002 will be. Even Governing, the magazine of states and localities, has a list: "Public Officials of the Year" (governing.com).

Time magazine has yet to name its "Person (formerly 'Man') of the Year," but it has caused some controversy, suggesting it might be Osama bin Laden. People magazine offered readers its annual picks for the "Sexiest Man Alive" several weeks ago (Actor Pierce Brosnan, the current James Bond, took the prize.) The counterpart to that is in the latest edition of feminist magazine Ms., which is kicking off its 30th anniversary celebration this month with the return of its "Women of the Year" feature (msmagazine.com).

What started as a modest list of women achievers grew after Sept. 11, as it became clear that new candidates were emerging.

Congresswoman Barbara Lee is one of them. The Democrat from California was chosen for her stand on peace as

the nation decided to go to war. Hers was the only dissenting vote when the House of Representatives approved a resolution to give President Bush unlimited use of military force. The Senate voted unanimously in favor of the action, so she was Congress's only holdout.

"She's been doing good work all along. But that act alone said to us, 'She has got to be one of our women of the year,' " says Ms. editor in chief Marcia Ann Gillespie, calling the vote a principled stand for peace - and restraint.

Representative Lee had to be protected full time afterward, as death threats came for what some people saw as a traitorous act. Ms. chose her "for courageously standing up for peace and justice in a time of terrorism and fear."

That reason could apply to another group on the list - the women of Afghanistan. The plight of Afghan women has been well-documented of late. The world is much more aware than it was a year ago of the Taliban's prohibitions on women being educated, showing skin in public, and working for pay - and of the harsh consequences if these edicts were not followed.

What women in that country did instead, reports Ms., is bring education and moneymaking underground, and willingly accept the risks. Ms. chose them "for pursuing everyday acts of resistance in the face of brutal, gender-based oppression." It salutes them in "their hour of greatest need," though arguably that hour was reached long before US bombs started to fall.

Another group Sept. 11 brought to the fore - and onto the Ms. list - were heroes of the World Trade Center attacks. "Of the hundreds of rescue workers lost in the rubble of the Twin Towers, three were women," the magazine explains. It pays tribute to Port Authority police officer Kathy Mazza, NYPD officer Moira Smith, and emergency medical technician Yamel Merino "for giving their lives to save others."

As for the rest of this year's honorees, Ms. tried to guard against being too "top heavy," as Ms. Gillespie puts it. "One of the things we want to be able to do is salute those who are celebrated, and those who are unsung," she says.

Celebrities on the list include tennis sisters Venus and Serena Williams, and actress Michelle Yeoh from "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon." Jane Fonda and Yoko Ono are there, too. John Lennon's wife earned the Ms. Lifetime Achievement Award for "five decades (and counting) of unwavering commitment to peace and feminism." Ms. Fonda is recognized for her work for girls' health and gender studies - she recently donated $12.5 million to Harvard to establish a Center for Gender and Education, along with an endowed chair.

Among the lesser-known are a pair of women - Roberta Riley and Jennifer Erickson, a lawyer and a pharmacist - who got a federal court to agree that birth control should be covered by health insurance.

Another is Marleine Bastien, founder of Haitian Women of Miami, who worked diligently in 2000 to get blacks in Florida to vote - and defended their rights in the ballot debacle that followed. While some of the suggestions for nominees came from staff and readers, Ms. Bastien's name was included after a search for a leader at the grassroots level.

"We knew that we really wanted to address in some way the work that had gone on in the wake of the election," says Gillespie. Women are always part of major events, she adds, "but we're not necessarily the face or the name that's getting widespread recognition."

When it comes time for next year's list, Ms. will have a new owner - the Feminist Majority Foundation. Its president, Eleanor Smeal, says she's supportive of the "Women of the Year" concept. "I like the idea of giving tribute to women, and a lot of them," she says. "I know Time magazine does a Man of the Year.... But this is a world of 6 billion people. And I sometimes think we get myopic about who is making the major contribution."

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