The Fierce List 2012

Here, our second salute to a special pride of lionesses—the 54 women (plus a team) who've impressed us with their brave stands, bold plans, daring artistry and kick-ass commitment. Some of them are famous; all of them ought to be

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Queen Elizabeth II

We hail Queen Elizabeth II for making sure girls can take over the family business. In 60 years as monarch, Her Majesty, 86, has been ferociously dutiful, stoic in dealing with royal pains (e.g., her offspring’s marital difficulties) and flexible enough to overcome her preference for privacy by reaching out to a mourning public after Princess Diana’s death. Last year the queen, crowned only because she had no brothers, put extra sparkle in her 2012 Diamond Jubilee by lending her power to gender equality: She strongly supported legislation that will allow a royal eldest daughter to take the throne instead of having to step aside for a younger brother. 


Image courtesy of Shutterstock/Atlaspix

Bobbi Brown

For creating understated, goof-proof, perfect-for-every-day cosmetics that bring out our best selves in record time; for knowing just when the world needed someone to invent a bunch of really pretty brown-based lipsticks; and for celebrating more than 20 successful years in the beauty business, we salute makeup mogul Bobbi Brown, 55.


What she tells herself when the chips are down: “Retreat or reinvent.” 


Image courtesy of Ian Benjamin/Retna Ltd./Corbis

Erin Bolster

In Montana, guide Erin Bolster, 26, was leading a group of eight tenderfeet on a horseback ride when a grizzly bear suddenly charged an eight-year-old boy. Bolster got her horse, Tonk, between the boy and the bear (an extraordinary feat, since horses are naturally bear shy), and then horse and rider charged the grizzly several times, eventually scaring off the critter and saving the child. Now that’s what we’re talkin’ about. 


Image courtesy of Christen Rak

Joan Didion

Brava to Joan Didion, 77, for her book, Blue Nights, an account of her struggle to cope with the death of her daughter, who was only 39. It’s a sort of sequel to The Year of Magical Thinking, about losing her husband, and an equally searing examination of loss.


Image courtesy of iStockphoto

Julie Otsuka

In The Buddha in the Attic, Julie Otsuka, 50, writes of early-20th-century Japanese women who were imported to the U.S. to marry their countrymen, who couldn’t legally marry whites. Her novel, restrained but gorgeous, illuminates the lives of immigrants in a culture that baffles and buffets them. 


Image courtesy of Julie Otsuka

Ann Romney

Though she suffers from multiple sclerosis, which can sap her strength, Ann Romney, 63, has embraced a grueling schedule campaigning for her husband of 43 years, GOP presidential candidate Mitt. Looser on the stump than her spouse, Mrs. Mitt, an avid horsewoman and advocate for MS research, shares stories about her illnesses—she had a precancerous lump removed from her breast in 2008—stressing her husband’s steadfast support. It’s mutual; he says she urged him to run. The mother of five and grandmother of 16 told Fox News, “I’m up to saying, ‘Go storm the castle, sweetie.’ ” 


Image courtesy of Shutterstock/Frontpage

Melissa McCarthy

Brilliant, breakout, career making, game changing, sidesplitting—the Oscar-nominated performance of Melissa McCarthy, 41, as the magisterially nuts Megan in the comedy Bridesmaids threatens to deplete the world’s laudatory-adjective supply.


She feels fiercest when: “I walk into my house and I’m tackled by my kids. That kind of love is empowering.” What she finds unforgivable: “Front-pleated khakis. Come on, people.”


Image courtesy of Shutterstock/Helga Esteb

Mindy Kaling

Mindy Kaling, 32, The Office’s resident ditz (and a canny writer-producer of the show), who’s now an author. Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (and Other Concerns) is a memoir and a guide to conduct. More than that, it’s also good-naturedly funny, with a bracing soupçon of snark.


Courtesy of Shutterstock/Featureflash

Kristen Wiig

Kristen Wiig, 38, delivered a nuttily nuanced performance in Bridesmaids and cowrote the Oscar-nominated screenplay. She also proved that a female ensemble can score box office gold; the film earned nearly $300 mil­lion worldwide—more than its producer, Judd Apatow, made with testosteronic blockbusters like Knocked Up—and set a record as the most popular video-on-demand movie ever. And although Apatow insisted on inserting a poop ’n’ puke scene, Wiig stood firm on getting female friendship right. 


Image courtesy of iStockphoto

Wedad Demerdash

For almost 30 years, labor organizer Wedad Demerdash, 45, has worked on a production line at Egypt’s largest cotton mill, located in the town of Mahalla El-Kubra. In 2006 the mother of four organized a strike that led to a call for a nationwide work stoppage on April 6, 2008. In 2011, Demerdash brought her protest to Cairo­, where she helped inspire hundreds of thousands to rise up and join the Tahrir Square revolution. “I am a very simple woman, a countrywoman, but feeling all of the oppression on the shoulders of the workers gave me a strong push to fight for what’s right,” she tells More. “Being fierce is a gift from God.”


Her favorite saying: “‘Where are the men? The women are standing right here!’ I started saying that because the men wouldn’t join our strikes—they were afraid of the national and state security forces. After that, embarrassed, the men started joining us.” 


Image courtesy of Getty Images/The Washington Post

Carol Bartz

Canned by Yahoo in September 2011, former CEO Carol Bartz, 63, didn’t go quietly. “These people f___ed me over,” she told Fortune. Though she cut costs and improved profit margins, the board felt she didn’t grow revenue fast enough. (She claims she would have by 2012.) Public venting may have been satisfying, but it’s likely to cost Bartz about $10 million—she had a nondisparagement clause attached to her golden parachute. “I am beyond grateful that I have the ability to stand up for my beliefs,” Bartz tells us, “and I have no regrets when it comes to speaking my mind.”


She feels fiercest when: “People twist facts to support their opinions. One of my favorite sayings is ‘You’re entitled to your own opinion, but you’re not entitled to your own facts.’”


Her mantra: “‘Fail, fast, forward.’ In other words, don’t be afraid to fail, try to recognize failure quickly and use it to move forward.” 


Image courtesy of Barry Holmes

Barry Holmes

Amber Miller

Amber Miller, 27, mega-pregnant with her second child, started having contractions while running October’s Chicago Marathon. With her husband at her side, she finished in six hours and 25 minutes—then grabbed a snack, headed for the hospital and gave birth to daughter June.


The only time she regrets being fierce? “When I finished the race before my husband!” 


Image courtesy of Amber Miller

Kristen Christian

Seriously, Bank of America? You really thought it was a good idea to charge customers $5 a month to use their debit cards? You didn’t count on mad-as-hell Kristen Christian, 28, of Los Angeles, who successfully fought the fee, rallying thousands of Americans via Facebook to protest by closing their Bank of America accounts.


What she finds unforgivable: “The inability to forgive—ourselves and others. Human beings are imperfect.” B of A, breathe a sigh of relief.


Image courtesy of Max S. Gerber

Wilma Subra

British Petroleum, be very afraid. Wilma Subra, PhD, 68, is a chemist and technical adviser to the Louisiana Environmental Action Network team investigating lingering health and environmental problems following 2010’s cataclysmic Gulf Coast oil spill. She recently reported that blood samples from cleanup workers and residents near the spill area show alarming levels of toxic chemicals known to cause cancer, genetic mutation and reproductive problems.


What she finds unforgivable: “When people don’t do what they’ve agreed to do.”  


Image courtesy of Dubinsky Photography

Lydia Cacho

Mexican journalist Lydia Cacho Ribeiro, 49, uncovers crimes against women and children. Her work—most recently a series about women murdered in Ciudad Juarez—elicits death threats. That’s more than rhetoric in Mex­ico, where the mortality rate among the media is eighth worldwide.


Image courtesy of Syracuse University

Tina Frundt

Tina Frundt is now a leader in the battle against sex trafficking. The founder and executive director of Courtney's House, a Washington, D.C. refuge for sexually exploited youth, Frundt, 38, hit a milestone this year: 500 girls and boys delivered from danger.


Her biggest motivator: "The day I give up is the day children will not be saved."


Image courtesy of Tina Frundt

Christine Lagarde

Among the mostly male rescuers of the world’s whacked-out finances, two women stand out: Christine Lagarde, 56, formidable former French finance minister, is the first woman to head the International Monetary Fund, succeeding Dominique Strauss-Kahn (relieved of his duties after being accused of sexual assault). In her youth, the nearly six-foot Lagarde was a member of France’s national synchronized swimming team. Maybe that’s helping her keep the global economy afloat. 


Image courtesy of Thomas Laisne/Corbis

Thomas Laisne/Corbis

Angela Merkel

Candid, firm and unshowy, Angela Merkel, 57, Germany’s chancellor since 2005, took the lead this year in managing the eurozone’s financial crisis, insisting on the bailout of bankrupt Greece but demanding austerity measures, and doling out tough love like a no-nonsense mom laying down the law with slacker kids. Call her a Merkel worker.


Image courtesy of iStockphoto

Wangari Maathai

Wangari Maathai, the first African woman and the first environmentalist to win the Nobel Peace Prize (in 2004), died last year at 71. An activist in Kenya, she started the Green Belt Movement, organizing women to rally for free elections and to fight deforestation with new trees. They eventually planted 40 million throughout Africa. In 2006 she joined forces with the U.N. to launch the international Billion Tree Campaign—and since then more than a billion trees have been planted worldwide each year. 


Image courtesy of Albert L. Ortega / PR Photos

Evelyn Lauder

Evelyn Lauder, cocreator of the Pink Ribbon campaign and founder of the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, died at 75. Lauder was a senior corporate vice president of Estée Lauder Inc., the company started by her mother-in-law and run by her husband, Leonard. But she will perhaps be best remembered for the foundation, which has raised more than $350 million since 1993, funding important research that will continue her lifesaving work long after her passing.


Image courtesy of Anthony G. Moore / PR Photos

Lucy Nobbe

Don’t mess with Missouri bond broker and single mom Lucy Nobbe, 52. Enraged by Congress’s inability to work productively and by Standard & Poor’s first-ever downgrade of America’s credit rating, she hired a plane to fly over S&P’s Wall Street headquarters trailing a banner that read "Thanks for the downgrade... you should all be fired!" 


Image courtesy of the Associated Press/Jeff Roberson

Ai-Jen Poo

Ai-Jen Poo’s first postcollege job was gathering stories from housekeepers for a New York City social service agency. Incensed at their working conditions, in 2000 she helped start Domestic Workers United. Now she heads the National Domestic Workers Alliance, an umbrella organization of 35 membership groups. For six years Poo, 38, and the DWU campaigned for the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights; signed into New York State law last year, it entitles domestic workers to basic labor protections (e.g., overtime pay and a minimum wage) and legal protection from harassment. 


Image courtesy of C. Stephen Hurst

©Stephen Hurst 2010

Susan Feldman and Alison Pincus

Three million subscribers eagerly await the daily flash sales and deliciously curated collections of One Kings Lane, the online shopping paradise for home decor cofounded three years ago by Susan Feldman, 56, and Alison Pincus, 37. In 2011 their formula—high-toned house porn at a deep discount, so invitingly staged that virtual decorating feels totally unrisky—generated $100 million in revenue. 


Image courtesy of Susan Feldman

Lisa Randall

She's the first female tenured theoretical physicist at Harvard and MIT, very influential in the string theory arena; someday she may find all that missing matter in the universe. The 49-year-old is also really interested in the connections between art and science; she wrote the libretto for a chamber opera and in 2010 cocurated a Los Angeles art exhibit. Also, she skis. And is good-looking. And yet we do not hate Lisa Randall, PhD. 


Image courtesy of Jen Osborne, 2012

Sarah Burton

After designer Alexander McQueen committed suicide in 2010, in-house star Sarah Burton, 37, was promoted to creative director. Triumph soon followed: She designed the world’s most famous wedding dress (no, not Kim Kardashian’s—Kate Middleton’s). Burton is also responsible for turning royal sis-in-law Pippa’s satin-crepe-encased bum into a global meme. 


Image courtesy of Shutterstock/Featureflash

Mindy Grossman

When multichannel retailer HSN Inc. hired Mindy Grossman as CEO, her mandate was to make TV-set-à-porter truly stylish but still appealing to a mass audience. Grossman, 54, delivered, emphasizing chic, affordable fashion from top designers and celebrities. Her bottomline results: record sales and r-e-s-p-e-c-t.


Image courtesy of Shuttesrtock/lev radin

Octavia Spencer

As a friend of Kathryn Stockett, author of The Help, actress Octavia Spencer, 40, inspired the character of Minny, the maid in the ’60s segregated South who proves that revenge is a dish best served in a pie tin, spiked with the unspeakable. We love Spencer’s combination of playfulness and substance, attitude and gravitas—all of which earned her an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.


The hardest part of being fierce: “When it is misperceived as blind ambition.”


Image courtesy of iStockphoto

Claire Danes

Claire Danes had us at My So-Called Life. This year on Showtime’s Homeland, playing a CIA operative who may be paranoid or just might be saving the world, Danes, 33, manages to startle and satisfy on even subtler levels than before. 


Image courtesy of Shutterstock/Helga Esteb

Rooney Mara

How’d she pack so much menace and longing, power and pathos into that teeny little illustrated and perforated bod? Kudos to Oscar nominee Rooney Mara, 27, for bringing The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo to life with equal parts ferocity and vulnerability.


Image courtesy of Shutterstock/Featureflash

Laura Dern

In HBO’s Enlightened, Golden Globe winner Laura Dern, 45, doesn’t pretty up her messy character, an executive recovering from a workplace breakdown. Dern has the balls to make her simultaneously a train wreck of a narcissist and a yearning woman worthy of our compassion.


The hardest part of being fierce: “It used to be that a fierce woman was a dirty word, and as this list proves, we are forcing the world to accept it as a part of being female.”


Image courtesy of Shutterstock/Featureflash

Sue Falsone

In 2008, when Sue Falsone, a physical therapist for the Los Angeles Dodgers, became the first woman trainer in major league baseball, a player gave her a fielder’s glove embossed with the acronym FWTMLB. Now she needs a new glove: Last year Falsone, 38, was promoted again, and now is the first woman in the history of major U.S. professional sports to become a team’s head trainer. 


Image courtesy of Athlete's Performance 

Elizabeth Warren

Harvard professor Elizabeth Warren, 62, helped President Obama create the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, but Congress blocked her from being nominated as its head. Now she’s back in Massachusetts, running for the U.S. Senate against Republican Scott Brown.


The one time she regrets having been fierce (perhaps not surprisingly, since she vigilantly watches over Americans’ wallets): “When I thought a man was trying to steal my purse, but really his arm was just caught on my purse strap!” 


Image courtesy of the Elizabeth Warren for Massachusetts campaign

Kobchitt Limpaphayom

Gynecologist to the Thai royal family, Kobchitt Limpaphayom, MD, 71, campaigned to introduce a simple screening method for cervical cancer—and to allow nurses, not just doctors, to perform the procedure. She’s helped save thousands of lives, especially among rural women.


She feels fiercest when: “I discover that someone has cheated my patients. When a woman dies for lack of available health services, she has been cheated.”


Image courtesy of Kobchitt Limpaphayom

Carmen Cardona

In a legal case that may challenge the Defense of Marriage Act, Carmen Cardona, 46 (near left), a gay disabled Navy vet, is appealing the government’s decision to deny her full veterans’ benefits on the grounds that she is married to a woman. 


What she says when the chips are down: "If you can see yourself doing it, you can make it happen."


Image courtesy of Carmen Cardona

Catherine Zeta Jones

Last year, as Catherine Zeta-Jones, 42, supported husband Michael Douglas in his fight against cancer, she was fighting a battle of her own: The Oscar-­winning actress sought treatment for bipolar disorder. Her courage in being open about her illness helped demystify a problem that affects nearly six million Americans. Zeta-Jones is now happily back at work, earning great buzz for her role as a Las Vegas gambler’s wife in Lay the Favorite, out this summer. Her three good reasons to be fierce: Husband Michael and kids Dylan and Carys. 


Image courtesy of Shutterstock/Featureflash

Katherine Stone

Katherine Stone, 42, a mother of two who suffered from postpartum depression, launched an award-winning blog, Postpartum Progress, to destigmatize the condition by sharing her experience in bravely naked detail. Now Stone advocates full time for women with PPD and other mood and anxiety disorders related to pregnancy.


Image courtesy of Jennifer Tonetti Spellman

Lara Logan

Separated from her camera crew during the Egyptian revolution, journalist Lara Logan, 41, was sexually assaulted by a mob of angry men. She dared to discuss the experience on 60 Minutes—and her account has had an effect. According to Women Under Siege, a project of the Women’s Media Center spearheaded by Gloria Steinem, Logan has inspired more women journalists to come forward to report sexual violence. 


Image courtesy of the Associated Press/Kathleen Flynn

Barbara Hillary

After Barbara Hillary, 80, retired from nursing, she took up snowmobiling and dogsledding. When the two-time cancer survivor heard that no African-American woman had ever skied the North and South Poles, she waxed up and went, earning herself that honor.


What she tells herself when the chips are down: “Recheck your navigation and move your ass.” 


Image courtesy of

Cast of 'Desperate Housewives'

We salute the cast of Desperate Housewives, wrapping its eighth and final season. So long, Lynette; bye-bye, Bree; adios, Gabrielle; see ya, Susan. Au revoir, husbands and lovers—surviving, departed and dispatched. Go with God, Mary Alice, world’s chattiest corpse. In good times and bad, these women’s default positions were forgiveness and solidarity. The foundational ladies of the lane, embodied by Felicity Huffman, 49, Marcia Cross, 50, Eva Longoria, 37, and Teri Hatcher, 47, always had one another’s backs. Sisters before misters, yo!


The hardest part of being fierce is: “ . . . being willing not to please others. As any pleaser knows, that is no small feat.” —Marcia Cross 


Image courtesy of ABC Media

Katie Jacobs Stanton

Twitter hired Katie Jacobs Stanton, 42, VP for international strategy, to capture the world market. She achieved such swift and stunning success that now 70 percent of posts are foreign and a fifth of world leaders tweet. O brief new world. 


Image courtesy of Twitter

Pat Summitt

They've got game. Last year, Pat Summitt, 59—the coach of the University of Tennessee’s women’s basketball team and the winningest college coach in history for either sex—was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. True to her fighting spirit, she went public with her condition and continued coaching. In April she stepped down from the job she had held for 38 seasons, taking the title of head coach emeritus. She says she will "continue my active role as a spokesperson in the fight against Alzheimer's through the Pat Summitt Foundation Fund."  She has also signed a contract to write a book (with Washington Post columnist Sally Jenkins as co-author) chronicling her life and career. "Basketball has always been far more than a game to me," Summitt said. "It's a way of being, an ethic and a value, and so my intention is that this will be more than a sports book." 


Her motto: “Don’t let anyone outwork you!” 


Image courtesy of William Ewart

Somali national women's basketball team

It was a toxic kind of trash talk: The Somali national women’s basketball team got death threats from a militant Islamist group. Shooting hoops, the extremists said, was a “satanic act.” But the women were committed to competing in last year’s Arab Games in Qatar. So they ignored the haters, practiced under the eyes of security guards—and made it to the games, where they scored a respectable pair of wins. 


Image courtesy of Somali National Women's Basketball Team


What's the most fabulously ferocious thing about Adele, the gorgeous 24-year-old Cockney contralto with a vast voice, an old soul and eight Grammys, including one for Album of the Year? Is it the way she’s rebounded from scary throat surgery? The fearless vulnerability in the songs she writes, transmuting heartbreak into art? The metaphorical middle finger she flipped at designer Karl Lagerfeld when he declared her “a little too fat”? (Her response: “I’ve never wanted to look like models on the cover of magazines. I represent the majority of women, and I’m very proud of that.”) The actual finger she cheerfully gave at the British music awards when the host cut her off during her acceptance speech? It all adds up to a young’un fierce enough to remain relentlessly herself. 


Image courtesy of Shutterstock/Featureflash

Sara Ganim

A young crime reporter for the Patriot-News in Pennsylvania broke one of the biggest stories of the year. Sara Ganim, 24, caught wind of a grand jury investigation and started digging, eventually uncovering a hidden history of sexual-abuse complaints against former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, a lieutenant of beloved head coach Joe Paterno. The college’s president resigned; Paterno died in January. Awaiting trial, Sandusky maintains his innocence. Her mantra: “Test authority.” 


Image courtesy of the Patriot-News

Edda Mellas

Seattle student Amanda Knox, 24, spent four years in an Italian prison for murdering her roommate before that decision was reversed last year. She owes her freedom to the discrediting of evidence used to convict her—and to the fortitude of her mother, Edda Mellas. The 49-year-old math teacher fought unflaggingly for Knox’s release, renting a house in Italy so she could be on hand for various steps of the legal process. And she raised money—by tapping out her retirement funds and going into debt— so that she, along with her ex-husband, Knox’s father, could pay more than $1 million in legal fees. (Knox’s February book deal for nearly $4 million should help.)  


Image courtesy of the Associated Press/Stefano Medici

Virginia Rometty

In January, Virginia “Ginni” Rometty, 54, became the first woman to head IBM in the company’s 101-year history. CEO Rometty, who made her bones integrating IBM’s $3.5 billion acquisition of Pricewaterhouse­Coopers consulting, is the 29th woman to head a Fortune 500 company.  


Image courtesy of James Leynse/Corbis

Gloria Steinem

Not that it ever mattered to her, but Gloria Steinem is still glamorous at 78. Last year she celebrated the 40th anniversary of the founding of Ms.—amazingly, the first American magazine written, edited and published by women for women. On the page, at marches, in policy debates, Steinem changed laws and lives. Just one of the glorious Glo-quotes we’ll be needlepointing on pillows (but only if we want to!) for generations: “A liberated woman is one who has sex before marriage and a job after.” 


Image courtesy of Marco Sagliocco / PR Photos

Manal al-Sharif

Last spring Saudi Arabian women’s rights activist Manal al-Sharif, 33, was arrested after she posted a video of herself driving a car as part of an online campaign to defy her nation’s ban on women taking the wheel. Thousands of women signed on to the Facebook page created by al-Sharif and fellow campaigners, and after her arrest, several others posted videos of themselves driving. A hoped-for national protest fizzled—but the calculated uproar moved the conversation a few blocks down the road.


Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Heather Jarvis and Sonya Barnett

Great moments in oh-no-he-didn’t: A cop addressing students at Toronto’s York University in 2011 suggested that “women should avoid dressing like sluts” in order to be safe on the streets. He later apologized—but not before feminists Heather Jarvis (left), 26, and Sonya Barnett, 39, had organized the inaugural SlutWalk, the first in a series of nearly 200 powerful marches worldwide, protesting the blaming of victims and declaring it a woman’s right to be safe from assault no matter what she’s wearing.


Image courtesy of N. Maxwell Lander

Françoise Gilot

Outliving well is the best revenge: Françoise Gilot, now in her nineties, was Picasso’s lover and bore him two children. This month New York’s Gagosian Gallery is mounting a retrospective of Picasso’s work from the years he and Gilot were together and will display some of her paintings as well. She notes, “I was an artist before I ever met Picasso.” And is one still. 


Image courtesy of the Associated Press


Click here for 50 women MORE included in their 2011 Fierce List.


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First published in the May 2012 issue

Share Your Thoughts!


Lin Kaatz Chary07.18.2012

I can't believe you left Sandra Fluke off this list! Fierce doesn't begin to describe her bravery and brains in her leadership of the fight for equality in healthcare for women.She stood up for women everywhere and deserves major kudos!
On the other hand, acknowledging Wilma Subro is fantastic. She is amazing and I hope young women will see her as a real model of what women scientists can do!

zhang rendong06.15.2012

( this is my hermes bags store,there are lot of hermes handbags, there are so beautiful,trust me and trust youself,you will be like it.thanks.

Oceana Lott05.12.2012

Congrats Julie Otuska!

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