10 Great Women Who Wouldn't Shut Up in '09

How Sharon, Diane, Susan, Hillary and more grabbed headlines for doing things their way.
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Sharon Stone

For redefining the term age-appropriate. The Basic Instinct star has long been famously uninhibited about her body. But Sharon Stone’s headline-making photo shoot this year-some shots were topless-revealed more than just an enviable figure and a flair for audacity. They were part of her ongoing campaign to demonstrate, as she told Paris Match, that "the middle of life isn’t the end of life." She looked at her full-frontal nude scene in Basic Instinct 2 the same way: "I wanted the audience to have a moment where they realize she’s naked and then realize she’s a forty-something woman and naked," she told the London Evening Standard. For proving that the view from midlife can be quite spectacular, we salute her.
Photo by: Solarpix/PR Photos

Sonia Sotomayor

For acing her big test, not caving to critics. There was a moment this summer when the phrase wise Latina was on everybody’s lips-and even on some T-shirts. In her Supreme Court confirmation hearings, Sonia Sotomayor was asked to justify a past comment that "a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life." Sotomayor, whose own journey took her from the South Bronx through Princeton and Yale Law School on scholarships, admitted that it was "a rhetorical flourish that fell flat." But she explained that she had meant to inspire young Latino lawyers and students "to believe that they could become anything they wanted to become, just as I had" and rejected suggestions of possible bias. By turning an attack into a celebration of how she has lived the American dream, Sotomayor was wise enough to reach her goal-becoming the first Hispanic Supreme Court justice-while staying true to herself.
Photo by: AFP Photo/Scott Applewhite/POOL

Susan Boyle

For proving you needn’t be born a princess to live a fairy tale. They laughed when she came out to sing. But by the time Susan Boyle finished auditioning for Britain’s Got Talent in April, there wasn’t a cynical snicker in the house. More than 77 million YouTube hits later, Boyle was a star. Sudden fame is tough for anyone, let alone a woman whose self-described "sheltered life" included overcoming learning disabilities and living with her mother until her death at age 91. Boyle finished second in the TV competition, was hit with tabloid backlash and briefly checked into a psychiatric clinic to combat exhaustion. But she found an inner strength to match her powerful voice, blossomed in a makeover and recorded a bestselling album, I Dreamed A Dream. Her mum, she told Meredith Vieira, would be "very proud of how I’ve achieved."
Photo by: Robert Perry/TSPL/Camera Press/Retna Ltd.

Jenny Sanford

For blazing a new, non-Appalachian trail in dealing with an unfaithful husband. When the extramarital affair of South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford became public knowledge in June, his wife, Jenny, did not stand by her man, defend him as the victim of a predatory woman or cry conspiracy. Rather, she packed her belongings and advised her husband to do a little soul-searching. "The incredible reaction my actions have generated just highlights how common such struggles in marriage are today," she says. Finally, on December 11, she filed for divorce, saying in her complaint, "This came after many unsuccessful efforts at reconciliation, yet I am still dedicated to keeping the process that lies ahead peaceful for our family." Sanford, a former investment banker, has written a memoir that will be published in May. Here’s why she stands out in our book: for letting the world know that her husband’s infidelity was humiliating only for him.

Diane Sawyer

For demonstrating it’s never too late for a woman to land her dream job. When Sawyer starts anchoring ABC’s World News on December 21, we’ll have two huge things to celebrate: Network news will be 66.66 percent pure female, and one of the most prominent forces in broadcasting will be right where she belongs. Throughout her career, Sawyer has shown drive and tenacity (covering the Iranian hostage crisis, she reportedly spent one round-the-clock week at the State Department), range and savvy (interviewing both presidents and pop singers) and star power and loyalty (leading Good Morning America to years of rising ratings). Sawyer has said "you never know until the moment about what you want to do next in this world." We know her next act will be fascinating to watch.
Photo by: ABC via Getty Images

Hillary Clinton

For making women’s rights one of the top foreign policy issues of our time. Addressing a conference in Beijing as first lady, Hillary Clinton declared, "women are most often the ones whose human rights are violated." Now, as secretary of state, she’s using her clout to fight for global change. During her trip to Africa, she saw victims of rape in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where women are violated by soldiers and marauding rebels. Clinton urged the country’s president to prosecute offenders and offered an additional $17 million in victims’ assistance. In September, she took her campaign to the United Nations, stating forcefully that sexual violence toward women and children during war "is not cultural, it is criminal." Clinton’s contact with women is more than a political agenda-in her own words, "It feeds my heart."
Photo by: Stephen Cohen/Retna.Ltd.

Nancy Reagan

For crossing party lines to build support for her cherished cause. As her husband deteriorated from Alzheimer’s disease, former first lady Nancy Reagan surprised many by going public with her advocacy for stem cell research, a promising but controversial science opposed by a number of her fellow Republicans. When research-funding bills came up, she worked the phones, lobbying both sides of the political aisle for votes. The bills passed but were vetoed by George W. Bush. This year, when President Obama signed an executive order making $10 billion in federal funds available for stem cell research, Reagan again crossed party lines to express her support. "I’m very grateful that President Obama has lifted the restrictions," she said. "We owe it to ourselves and to our children to do everything in our power to find cures for these diseases-and soon."
Photo by: AFP/Getty Images

Ursula Burns

For bringing the richness of diversity to the Fortune 500’s top ranks. "I know that I’m smart and have opinions that are worth being heard," Ursula Burns told the New York Times in 2003. When asked if she was preparing for the top role at Xerox, she demurely replied it was too soon to think of that, then couldn’t help adding: "I guess I’m a darned good option for a candidate." Pride going before a fall? Nuh-uh. Burns, who joined Xerox nearly 30 years ago as an intern, became CEO this year-the first African-American woman to head a Fortune 500 company. She’s taking the mantle at a tough time, but she knows how to seize an opportunity: When the credit markets thawed in September, she made a deal to buy Affiliated Computer Services, estimated to save Xerox $300 to $400 million over three years. It was the biggest acquisition bid in the company’s history-"a game-changer," Burns said. That’s a label she can lay claim to herself.
Photo by: Matthew Jordan Smith/Corbis Outline

Sheila Bair

For protecting the little guy when Washington was bailing out the big guys. While officials at the White House, the Treasury and the Fed were focused on the banks last year, Sheila Bair, chairman of the U.S. Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), was worrying about the taxpayer. In the early days of the meltdown, she fought to raise the limit on insured bank accounts from $100,000 to $250,000- safeguarding customers at the 98 banks that, at presstime, had failed in 2009. She also insisted on a loan modification program to protect homeowners from foreclosure. "We got a lot of pushback," she says, and rumors swirled about conflict between her and Treasury secretary Tim Geithner. Now Bair receives grateful feedback from homeowners and fan letters from women. "I hope I’m a good role model," she says. "We need more women in financial services. They wouldn’t take so many risks, right?" she adds with a laugh.
Photo by: Kristoffer Tripplaar/Sipa Press

Natalia Estemirova

For refusing to be silenced on human rights, even at the price of her life. Natalia Estemirova devoted herself to bringing international attention to human rights abuses in Chechnya. For the past decade she spoke out-but on July 15, her voice was stopped. That day, Estemirova was forced into a car as she left her home in Grozny. Hours later, her body was found with bullets in it. "She was obsessed with justice," says Tanya Lokshina of Human Rights Watch. "When she saw someone suffering, she would rush to help. I don’t think she could even control it." Estemirova was fully aware that her own life was in danger in Chechnya. "But she said, ‘These people are suffering, and they come to me,’?" Lokshina says. "?‘If I leave, who will they go to?’?" In giving voice to the abused, she has become an undying inspiration. TO VIEW A SLIDE SHOW OF STARS WHO MAKE OVER 40 LOOK FAB, CLICK HERE
Photo by: Camera Press/Retna Ltd.

First Published Fri, 2009-12-04 16:46

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