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We Can Do It: The Best and Brightest Women of 2009

Another year has flown by. Another decade, behind us. Another handful of mistresses are household names. But as 2009 comes to a close, we realize things are looking a lot better than they were a year ago. And we’re not just talking about the economy.

The past year was one filled with female firsts, steps in the right direction and inspirational stories from women we love. Excelle presents our ten picks for the best lady-friendly news from 2009.

1. Women rocked digital media.
The Internet proved once again that gender is no barrier to success. Women took over digital media in 2009, rocking the landscape like nobody else. For starters, Glamour magazine named Marissa Mayer, Google’s VP of search product and user experience, one of their “Women of the Year.” Mayer joined eleven other women as “The Twelve Most Powerful Women in Digital Media” by The Business Insider, a formidable list that includes CEOs, digital gurus, journalists, and other media hotshots.

Women also jumped on the blogging bandwagon, a move made easier through BlogHer, an inspirational online network with a mission to create opportunities for women. Founded by Lisa Stone, Elisa Camahort Page, and Jory Des Jardins in February 2005, BlogHer saw tremendous success in 2009. The trio was named one of the Seven Most Powerful People in New Media by Katie Couric on Forbes. Stone, BlogHer’s CEO, was selected as one of ten “Influencers of Silicon Valley” by The San Jose Mercury News earlier this month. And that’s not all. The BlogHer team is slated to bring its knowledge and expertise on social media and how to reach and influence women online to the White House AND the Republican party. Now that’s epic. 

2. The First Lady wowed the nation.
No matter what your politics are, it was undoubtedly the year of Michelle Obama. She was everywhere this year as the public was enthralled by her modern fashion sense (shorts, anyone?), her family focus, and her practical attitude. As if being the first African-American First Lady wasn’t an achievement in itself, Mrs. Obama continued to surpass expectations. She started an organic vegetable garden at the White House and showed off toned arms in her signature sleeveless dresses, all while remaining very relatable and down-to-earth. The first lady became an inspiration to the modern woman, balancing family life with her public image. 

It’s no wonder Barbara Walters picked Mrs. Obama as the Most Fascinating Person of 2009. Most Americans approve of the first lady as well: the December Marist College Poll shows 57 percent of registered voters approve of her accomplishments so far, up seven points from March. If it took one year for the first lady to do this much, we can’t wait to see what the next three years bring.  

3. For the first time, a woman won the Nobel Prize in Economics.
After a year when our nation’s economists seemed to have it all wrong (coughAlanGreenspancough), one American woman made history for her work in the field. Elinor Ostrom became the first woman to win the Nobel Prize in Economics. A Political Science Professor at Indiana University, she’d been studying how local communities manage their resources better without the influence of outside authorities.

And that’s not all. It seems Ostrom has been the first woman to take home numerous big-time awards. She was the first woman to receive the prestigious Johan Skytte Prize in Political Science back in 1999 and in 2008 she won the William H. Riker Prize in political science (also a first!).

Ostrom’s work (and its recognition) hasn’t just challenged economic hypotheses—it has also debunked the myth that women can’t be good at “hard” subjects like math and science.

4. There were more women working than ever before.
This one’s bittersweet. Seven out of every ten jobs lost in the recession belonged to men. Which means that, for the first time, women held 49.8 percent of all jobs in America. Back in 2006, women held 48 percent of all jobs.  Unfortunately, women’s salaries still lag significantly behind men’s—as much as 20 percent variance even within the same exact job. Here’s hoping 2010 brings more pay scale equality and workplace advancement that doesn’t rely on our husbands, fathers, brothers and friends losing their jobs in the worst recession of our lifetime. 

5. Women were found to be better lawmakers than men.
Women in Congress work harder and achieve more than men in the same position, according to a joint study by Stanford University and the University of Chicago. Female legislators garnered 9 percent more in discretionary spending for their districts, introduced more bills, won more support for their bills, and sponsored three more bills per session than their male counterparts. Booyah!

6. Susan Boyle defied stereotypes.
American Idol, So You Think You Can Dance, Dancing With the Stars—these days, even our talent competitions feature a certain caliber of … well … talent. The contestants are all young, sexy, and thin. Or at least two out of the three! So when Susan Boyle came onto the scene in the early part of 2009, she stunned the Britain’s Got Talent judges (including the notoriously sour-faced Simon Cowell) and the world. Her looks may be modest, but her voice was not.

For most of her life Boyle had faced bullying and chronic unemployment. She almost didn’t audition for Britain’s Got Talent, fearing she was “too old and that it was a young person’s game." It’s a good thing she did. Her audition stunned the judges and audiences alike. And although she didn’t win the competition (she came in second), Boyle saw a rapid rise to fame in 2009, culminating with the release of her first album.

7. The Senate passed the Women’s Health Amendment.
We’re still waiting to see what happens with healthcare reform, but as the congressional battle wages on,,one piece of potentially good news has emerged. After a three-day stalemate, the Women’s Health Amendment—which would require all health plans to cover women’s preventative care (like mammograms and cervical cancer screenings)—passed in the Senate.

This amendment became all the more necessary in light of recent recommendations by the US Preventative Services Task Force, which called for less frequent cervical cancer screenings for women and for mammograms only after the age of 50. Some women were afraid they’d be denied free mammogram screenings if they were in their 40s—no longer a worry thanks to the amendment. Senator Barbara Mikulski, the Democrat who proposed the amendment, took action because it was unfair that, in her words, “the insurance companies take being a woman as a pre-existing condition.” Hopefully, not anymore.

8. Germany’s Chancellor was Forbes’ most powerful woman—again!
Most people dream of power. For Angela Merkel, it’s a reality. She nabbed the No. 1 spot on Forbes’ “100 Most Powerful Women” list back in 2006 and has kept it since. Merkel is a remarkable character for a few reasons: Not only is she currently the chancellor of Germany, she is also the first woman to hold that position and the first chancellor from formerly communist East Germany. Merkel was first elected as chancellor of Germany in 2005 and won re-election earlier this year for a second term in office. She continues to symbolize powerful female leadership as a member of the Council of Women World Leaders.

9. Oprah continued her reign.
Oprah’s announcement that The Oprah Winfrey Show will go off air after closing its twenty-fith year in 2011 sent waves of panic, despite the distant deadline. While some of us may already be feeling the pangs of withdrawal, she’s still the superstar of media today, despite dropping to No. 2 on the Forbes “Celebrity 100” list. This year, Winfrey joined Twitter during an episode on her daytime talk show and currently has over 2.8 million followers.

And we’re all familiar with the famous “Oprah effect,” which is so influential that some say it helped President Obama get elected. There’s also her popular satellite radio show, not to mention O, The Oprah Magazine and plans to launch her own cable network, “The Oprah Winfrey Network.” She really is the most influential woman in media, and we didn’t need Forbes to tell us that.

10. The “Wise Latina” made history.

Back in May, President Barack Obama nominated Sonia Sotomayor for an appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court. While her remarks about the virtues of “wise Latina” women over the white man drew some controversy, Sotomayor was cleared after testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee in July. Her nomination was confirmed by the U.S. Senate in August with a vote of 68-31, replacing retiring Justice David Souter.

Justice Sotomayor was sworn in August 8, 2009 by Chief Justice John Roberts, and became the first Hispanic to serve on the Supreme Court, as well as the third woman to serve on the court.

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By Tania Khadder and Hamsa Ramesha for Excelle