Mary Wells’s Power Picks

To begin with, there are not three most powerful women in the world as there are not three most powerful men in the world. You can choose your favorite three most powerful women from among the group which has probably never been calculated. Also, I think there is a big difference between being successful, influential, important, iconic — and powerful.

Powerful women are changing people’s lives in ways that people do not control. Many women change people’s ideas but few women change their lives in ways they may not know anything about and certainly can’t stop.

Queen Elizabeth, Hillary in 2008, Oprah, Nancy Pelosi, Patricia Russo, Irene Rosenfeld, Indra Nooyi are very impressive women. I am impressed with all the women suggested so far. And it is fun to read about them. But they do not have true power over many people’s lives. They have power over their businesses and one aspect of politics or another and they may impact our ideas and styles but they are not in positions to change our lives without our even knowing it or having any control. There are a number of women who are powerful in that sense — whether I am impressed by them or not — so I am just pulling three out of a hat.

Condoleezza Rice has power every day — in some ways she is the president of the United States and makes decisions in far-flung places that Mr. Bush does not know about until months later. In that position, with a country as powerful as the United States, she controls our lives.

Ruth Ginsberg, as a liberal thinker on America’s Supreme Court, affects the balance and the direction the country takes and, as a result, the reactions and directions other countries take. That is power in my view. I just have to add one suggested by a friend: the Virgin Mary. Of all symbolic women figures, she is alive and powerful to vast groups of people and to men as well as women. Throughout the world, people believe she can change lives and change the world and they react accordingly. As a force in the world she is very powerful and very real whether we like it or not.

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