Great thinkers – a male preserve?

A self-confessed list junkie, I was immediately drawn to Gideon Rachman’s piece in yesterday’s FT in which he asks: “Where have all the great thinkers gone?” Citing Foreign Policy magazine’s List of the Top 100 Global Thinkers, Rachman contrasts the list, heavily biased towards US politicians, with those one might draw up for 1861 or 1939 – and finds the class of 2011 wanting.

Some weeks ago, we looked at consulting firm Crainer Dearlove’s Thinkers 50 list, which uses a management theory lens to identify its own court of the most influential minds. There were just three women on the list.

Foreign Policy’s list includes 27 women, the highest-ranking of whom are both politicians: Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, at 13 and Christine Lagarde, the French finance minister, at 22. Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese democracy activist, comes in at 76, and Martha Nussbaum, the American philosopher, is also listed (90).

If we were compiling a list of 20th-century global women thinkers, who would you include? In no particular order, candidates might be philosopher Simone de Beauvoir; political theorist Hannah Arendt; novelist Gertrude Stein; Elizabeth Anscombe, philosopher and friend to Wittgenstein; Nobel Prize-winner Gertrude Elion (who developed drugs to combat leukaemia and later HIV); Marie Curie; economist Carmen Reinhart; Rosalind Franklin, the crystallographer whose work contributed to early DNA theory; and mathematician Amalie Emmy Noether, a contemporary of Albert Einstein.

Then there is also economist Asli Demirgüc-Kunt; Inge Lehmann, the Danish seismologist; Indian biologist Asha Kolte; German geneticist Christiane Nusslein-Volhard, also a Nobel Prize winner; British geneticist Gillian Bates; Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi; and British suffragist Emmeline Pankhurst.

There are also writers Ayn Rand, Gloria Steinem, Germaine Greer and Susan Sontag, scientists Barbara McClintock and Susan Greenfield, and Indian politician Sonia Gandhi.

How many of them could stand up with the most influential 20th-century male thinkers – Einstein, Orwell, T.S. Eliot, Sartre, Gandhi, Hayek, Freud, Jung, Picasso and Keynes?

Who would be on your list?

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