With the march of progress still going strong (despite some people feeling that certain recent events represent major setbacks), all these future female leaders and other achievers will do well to have some good role models to aspire to. This list is not about that.
Here, we’re looking at women that got into the limelight by being scourges to society, or at least being drains on it. Women who advanced bad causes that left dead bodies in their wake, treated their underlings terribly, stole vast sums of money, and in short were everything misogynists would say are the natural result of placing women in positions of authority. Despite that, they managed to either acquire large public followings or power and influence in other ways. Sometimes there’s no accounting for the public’s taste.
10. Rita Crundwell
This entrepreneur seemed for years to have it made. She was breeding horses that were so highly valued that she made three quarters of a million dollars from a single sale. She was famous and connected enough that in 2008, NFL legend Terry Bradshaw gave her a personally autographed t-shirt. Certainly being the comptroller of the Illinois city of Dixon seemed pretty small potatoes compared to that. It suddenly made much more sense when, in 2015, she was convicted of embezzling $54 million from municipal funds. This was unusual not so much because it was a woman embezzling, but because of the sheer scope of it, as women usually embezzle smaller amounts than men do.
Despite being sent to prison, Crundwell’s horse breeding company continued to be one of the ten most successful in the country. Her royalties in prison amounted to roughly $14,000 a year in assets the government was unable to seize. Indeed, she was even able to continue to sell her merchandise from the old days for as much as $205 a pop. Sometimes even felony conviction can’t even temporarily stop the right business person.
9. Jenny McCarthy
It’s since been overshadowed by her actions in 2007, but this Playboy model and television host was once popular enough that she hosted her own sketch comedy show. It was because of this that she brought a lot of clout with her when, in 2007, she went on television and told an audience of millions that Andrew Wakefield had found that there were ingredients in vaccines that gave her son autism. All of Wakefield’s findings had long been discredited, but still McCarthy persisted with her beliefs enough to write multiple books on the subject and make the Anti-Vaccine Movement a household phrase.
It’s difficult to determine how many of the deaths caused by the anti-vaccination movement can be attributed to her in a moral sense, if not a legal one. The New Yorker, for one, attributed deaths to her campaign. However true that may be, there’s no denying that she did much to spread very harmful ideas to millions of people.
8. Claudia Ochoa Felix
In this woman’s case it remains murky how much, if any, criminal activity she was directly involved in. This situation is due not only to some of her life choices, but how she’s chosen to present herself online. She was reportedly the significant other for a Mexican drug lord named José Gamboa and following his arrest in 2013, it was claimed that she took over his gang (it wouldn’t be the first time a woman did this under the circumstances: Sandra Beltran did so as well until she was convicted in 2007). Although she has denied involvement in criminal activity, she made Twitter and Instagram accounts for herself, which included numerous photos of Felix or someone who looks suspiciously like her with men who were armed with AK-47s. There were also numerous photos that are very likely of her with such weapons partially painted gold or pink. By far the most dubious one was a photo of her child covered in bank notes, one which she took down.
In Claudia Felix’s defense, she held a press conference to state that she had no affiliation with any drug dealers, and that many of the photos on her profile (which she claimed was highjacked) were not of her. She did not identify who the imitator was or speculate why she was being imitated, but she claimed she was being harassed over her social media posts. Whatever the case, setting up accounts which projected the glamour of the criminal lifestyle to over one hundred thousand followers gained her the nickname the “Kim Kardashian of Crime.” Goes to show that despite regret or innocent intentions, actions like these can have consequences far beyond what was intended.
7. Jodi Arias
While Claudia Felix was not convicted of any crimes, Jodi Arias was after something of a circus of a trial. In 2008, her boyfriend Travis Alexander was shot and beheaded, his body being discovered and reported to the police five days later. Eventually evidence would come out that Arias flirted with some of the attendants at his memorial service. Later, charges were pressed against her. Her initial testimony was that masked intruders killed him, but she then changed it to say it had been in self-defense.
During the three year trial, highlights included Arias portraying Alexander as a sex pervert. Through a friend she maintained a Twitter account, which she used to attack the prosecution and the deceased to tens of thousands of followers. And yet despite all of this, or perhaps because of it, she had enough male admirers that she reportedly received marriage proposals on a daily basis. Hey, no one said that only other females would fall under the sway of these bad influences.
6. Lisa Frank
If you associate the idea of something being feminine with rainbows, unicorns, fields of flowers, etc., then few people did more to shape that perspective in modern times than Lisa Frank. From her humble beginnings in New York during the 1970s she built a merchandise empire called Lisa Frank Inc. that in the late ’90s was generating $60 million in revenue per year from its headquarters in Tucson, Arizona.
However, despite the superficial pleasantness of the company, it was a notoriously badly operated business where treatment of employees was awful. In Tucson it was known as the “Rainbow Gulag.” The management was abusive, often withheld severance payments, and stiffed contractors. Sometimes as many as one third of the employees turned over in the course of a one year period. Much of this was the fault of Frank’s husband James Green, but she was the one who turned over control of the company to him and let him continue his horrible behavior almost unabated. No matter how much an artist wants to focus on comfortable fantasy worlds, they can cause a lot of harm if they neglect the real world.
5. Park Geun-Hye
This 65-year-old former president was not the first South Korean president to resign in disgrace, but the events surrounding her departure were unusually dramatic. Elected in 2013, in 2016 thirteen charges of corruption were levelled against her. So severe were they that it was put forward that the electronics giant Samsung alone was going to give her a $37 million bribe.
Despite a unanimous ruling of guilt by South Korea’s Constitutional Court, the president refused to relinquish power. What followed was one of the most determined nonviolent protests in modern history. With the president’s approval rating at about five percent, hundreds of thousands of average citizens marched and assembled in the city of Seoul for a demonstration that began in November 2016 and lasted until the disgraced president finally gave in and stepped down on March 10, 2017. On March 30, 2017, the previously legally immune ex-president was belatedly arrested to stand trial again. Rarely do democratically elected officials so stubbornly resist the clearly expressed will of the people.
4. Jasmin Rivera: Female Robin Hood
On December 28, 2011, this 30-year-old homeless Boston resident robbed a Citizens Bank near the Boston Opera House, then took a cab to return to a homeless shelter. When she cavalierly told her cab driver what she’d done, he initially didn’t believe her until she saw the police outside the bank. She ended up paying him about double his fare to be dropped off early, whereupon the very honest driver went to tell the police. When the police found her, Rivera had not attempted to stash the money or spent it on a relative extravagance. She was handing the money out to whichever children happened by at Ramsey Park.
Despite doing something that might seem at first like one of the most generous things someone can do with stolen money, after Rivera’s arrest it was quickly determined that she was not mentally well. No doubt that was exacerbated by the fact she’d been homeless for twelve years. Her theft did so little good for anyone that even the cab driver she’d generously tipped ended up losing the fare because it was seized into evidence.
3. Carry Nation
Undoubtedly the most famous of the campaigners for alcohol prohibition, if only for her extreme methods which combined motives that seem unbearably priggish with rebelliousness. In 1900, at age 54 and after ten years as a peaceful member of the temperance movement, this retired teacher felt compelled to literally attack the Carey Hotel bar with a hatchet and, adjusting for inflation, she caused tens of thousands of dollars in damages. After she was released from prison, she continued to wreak havoc on places where alcohol was sold.
Although it’s not an age we associate with that sort of radicalism that would endorse this, Carry Nation soon developed a following. In a move that seems far ahead of its time, she sold souvenir hatchets to her fans. Although she eventually went back to more peaceful activism for more socially beneficial causes such as the Suffrage Movement, it was her work with a hatchet that definitely reached and inspired the most people. Considering the effects of the Prohibition era during the 1920s had on public health, corruption, and mob violence, it also did untold harm far beyond those wrecked saloons.
While activists who fought for the right for women to vote, such as Susan B. Anthony, are practically hallowed in American history for their work, on the other side of that particular coin were a surprising number of women that were opposed to it. They included Josephine Dodge and Kate Wiggin, which understandably are not household names. The anti-suffragists overwhelmingly were women with wealth and connections through marriage or birth who, naturally, didn’t want much social upheaval under the circumstances.
Despite being dedicated to the principle that women should be denied basic rights of representation, it was not necessarily a malicious movement. Many of the women involved were community organizers who worked at hospitals and shelters. Others worked in organizations devoted to providing women free medical education. One prominent talking point was that women should stay out of politics not because they weren’t capable of it, but because politics would be a corrupting influence. While of course the movement ultimately was unsuccessful, its influence was felt long after, as National Public Radio tells us that many women were disinclined to exercise their right to vote for decades.
1. Leni Riefenstahl
It’s unfortunate that Leni Riefenstahl is probably the only female film director from the first half of the 20th Century that anyone with a passing interest in the subject could name. Her 1935 propaganda film on the Nazi Party Congress, Triumph of the Will, was a massively persuasive film at the time (though Roger Ebert, for one, called in “paralyzingly dull.”) Beyond that, her work influenced countless high-profile films such as Star Wars. Amazingly, from the 1970s on, some feminists, such as author Susan Sontag, were paying tribute to her.
For her part, Riefenstahl was very unwilling to apologize or even admit complicity when she was acquitted after the end of World War Two. She denied that her documentary influenced anyone since Germany was allegedly pro-Nazi anyway, and denied being a member of the Nazi party. When propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels’s private journal was used to debunk that second claim in an interview, she threw a fit. Some people just can’t get away from the truth of their influence.
Dustin Koski is willing to be a role model to anyone who follows his Facebook page.