According to a new Gallup pollHillary Clinton is the most admired woman in America. Barely. Clinton’s runner-up, Sarah Palin, almost knocked the Secretary of State from the most-admired perch she’s assumed 14 times. If you think that’s sad, check out the also-rans:

The third most admired woman in America isOprah Winfrey, with 8 percent; fourth on the list is Michelle Obama, with 7 percent. Makes sense so far. Next up is Condoleezza Rice and Queen Elizabeth II—-each with two percent. (Oddly, British royalty counts: The poll is actually meant to determine the most admired woman by Americans). Then we have the one-percent group: A four-way tie between Margaret Thatcher, Maya Angelou, Angela Merkel and . . . Elin Nordegren Woods.

Let’s see: We’ve got heads of state, cultural ambassadors, high-ranking government officials, and a lady who married a douchebag. One of these things is not like the other!

Marrying (and divorcing) douchebags, sadly, has been hailed as a resounding achievement for women in 2009. Jessica Grose chastised Barbara Walters for placing Kate Gosselin and Jenny Sanford, two ladies who married douchebags, in the top 10 most fascinating people of the year: “Being publicly cheated on does not automatically make you an interesting person, much less interesting enough to appear on one of these silly lists.” Phoebe Connelly also chimed in on the absurdity of giving the feminist treatment to Sanford: “The news that Sanford is leaving her national punchline of a husband, South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, is no reason to hail her as a feminist icon.”

Look closer at the cultural narratives surrounding Gosselin, Sanford, and Nordegren Woods, and you’ll find three different monsters born of our fascination with wronged women. Sanford gracefully endured her husband’s infidelities before calmly divorcing him. She is respected. Nordegren Woods allegedly chased her philandering husband down with a golf club, leaving him laying delirious in the middle of the road next to his wrecked car. She is celebrated. Gosselin, star of Jon & Kate Plus 8 and wife to confirmed douchebag Jon Gosselin until their separation this year, broadcast her marital troubles for all of America to see. She is pitied.

When we have women like Clinton, Angelou, Thatcher, Rice, and Merkel to admire, why are we still eager to recognize the long-suffering wife whose greatest accomplishment is no longer being married to a douchebag? Perhaps it’s because divorcing a douchebag is an achievement that regular women can foresee accomplishing in their own lifetimes. Most women won’t become Secretary of State or a celebrated writer—-or end up married to a catch like Barack Obama. But many, many women will marry douchebags, and about half of those douchebag unions will end in divorce.

Most women won’t find the strength to face their divorce with Sanford’s calm and collected exterior. They won’t get away with Nordegren Woods’ outburst of spousal abuse (though many will fantasize about it). They won’t attract the unwavering public attention that Gosselin’s divorce has. But these public narratives of divorcing douchebags lend a certain gravitas to the personal lives of normal women—-women who are not likely to be admired or celebrated or even pitied for finally severing their marital vows. For a long time, getting a divorce was seen as a failure, which meant that half of married women were failing. No wonder America has labored to find something to admire about these women—-they are us. The problem with the current narrative is that we’re celebrating divorce as a failure of men and a triumph of women, instead of focusing on the real triumphs of women like Clinton, whose marital status has been made irrelevant to the discussion of her success.

Photo via marcn, Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0