The annual list picks 12 women, one for each month of the year, who have made memorable headlines.
Recovering US Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and Pippa Middleton are among the names on the list, but a panda named Sweetie took December's crown.
Sweetie arrived in Edinburgh alongside Sunshine from China earlier this month. Both are on loan to the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland for £600,000 a year.
The inclusion has been dubbed 'panda gate' by users on Twitter. John Prescott said: "So the BBC couldn't find a woman for Sports Personality of the Year but they could find a panda for a female face of 2011."
Labour MP Stella Creasy said: "No offence to sweetie - sure a lovely panda and best in class etc - but clue is in title 'women' not 'female of the species' of the year ..."
The BBC has since pointed out that the lists usually contain at least one animal. A spokesperson said: "Including Sweetie (Tian Tian) as one of the annual headline makers was a light-hearted addition to the list, and this isn't the first time it has featured a non-human.
"In 2009, Benson the Carp, a much-caught giant fish, was August's entry on the male list and last year Peppa the Pig was on the female list for April."
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