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IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde and German Chancellor Angela Merkel talk on stage at the W20 conference on April 25, 2017 in Berlin, Germany.

To be or not to be?

WATCH: German Chancellor Angela Merkel struggled to answer a simple philosophical question

April 27, 2017

At the W20 women’s summit in Berlin this week, first daughter Ivanka Trump snagged all of the headlines after she was peppered with hisses and boos from the largely female audience when she described her father, U.S. President Donald Trump, as “a tremendous champion” for women’s advocacy. However, a much more interesting and revealing moment occurred onstage that drew an even more boisterous response from the audience. But somehow, the exchange was buried beneath the avalanche of Ivanka Trump news coverage.

The fascinating moment involved German Chancellor Angela Merkel struggling to answer what seems like a very simple question. Miriam Meckel, the panel moderator, asked the chancellor, “Do you consider yourself a feminist?” Merkel practically responded with an eye-roll and the audience whooped and cheered. Within a few seconds, Merkel was smiling and Meckel, relishing her role as the provocateur, observed, “Interesting reaction.” Another interesting reaction came from Christine Lagarde, who was seated directly to Merkel’s right. The IMF chief smiled an ear-to-ear grin and suddenly burst out laughing.

Merkel raised the microphone and began what Germany’s international broadcaster Deutsche Welle described as the “slowest answer ever.” She began saying, “To be honest …. erm, I’d like …” before pausing as the audience cheered and applauded again. Merkel laughed and started anew. “The history of feminism is something I have things in common with, but I suppose there are also aspects that are different from me,” she said, adding, “And I also wouldn’t want to claim a title that I do not even have.”

She then went on to clarify the point she was trying to make. “For example, [Germany’s most prominent feminist] Alice Schwarzer or someone like that — they have fought so many hard battles. And then I come along seizing on their success and say I am a feminist. That’s great isn’t it?”

Meanwhile, Lagarde can be seen next to Merkel smirking at the apparent hole the chancellor was digging herself into. Still, Merkel pressed on.

“So, I don’t have any concern if you all feel that I am one,” she said, Lagarde once again in a full fit of laughter. “Please go ahead and have a vote over it.” So, there it is — she must be a feminist, right? Well not so fast.

Merkel concluded saying, “But I wouldn’t personally wear the badge.”

Watch a video clip of her amazing answer below.

Then Meckel asked the panelists who, by a show of hands, onstage considered themselves a feminist. Lagarde’s hand went up immediately. Trump’s hand went up hesitantly. Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freelan’s hand went up. Merkel’s hand, decidedly, did not go up at all. Watch for the moment in this video of the full panel discussion — it occurs at the 1:02:07 mark.

Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland, Ivanka Trump, daughter of U.S. President Donald Trump, IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde and German Chancellor Angela Merkel talk on stage at the W20 conference on April 25, 2017 in Berlin, Germany, answer a question about whether they consider themselves feminists. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Right after that, there was yet another twist in Merkel’s explanation. Queen Máxima of the Netherlands at one point said, “I just want that all women have freedom of choice and opportunities, that they can grab … and be happy and proud of themselves. If that is a feminist, I am a feminist.” This remark prompted Merkel to chime in and say, “Then I am a feminist, too,” drawing an extended round of applause from the audience.

Merkel, it’s worth noting, is running for a fourth term as chancellor and German voters will go to the polls in September to decide her fate as the country’s leader, which likely explains her cautious response to such a simple question. Plus, her relationship with the feminist movement has, like that answer, always been a little tenuous.


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