To be or not to be?

Likely to be re-elected chancellor, Angela Merkel still won’t call herself a feminist

German Chancellor and Chairwoman of the German Christian Democrats (CDU) Angela Merkel speaks to CDU party delegates at the annual CDU federal congress on December 14, 2015 in Karlsruhe, Germany. (Photo by Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images)

It seems very likely that Angela Merkel will be re-elected as chancellor for a fourth term when Germany holds its federal election next Sunday, cementing her status as the world’s most powerful woman. In an analysis piece for The New York Times, Susan Chira wonders whether Merkel’s success might have something to do with her reluctance to label herself as a feminist and her penchant for generally downplaying the role her gender plays in her politics, despite the fact that she is the country’s first woman to have been elected chancellor. “She’s the least motherly person you can imagine, though people want to build a feminine image of her that’s easier to digest,” said Ute Frevert, Germany’s leading gender historian. “But she doesn’t fall into that trap. She doesn’t smile and have a little girly instinct. She’s not a woman playing a man, either. She seems to be gender neutral in a way.” In addition to that, she refuses to refer to herself as a feminist. That phenomenon was on full display in April when, during an appearance at the W20 in Berlin, Merkel was asked a seemingly simple question: “Do you consider yourself a feminist.” Merkel tried to dance around the question and come at it from several angles, but concluded, “I wouldn’t personally wear the badge.”

Chira goes on to describe how Merkel worked hard to foster that image, making sure there was little to discuss about her looks or wardrobe, and has taken cunning advantage of the failings of her political competitors for her own gain. Chira argues that she has proven herself by cultivating an exceedingly cautious image (building consensus behind the scenes and often declining to take credit), doing her homework and generally being unflappable, not allowing herself to be intimated. Melanne Verveer, a former ambassador for global women’s issues and confidante of Hillary Clinton argues that this “subtle path to power” is still the most certain one for female politicians. “I wish it weren’t,” she told the Times, “but it is still very much the case.”

Read the full story at The New York Times.


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