A Vote for Angela Merkel is Not a Vote for Women

On Sunday, Germans will elect a new parliament and decide who will be Chancellor for the next four years. Angela Merkel’s party, CDU, is widely expected to win again and thus name her Chancellor. Many Americans—still reeling, after all these months, from the loss of our first real chance at a female president—may be pleased to see the most powerful woman in the world retain her title.

Angela Merkel, though, is not the feminist hero we might wish her to be. Instead, Merkel is the perfect example of a woman making it to the top and not bothering to pull the rest of us up with her.

Merkel has all the makings of a feminist icon, except the desire to actually be one. She is the most powerful woman in the world, more or less the leader of Europe and possibly one of the few people who may be able to steer us all away from a nuclear war. She’s extremely educated and successful, having been the leader of her party since 2000 and a three (soon to be four) term Chancellor, she was also a scientist who earned a doctorate in physical chemistry. She’s risen in not one, but two male-dominated professions.

There’s a lot to respect about Merkel, which only contributes to the disappointment at the one role she refuses to take on. Angela Merkel will not be a champion for women.

Sure, Merkel is not the Ivanka Trump of Germany. She’s not actively making life harder for women and minorities while waving a faux-feminist flag. She’s simply not engaging in the conversation at all.

Merkel frequently dodges the question of whether or not she is a feminist, and indeed for someone so educated seems to have a shaky grasp on what the concept actually entails. When asked at the G20 Summit, which she hosted, whether she considered herself a feminist, Merkel’s response was already a train wreck before she uttered a word.

After some bizarre facial expressions, Merkel answered, “I am not afraid of it [the label]. If you think that I am one – please, vote on it. But I don’t want to adorn myself with these feathers.” She added that she didn’t want to “embellish [herself] with a title I don’t have.”

Queen Máxima of the Netherlands interrupted, saying “I just want that all women have freedom of choice and opportunities, that they can grab and be happy and proud of themselves.”

Merkel responded, “If that is a feminist, I am a feminist.”

But maybe Merkel is right; she shouldn’t claim a label she doesn’t own. Women in Germany don’t have freedom of choice and opportunities the way that they should, at this point in history.

Abortion is technically illegal in Germany and women must qualify for an exception to have one. Birth control is still not covered by most insurance. Most sources put the wage gap at around 20 percent, one of the highest in Europe, and many women struggle to get full-time employment after having kids because the onus still primarily falls on mothers when it comes to childcare. This is especially difficult when schools let out just after lunchtime.

Even the laws that are in place to protect women tend to fail. Large companies in Germany are required by law to have women make up 30 percent of their boards, but many blatantly ignore the law without consequences. A new law requires companies to share pay gap information with employees upon request, but most companies are still not ready to comply with the law even though it’s already in effect.

Last year, Germany changed their rape laws so that they just caught up with last century but still not with this one, and even that progress wasn’t the result of Merkel’s efforts.

Martin Schulz, Merkel’s strongest competitor, made gender equality one of the issues in his ten-point plan. He called the gender pay gap “one of the greatest injustices.” Other proposals, too, like the right of women to return to work full-time, is a high priority for Schulz while Merkel lags behind.

“Why can’t she, as one of the most powerful people in the world, for once make a fundamental statement about gender equality?” asked Margarete Stokowski, a columnist for Spiegel online. “She avoids the whole topic because she knows if she opened it up, she would have to acknowledge just how much is still not O.K.”

Germany is a progressive country in many ways, but gender equality is not a focus and Angela Merkel doesn’t seem too concerned with changing that issue.

Photo Credit: Flicker

71 comments

Paulo R
Paulo Rabout a month ago

ty

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Paulo R
Paulo Rabout a month ago

ty

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Paulo R
Paulo Rabout a month ago

ty

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Philippa P
Philippa Powers1 months ago

Thanks.

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Aaron F
Aaron F1 months ago

Too late.

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Clare O'Beara
Clare O'Beara1 months ago

th

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Irene S
Irene S1 months ago

It´s always interesting to read about my own country here, and sometimes funny.
A vote for Ms Merkel is not a vote for women, nor for environment or social justice. But it could be worse, she is far from bringing down the country. Her government grants stability, Germany is one of the wealthiest and safest countries in the world although everything could be better, always. She is a liberal and friendly person, alas, she had to take a lot of criticism after her human action for refugees.
Angela K´s confused and racist comment makes me sad. "mass immigration of millions of black men"? "the secure our borders AGAIN !!!"? Segregation again? Walls along borders again? We had this in Europe, in Germany, in South Africa and the US and nobody in his or her right state of mind could want all this back again.

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Joan E
Joan E2 months ago

She probably grew up interested in science, smart, and used to being treated equally for the most part so she didn't have to struggle as much as earlier generations of women and didn't think much about the women who do still have to struggle to get by. She could make things better for the women of her country.

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Dan Blossfeld
Dan Blossfeld2 months ago

Jelka V.,
Well said. You could add Margaret Thatcher and Golds Meir to your list.

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Jelka V
Jelka V2 months ago

People who vote for (or against) someone based on their sex/gender - or even their lack of specific gender politics agenda - are unfit to vote. Angela Merkel is not the problem - people like the author of this article are. I couldn't care less whether a president is a "feminist icon" or not; all I want is implementation of policies that serve well as many people as possible.
And BTW, some of the most powerful and influential rulers of all time were females, so it's not like it's a first. Elizabeth I of England and Maria Theresia of Austria are just two examples. Merkel is just the most recent one.

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