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...a sweatshop of moxie

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Woman's Day

Move over, lads.

Your days of being the majority in the Conservative Parties around the world are numbered.

On the day when CDU leader, Dr. Angela Merkel, assumes the Chancellorship of Germany, comes word from the UK that the Tory Party chairman, Francis Maude, has thrown his support behind the Women2Win pressure group.

Their goal? Very simple.

To ensure 40 of the Party's 100 target seats select and field female candidates in the next general election.

Mr. Maude expounded:

"Women are 52% of the electorate, but less than 10 per cent of our MPs are women. At the next election, if we are to make real our aspiration to represent the whole country, we need to send new MPs to Westminster who get much closer to representing the country's gender balance. Ten per cent won't hack it. It needs to be much nearer half."

You might think that for a political side which has given Britain its first female Prime Minister, that they wouldn't have to go about encouraging the Party in upping the female candidate quotient.

But look at this telling stat.

In 1932 there were 13 Conservative Women MPs. At the last election, 73 years later, 3 newly elected women MPs brought our total up to 17.

That Lady Astor sure cast a long shadow.

But you know, it's no surprise that women are growing increasingly more comfortable belonging to the Conservative side of many countries.

In fact, here and now, I predict a swing to the conservative parties all around the world, by women -- who furthermore, are seen as infinitely more electable by men and women both.

There are many men who even today cannot entertain the thought of a woman in charge of anything more intricate than a shopping list. For a politically liberal woman, the hurdle of backing her is that much more unthinkable.

But not so much a conservative woman.

She hits the same buttons many men are comfortable in supporting -- tough on crime, militarily hawkish, fiscally reductive.

For those who would scorn such women, as many feminists do, for being tools of the "patriarchy", this is precisely the type of attitude that repels people, middle-of-the-road people, whose votes they need to win elections.

These talking points are the obsessions of academics, not the concerns of just folks, and they are destined to be beaten when it counts most, more often than not.

Even history is distancing itself from those who hold such notions.

For as a generation of politically pioneering women (as the self-same American-born, and Tory, Lady Astor certainly was, despite my sarcastic tone), followed a generation of middle-class working women, followed a generation of feminists, there is now in place the generation of the 1980s, who grew up with an Indira Gandhi, with a Margaret Thatcher, with a Golda Meir in power.

And now, it bears repeating, Angela Merkel has joined that lofty sisterhood.

It may seem a comparative drop in the power dynamic bucket, but not to many women like myself.

Take note though.

For those with my particular world view, it's not about quantity of women, and it probably never will be.

Yes, this despite my unalloyed satisfaction that the numbers will increase in future -- but for every side of the political divide, it should be noted.

My main concern, however, is not that women should overrun the coffers of political parties the world over.

That vision belongs to a more trenchantly feminist crowd, who will not be content until women have the exact same proportion in any field of human endeavour, that they do in population numbers -- roughly making up just over 50% of the world.

And if women outclass, outproduce, and outnumber men, that will be a red-letter day for them especially.

But not for me.

There may be safety in numbers for those with narrow abacus visions, but my view of the world promotes worth not gender.

To me, a woman like a Margaret Thatcher is worth a dozen lady Tory MPs put together.

What she was able to accomplish, to lead her society, as Indira Gandhi in hers, or Benazir Bhutto in hers, or Megawati Sukarnoputri in hers, on and on, in an endless parade of examples, is nothing short of miraculous.

All the explanations of cultural niceties, opportunistic vacuums, or inherited mantles of power cannot explain how these women could lead these avowedly masculine countries, when and how they did.

And this is the crux of the matter.

They did so despite being one woman, rather than having a gaggle of women shoring them up in power.

Angela Merkel is already being likened to Margaret Thatcher, but the truth of the matter is, she's her own woman.



Not voluble.

Best known as a compromiser -- and small wonder that she leads a national coalition in the Bundestag, today.

(Just thinking of Margaret Thatcher leading a coalition which might have included Neil Kinnock is enough to bring on the vapours. It just would not have happened)

Apart from the fact that both started out life as scientists (Thatcher, a talented Chemistry doctoral candidate at Oxford; Merkel, a physicist with a prestigious Leipzig degree), all the comparisons to Thatcher by the news media today have seemed comically forced.

Merkel comes saddled with internal contradictions, and she has been poised to fail by even the conservative news media in her country.

Thatcher was the warrioress in shining handbag, who was part-nurse, part-nanny, giving the nation sour doses of medicine ("the only way the patient would get better"), and part-saviour, who would vanquish the strangle-hold of the TUC from the British throat.

Thatcher left office, stabbed in the back by her own associates, but left a legacy which is as memorable as any sterling Prime Minister before it.

Merkel hasn't the luxury of time, nor has she the whole-hearted approval of a people who are scared to death of the tough decisions it must make.

1) Lower taxes. 2) Promote private enterprise. 3) Above-all, reduce reduce reduce the social welfare system, which is dragging Germany down with its lumbering, unsustainable, aging population girth.

(Quick Factoid: Over 40% of University-degreed women in Germany have no children. Germany has one of the oldest populations of developed countries. Something has got to give)

If Angela Merkel accomplishes even a third of that, her legacy might not be as grim as those naysayers make it out to be.

Above all, her legacy, any woman's legacy is not about her sex, although she is a product of it.

Those who would ONLY emphasise gender in politics miss the point, totally.

Judge a woman by what she does, and let their gender be a milestone, not a millstone around their existence.

...finally, a small anecdote to close this blogpost on the rise of conservative women in politics.

You know, many years ago, I was talking to an Argentinian friend, a Leftist.

Progressively political though he was, he nursed an unvarnished hatred towards Margaret Thatcher, for "daring" to counter (the Fascist) General Galtieri's invasion of the Falklands.

As we bandied back-and-forth, talking about this episode in both our country's histories, he finally lashed out with what I presume he thought was an argumentative coup de grâce.

"Margaret Thatcher fought a war against Argentina because...she wanted to act like a MAN!"

No, I said quietly.

She did so because she wanted to act like a Prime Minister.

UPDATE: The BBC came out yesterday with a lukewarm piece on Lady Thatcher (there's a shock). But it did quote this intriguing line from Lord Bell.

"She was in a world dominated by men and one of the things men are very bad at is handling women."

Heh. Quite.

IN THE COMMENTS: Commenter Michael takes elegant exception to my characterisation of Dr. Merkel as "shy". He continues,

"In my view Mrs. Merkel is a rare combination (in German politics at least) of tactical astuteness and courageous and principled strategic vision. During her career she has outmaneuvered many grandstanding competitors and adversaries, as well as repeatedly taken measured risks at the appropriate time."

Not so different from Maggie T. after all.


  • I'm not sure Mrs. Merkel could be called shy. She certainly is unassuming, un-ostentatious and low-key, though -- the very antithesis to the baroque and over-the-top narcissistic Schroeder. She definitely puts substance before style.

    In my view Mrs. Merkel is a rare combination (in German politics at least) of tactical astuteness and courageous and principled strategic vision. During her career she has outmaneuvered many grandstanding competitors and adversaries, as well as repeatedly taken measured risks at the appropriate time. For instance, through a bold initiative she some years ago almost single-handedly made rejection of EU membership for Turkey from a politically totally incorrect position into a perfectly legitimate stance in our domestic political debate.

    I for one appreciate her highly in terms of character as well as skill. She may be the last best hope for my country to come to grips with a host of pressing problems.


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Nov 23, 10:32:00 am GMT-5  

  • What a wonderful and may I say, observant reply, Michael. :)

    You just made the frontispiece in the comments section.

    I wish I could add to your comments, but the fact is, Dr. Merkel is an unknown factor for me.

    I just know her as a foreigner would -- not as a compatriot who has followed her career.


    By Blogger vbspurs, at Wed Nov 23, 01:45:00 pm GMT-5  

  • Thanks for the flowers, Victoria.

    Let me try to reciprocate by saying that you run a great site which I read regularly, not least for your nuanced coverage of things European. Even though I am of course European myself, I often get fresh facts from you, and almost always a fresh perspective.

    As to Mrs. Merkel, we'll have to wait and see how much she can deliver. She has to work within a delicate and hence difficult framework, heading a so-called "Grand Coalition" with the Social Democrats. Managing this situation will require all her tactical skills, I believe.

    Her different tone and style already make a -- well, difference, though, not least with regard to foreign policy (which in turn should help in bridging the transatlantic schism). For instance, she forcefully and unequivocally spoke up against Ahmadinejad's threats against Israel 10 days or so ago -- something which you would never hear with such clarity from Schroeder or even Fischer.

    Best wishes,

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Nov 23, 03:44:00 pm GMT-5  

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