Machtfrau: Woman of Power

Edited by Sophia Savva

We all know it is no secret that politics is a male-dominated field. Historically, countries have operated as patriarchies, with women being marginalized as second class citizens. Even today, women make up only 23% of the politicians in the world, despite making up more than 50% of the population. This has been reinforced by the concept of masculine and feminine traits. Logic, reason, and discipline are seen as masculine traits, ones that politicians should strive to have. Conversely, emotion, empathy, and impulsivity are seen as feminine traits, ones that politicians should strive to avoid. 

Shockingly, this disparity also exists in ‘progressive’ countries. The USA has never had a female president, while Canada has only had 26% female representation at best. Yet despite all boundaries and disparities, women are statistically better leaders than men, in both a corporate and political setting.

Take Forbes’s Most Powerful Woman in the World, Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany, for example.

Since Merkel has recently declared that she will be stepping down from Chancellor position in 2021, it is fitting to admire her rise to power, examine the biases she has faced as a woman in politics, and highlight how she has broken all boundaries. 

Angela Merkel is an enigma. Despite being in an exceptionally male-dominated field, despite being in a country that is the only to refer to itself as the ‘Fatherland’, and despite being unqualified (she was a quantum scientist) for the job, Merkel found herself in the Chancellor’s position. She was the first woman to have this role. Her astonishing rise has a long backstory, involving perseverance and determination. 

Early Stages

Merkel was a scientist before anything else, and it was only after the German unification that she decided to go into politics. She began at the bottom of the food chain, with little charisma or experience—essential qualities for a politician. She stayed at the bottom for a while, doing odd jobs for politicians and always coming back for more. It was only when her calmness and eloquence was noticed—by accident, as it was when she was handling some noisy journalists—that she became a spokesperson for Prime Minister Lothar de Maizière. Through Maizière, she gained experience and an introduction to Chancellor Helmut Kohl. 

Kohl took Merkel under his wing, appointing her to his cabinet and making her the Minister for Women and Youth. Despite this, Kohl saw Merkel through gendered eyes, underestimating and belittling her many times. For instance, he frequently called her mein Mädchen” (“my girl”), employing a common trope of infantilising women in a professional setting. Eventually, Merkel emerged as her own political player, publishing a ruthless piece urging the party to disassociate themselves from Kohl, which they eventually did. She was promptly elected Party Chairman, and thus began her rise to power. 

Candidacy

In 2005, Merkel became a candidate for Chancellor along with two other candidates, Gerhard Schröder and Joschka Fischer. Her oppositions were prime examples of men that made it difficult for women to be accepted in politics. They often laughed obnoxiously during her speeches and called her inadequate for the role—common tactics men use (sometimes subconsciously) in deterring women from politics in the first place. 

On the night of the elections, Schröder went so far as to declare himself winner, indicating that Merkel would never win and that she should “quit dreaming.” Nevertheless, she remained calm and focused, simply replying “you did not win today.” Indeed, he did not, and Merkel became the first female chancellor. This defeat came as a blow to Schröder, and showed the patient drive of Merkel, working in private to ensure a win and remaining low-key in the eyes of the public. 

Woman of Power 

Merkel has been often called a Machtfrau (Woman of Power). She has redefined the concept of masculinity and femininity by embodying discipline and intelligence, and lacking the emotional impulsivity women are stereotyped as having. For example, you can only look at Donald Trump and Angela Merkel side by side to understand why being a man and being logical do not necessarily correlate. Furthermore, she is a silent power, keeping her personal life extremely private and not boasting about her victories. 

Tackling problems with relative methodology and ease, such as the Eurozone crisis and immigration crisis, Merkel has proven to be qualified for the job time and time again. Germany has a low unemployment rate, a booming economy, low inequalities, and social stability. She also counsels other EU countries about their debts and policies, having an influence on the stability of the EU as a whole. This is why she is referred to as the Chancellor of Europe, the Most Powerful Woman in the World, the Most Powerful Leader in Europe, and many other titles. 

Remaining Biases

Despite being an awe-inspiring respected leader and woman, Merkel does not avoid the internalized biases that come with being a female politician (or professional in general). For instance, she is often criticized for her dress sense, with Karl Lagerfield saying her clothes’ proportions are “like a guy['s]” and she should cater to her “special” proportions. This is a common criticism for women, who are given monumental expectations regarding the way they dress themselves: whether they look like they are trying enough, or trying too hard, or whether they look pretty or dainty or elegant or any other choice-adjective. 

Moreover, she is described as being childless, a classic reductionist method to cast doubt on the success of women. It perpetuates the stereotype that women must be mothers or else they have ‘failed’ in some capacity. Concerning this, Merkel is also described as too frigid and unemotional, another way to ingrain the apathetic iron-fist archetype, indicating that women can only be one or the other. 

Overall, it is important to look to Angela Merkel as an example that women can supersede the success of men in any field, from physics to politics. She is a proponent of pushing women up to top-level positions through breaking barriers and stereotypes instead of through legal quotas. As she steps down from her position as Chancellor, we will remember the influence she has had on Europe and the world, being a well respected female leader among the men of the Fatherland.