The German chancellor, who won her fourth consecutive term Sunday, isn’t slowing down. In a political scene controlled by braggadocious men like Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump, Angela Merkel stands apart as a resistance icon against resurgent populism, a steady voice of sane globalist policy in an unruly world.
For this, Merkel is revered by feminists around the globe. Curiously, though, she herself shuns that very label. As one headline in The New York Times put it: “The world’s most powerful woman won’t call herself a feminist.”
The chancellor heads the predominant political party in the European Union’s largest economic state. That group, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), as well as its sister party, the Christian Social Union in Bavaria (CSU), is avowedly right-wing. Even with Merkel at the helm, many CDU members reject the ideas of same-sex marriage and a woman’s right to an abortion. In 2016, the chancellor herself called for a ban on Muslim women’s right to wear a full-face veil in public — not exactly a feminist priority, and not a policy that particularly prioritizes female freedoms and rights of self-determination.
Why did Chancellor Merkel’s former coalition partners, the Social Democratic Party, go into opposition? Read our story.
Yet the perception of a feminist Merkel persists. The chancellor has managed to maintain power for years, vanquishing alpha-male foes left and right. She is certainly smart, tough and capable. This, alone, commands a bit of feminist respect.
Perhaps this is all well and good. A feminist Merkel is not, but a powerful female figure she most certainly is. Whatever the politics, young women should have a bevy of potential role models. For each, they may choose to admire some aspects but not others.
Margaret Thatcher, the conservative prime minister of the United Kingdom, was uncompromisingly traditionalist. In the United States, Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman to serve as a justice on the U.S. Supreme Court, was also a staunch conservative. However, both of these women showed the progress of society by expanding gender diversity in top positions. Merkel, though probably closer to the center, is in a similar situation.
Let’s celebrate the increasing gains of women in modern politics, even those women who, at times, perpetuate ideological movements that hurt women at all levels. These practices, often conservative in nature, have made it much harder for women to receive safe prenatal care, protection against workplace discrimination and legal assistance in reporting cases of sexual assault. That a powerful woman supports any of this does not disqualify her of apolitical respect.
One shouldn’t have to sacrifice celebrating the general advancement of women in power to continue fighting for progressive, feminist priorities. Feel free to disagree with Chancellor Merkel on policy if you desire, but remember to applaud the continued evening of our gender-imbalanced world that her ascension exemplifies. ■