Succeeding in German politics as a woman

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I am not a fan of reducing complex political and social processes to a gender issue. Corn. It is a fact that a working little mother of three has entered post-war German history by becoming the first woman to succeed another woman at the head of a major political party. . Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer (or AKK, because even Germans think life is too short for eight syllable names) is the new president of the center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU). She succeeds Angela Merkel, who led it for 18 years.

The handover raises pressing political questions. What does this mean for the future of the country’s increasingly fragmented party system? Does 56-year-old Kramp-Karrenbauer have what it takes to take the next step: succeeding Merkel as chancellor, in an international environment that could be the most difficult a German leader has ever seen ?

Yet, judging by much of the comments, the much bigger question is what this change portends for the future of the nation’s manhood. Have-shudderMerkel and Kramp-Karrenbauer have dealt the fatal blow to German machismo?

The results are, well, suggestive. Post-war West German politics were dominated by larger-than-life titans who smoked, drank, and courted women, reveled in political fights, and generally oozed a heavy whiff of testosterone. This is particularly the case of the four chancellors who reigned between 1969 and 2005: Willy Brandt, Helmut Schmidt, Helmut Kohl and Gerhard Schroeder. Add the last streetfighter to become Minister of Foreign Affairs Joschka Fischer, and they total 16 marriages between the five of them. (To be fair, it’s easy to forget that Germany’s male population had been wiped out by two world wars. It was the exuberance of survivors in a world without fathers.)

So Merkel, the daughter of a Protestant pastor from East Germany, taking over as party leader in 2000 came as a shocking shock to a male-dominated, predominantly Catholic CDU weakened by a funding scandal. When Kohl refused to resign, it was Merkel – and not one of the few young conservative “warlords” scrambling for the succession – who knocked him out in the chinstrap with an article by front page newspaper calling for his resignation.

A generation earlier, the daughter of smart grocer Margaret Thatcher had infiltrated Britain’s conservative and smug establishment with a violent combination of vicious class resentment and sexy ankles. The Conservative Party’s male contingent arguably never quite recovered, as evidenced this week by its latest dismal failure to topple Prime Minister Theresa May.

At the turn of the millennium Merkel found herself facing a generation of middle-aged German conservatives with equal rights and complacent; the elusive female of the species came surrounded by deference and pearls. Trained to navigate limited sovereignty and accustomed to following orders and conventions, her CDU peers were disoriented by the puzzling new world of the post-Berlin Wall.

For Merkel, it was liberation. And it must have been intoxicating. In addition, she had grown up in a communist country where most women worked and had families, while in post-war West Germany, women with children who shyly expressed a desire to work risked to be called Rabenmütter—basically unnatural mothers. Even in 2000, Germany was far behind other Western democracies in that it had never had a female chancellor, foreign minister, or defense minister, and its constitution prohibited women from serving in the armed forces. (except as doctors or members of a military band).

Germany today is still a long way from equal pay for women, or from parity of representation in legislatures or boards of directors. But some Bundeswehr combat units are commanded by women. Ursula von der Leyen is the Minister of Defense, and women lead or co-lead all but two of the German political parties. Merkel has been Chancellor for 13 years. During her tenure, she presided over the extension of paid parental leave and the legalization of same-sex marriage. These early male rivals one by one showed a remarkable tendency to fall asleep on their own.

At last weekend’s leadership convention, Kramp-Karrenbauer and his main opponent, Friedrich Merz, represented genuinely competing visions for the future of the party and the country: the centrism of the big tent versus a pivot towards the right ; a European orientation against a strong Atlanticist inclination. But the contest also had surprising connotations of war of the sexes.

In a lost irony in Germany, Merz – a millionaire business lawyer and one of those young conservative “warlords” driven out by Merkel – was narrowly beaten by his chosen successor. Her most important support was another enemy of Merkel with a grinding ax, the great old man of the CDU Wolfgang Schäuble. Officials and experts dimly believed that “another woman” in the top post would be the last straw. Members of the CDU women’s group Frauenunion, meanwhile, wore what JRR Tolkien would have called a “droopy glow” on their eyebrows.

After the vote, a reporter had to apologize for tweeting “yet another ugly old white woman.” He I tried to explain it was a joke”.

Machismo is alive and well in my country. Nonetheless, the CDU is now headed by a woman who has twice won an elected post as the German equivalent of a state governor, resigned, rejected a ministerial post to serve in the place of general secretary of his party and did not reach the top until nine months later. with a cheerfully combative performance at the convention. At a time when strong men and bosses around the world are trying to disparage and subordinate women, I will take this as good news.

Can we now go back to politics?



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