One of the things that drives me absolutely squirrel-burying nuts about how we choose political leadership is the fact that those decisions get made based on our personal evaluations of the candidates. For some reason, we can’t separate the qualities necessary for effective policy-making from the qualities necessary for bowling. Our news cycles get clogged with personal flotsam about whether or not this candidate or that one is affable, is nice, wears the right clothes… whatever. I’m not saying that there aren’t some personal qualities that are also required for effective leadership – I’m sure consensus-building and interpersonal skills are a necessary component of getting policy made – but they are certainly not the whole bag.
The part that especially grinds my gears is that our interminable evaluations based on the same handful of largely meaningless characteristics gives us, predictably, the same kinds of candidates all the time: people who are great at campaigning and lousy and governing. Because of deeply-entrenched attitudes about women, it also tends to give us a abundance of male candidates. Incidentally, because of similar attitudes about visible minorities, they tend to be white, but that’s a conversation for another time. This is, to be blunt about it, our society voluntarily shackling itself. While I am sure there are many white men who are incredibly competent politicians, I do not believe that political leadership is their exclusive province. Having more women in leadership positions probably makes us pass better policy.
Maybe you disagree with me. But you know who’s probably on my side? Germany and the rest of Europe:
German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s step-by-step approach is panning out in efforts to save the euro while at home she has blunted the opposition to emerge politically stronger, analysts said. Although Merkel was earlier criticised for appearing slow to act and provide leadership in tackling Europe’s debt crisis, the 57-year-old physicist earned plaudits for her style at this week’s landmark EU summits.
In addition, Germany’s first woman chancellor has strengthened her position domestically, analysts said, midway through her second term after a string of stinging setbacks for her coalition government. “She now has a stronger position than before,” Merkel’s biographer Gerd Langguth of the Institute for Political Science and Sociology at Bonn University said.
I want to take a moment to comment on how awesome the picture accompanying this article is.
Chancellor Merkel appears to be saying to that disembodied man’s hand: “don’t touch me, dick! I’ve got shit to fix around here.” Either that, or she’s pointing over her shoulder to the pile of naysayers whose asses she kicked in a methodical, step-by-step fashion.
Angela Merkel, people might be surprised to learn (I certainly was), is a physicist. This fact is remarkable for two reasons. First, because there is a bias against women in the sciences – stereotype threat usually discourages women from achieving success. Second, because she is a politician – rather than electing a lawyer or a business tycoon, they elected a severe physicist. It is Germany, so maybe a degree in physics there is like owning a pizza chain here.
Now one should not interpret this as a blanket approval of Angela Merkel’s policies. I am stupid enough on global economics and finance to know which fights to stay out of. I have no idea if the deal she struck with the European Union’s financiers is a good one for economic recovery. Even if it is, I don’t know much about her other social policies (except when she declared multiculturalism a failure, and I disagree with her about that, but that’s a conversation for another time).
The point is that what Chancellor Merkel did took a great deal of grit, skill, and determination. It was not something that just anyone could have done. It might not even have had anything to do with the fact that she’s a woman – it’s entirely possible that the kind of wheeling and dealing required to pull off this kind of deal could have been done just as well by a man. The point is that she was equal to the task – a task that required a special skill set that Chancellor Merkel has.
Imagine a world in which no women were elected to high-ranking government positions. A world where no matter what your innate talents, your ovaries disqualify you from holding the office of chancellor. Run the tape forward, and Angela Merkel, with her distinctive talents, would not have been there to negotiate this deal. There’s a fair chance that, without her, things wouldn’t have worked out.
Imagine a different world in which sex is no barrier whatsoever to being elected. While not a complete meritocracy, this world is at least measurably better than the other one, insofar as talented women are not discriminated against because of their reproductive organs. Women can rise through the ranks of a variety of fields, resulting in a much more qualified mix of people at the top. This world would undoubtedly have more Angela Merkels running around, fixing problems (and fighting crime).
We don’t live in either one of these worlds. The world we live in lies somewhere in between the two. Unless you’re an unrepentant sexist (and I’d imagine there are precious few of those in this particular corner of the blogosphere), I’m sure you’d agree that the second is far preferable to the first. The world is served far better by a system wherein those who are best suited for a job rise to the top of their field than it is by one where otherwise able people are disqualified for reasons that have nothing to do with their ability.
The question remains: how hard are we willing to push to move ourselves into this second world? What are the consequences if we don’t? Thankfully, the world in which we currently live doesn’t have to wonder what European finance would be like without Angela Merkel, but who knows what life would be like if a woman like her had been in power 50 years ago?
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