By Georgie Anne Geyer
Andrews McMeel Syndication
When the modern women’s movement jumped into gear in the 1970s, one of the most impassioned hopes of many was that women, once in power, would change the world.
Woman’s special truth, her hatred of violence and her demand for peaceful change would transform society. New female qualities would sweep across the savannahs of our souls. And the violence and carnage that men had brought us for so many centuries would finally end.
Most of the attention paid to transformational women tends to point to the melodramatic figures: at worst, the leftist Evita Peron, with her gorgeous blond hair and the long fur coats; or, at best, a version of Margaret Thatcher, a tough, equally theatrical woman of the right who wore bright red suits and loved flirting with her male ministers even while she tore leftist England into bits.
And now ... we end up with “Mutti”?
righteous feminist dream
It is surely not too much to argue that we find the ultimate expression of that long-held righteous feminist dream standing before us now in the pleasing, plump and perspicacious figure of Angela Merkel. Once derided as the “East German milkmaid” for her “mitteleuropa” bloom, she has now been voted into an amazing fourth term as chancellor of Germany.
It is true that her victory was a tarnished one. Her party, the Christian Democrats, won a far smaller plurality than in earlier votes. The far right party, Alternative for Germany, or AfD, which wants to keep Muslims out and Germans in, for the first time won enough votes to enter the parliament. Merkel will not have an easy time.
Nevertheless, she is arguably the leader of the Western world. She is the true coin of the euro and the base coin of the realm upon which the European Union depends. Only her small figure stands between Donald J. Trump (who doesn’t like her; nor she, him) on her western flank and Vladimir Putin (who likes her only a little more) on her eastern.
But at this seemingly predestined moment in history, even after 12 years as chancellor, the questions keep arising: Who really IS Angela Merkel? Does she bear any of the qualities of a woman who would gallantly change the world?
Most of the world was confounded in 2015 when Merkel opened the doors to Germany, taking in a million refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Africa and elsewhere. Why? What could she possibly gain?
She answered, in a little-seen quote to the Hungarian prime minister, by saying, “I lived behind a fence long enough.” And she has stated unequivocally that it “must not happen again.”
A key to her spiritual upbringing in East Germany by a Lutheran pastor father was illustrated this summer on the 75th birthday of her trusted finance minister, Wolfgang Schauble, when she presented him as a gift the collected works of the martyred anti-Nazi pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
There are those who would like the chancellor to take the world stage as a kind of German Wonder Woman or “Wunderfrau.” Or, for that matter, a political Marlene Dietrich. No chance. She wears the same formless “uniform” every day – a pantsuit, but with a jacket that changes color.
In her private life, Angela Merkel is a physicist, married to another scientist. They live simply, have a country house. She apparently cooks. She fears dogs – the old story of “once bitten.” But while her daily life is simple, her thinking is not simple, but clear.
The dame chancellor’s policies are based on strengthening the Atlantic alliance, balancing between Putin’s Russia and the U.S. and continuing as the major supporter of the Eurozone and the E.U. Her colleagues and advisers all say the same thing about her: Merkel is not the big-vision type; she believes in incrementalism. Her legacy will be judged by what she has avoided, not by what she’s done.
Wonder of wonders, Merkel faced virtually no Russian meddling in the recent election, apparently because German society was aware of it and ready for it. There was even a “gentleman’s agreement” among the parties not to exploit any information leaked by cyberattacks. (Feminist politics?)
Still, that 2015 decision to bring in a million refugees has sparked questioning across the country. “What does it mean to be German?” newspapers now ask. To many, the answer is quite simple: It means Angela Merkel.
So now, 50 to 60 years after my generation began fussing about feminism, this unlikely woman from East Germany is THE example of a woman in power in the world. And one who has used that power well.
But instead of becoming a leader who is different from a traditional woman, she has used traditional women’s talents to clean up the messes, keep the big house in order and hold the boys to their best behavior. Caringly. Efficiently. Lovingly.
Who would have thought it would be Mutti who would fulfill our dreams?
Georgie Anne Geyer has been a foreign correspondent and commentator on international affairs for more than 40 years.