In the light of Angela Merkel’s reelection as Germany’s Chancellor and Ewa Kopacz being Poland’s Prime Minister, to what extent is the glass ceiling for women in politics breaking?
Feminism has a long way to go when it comes to the upper echelons of political power. People quickly jump to Margaret Thatcher, or Angela Merkel as examples of women who have made it to the top, shattered the glass ceiling, and allowed others to follow in their wake. The picture is more complicated than this.
There are two issues here, one is the amount of biological women at the top in politics, and the second is the amount of people behaving in what has been seen as a ‘feminine’ way at the top of politics. By either measure, we are underrepresented and this has to change.
While Merkel and Thatcher are definitely women and women who have reached the top of politics, it can be argued that they did not reach the top as themselves. Thatcher is the most obvious example of this, being the woman who deliberately lowered her voice, changed her dress, hair, her everything, in order to lead the Conservatives. While the odd documentary may give the occasional reference to her ‘flirting’ with other politicians to get what she wants, this does little to restore femininity to her, instead equating femininity with an ability to sexually manipulate men. Then of course she kicked down the ladder behind her. Thatcher was ashamed of being identified as a woman, promoted only one woman to her cabinet, and frequently mentioned her preference for the company of men in politics. Merkel, while much less divisive a figure than Thatcher, can hardly be described as a role model for women everywhere and nor does she claim to be one. This is a woman who, again, consciously changes her voice for political effect, and whose rise to prominence was due to the patronage of a man, Helmut Kohl.
We must look beyond these two anomalous leaders and push for far more women to be in politics. What we have here is two women who consciously (and to an extent unconsciously) disregard what is seen as feminine in favour of what is seen as masculine. Only when we have got a much broader cross-section of women in politics can we claim any degree of success in shattering the glass ceiling. And not only that, when these women approach the top, their words must speak louder than their dress. Until the media changes this sexist bias, then we’re nowhere.
All hope is not lost though, people recognise the gender gap as a problem now; moves are being made to remedy it. And we have the occasional glimmer of hope such as Licia Ronzulli MEP who took her baby into work with her!