By Claire Zillman
March 20, 2017

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday was defined by two telling moments, both captured in gif-perfect video snippets. In one clip from their joint press conference, Merkel reacts with an overtly bemused expression to Trump’s claim that he is being wiretapped by his predecessor. In the other, during a photo op in the White House, Trump ignores Merkel when she leans over and asks, “Do you want to have a handshake?” Receiving no reply, the chancellor simply looks up and smiles at reporters.

The visit highlighted the stark contrast between the leadership styles of the two world leaders, and the resulting commentary has provided a worrying reminder of how women in power are too often portrayed. “Mrs. Merkel was every inch the cool, reserved physicist-by-training, at moments giving her American host the icy stare of a Mother Superior told a dirty joke,” The Economist wrote of the incident. Comparing Merkel, the leader of Europe’s largest economy and outspoken defender of liberal democracy, to the head of a convent, chaste and devout, is a regrettable choice. But as Cambridge classicist Mary Beard writes in a recent London Review of Books essay on women in power, the clichéd comparison is a symptom of the fact that “we have no template for what a powerful woman looks like, except that she looks rather like a man.”

“The regulation trouser suits, or at least the trousers, worn by so many Western female political leaders, from Merkel to [Hillary] Clinton, may be convenient and practical; they may be a signal of the refusal to become a clothes horse…but they’re also a simple tactic—like lowering the timbre of the voice—to make the female appear more male, to fit the part of power,” Beard writes. “If we go back to the beginnings of Western history we find a radical separation—real, cultural, and imaginary—between women and power.” Merkel and Clinton’s visages are often superimposed upon Caravaggio’s Medusa, she points out; U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May and former Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff have also been compared to the Greek symbol of monstrous female power.

Yet efforts to push back against harmful portrayals and assumptions about women in power are undoubtedly on the rise. Take, for instance, the New Zealand parody of the ‘BBC Dad’ incident, which imagines how a female political expert might have reacted if her children barged in on an on-air interview. While expertly fielding questions about a crisis in South Korea, she feeds her children, cleans a toilet, and diffuses a bomb. The satirical clip is an excellent example of how, as Beard writes, “You can’t easily fit women into a structure that is already coded as male; you have to change the structure.”

Linda Kinstler, in for Claire

@lindakinstler


EUROPE/MIDDLE EAST/AFRICA

End of Elizabeth’s era
The Guardian has a fascinating moment-by-moment run-down of what will happen when Queen Elizabeth II, 90, dies. The plan is code named ‘London Bridge.’ The occasion will be monumental as the Queen is the only monarch many of her subjects have ever known; “the accession of a new head of state, is a ritual that is passing out of living memory,” the Guardian reports. But her death will mark more than the passing of a mere mortal. As one historian puts it: “We were all told that the funeral of Churchill was the requiem for Britain as a great power. But actually it will really be over when she goes.”
Guardian
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Getting defensive
German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen responded to President Trump’s claim that Germany owes “vast sums of money” to NATO and the U.S. “There is no debt account at NATO,” von der Leyen said in a statement on Sunday. German defense spending will rise to €38.5 billion (or 1.26% of economic output) in 2018, an increase of €1.4 billion. Trump issued the accusations via Twitter on Saturday, prompting criticism from former NATO officials.
Reuters
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Legislative loophole
The Iraqi parliament is reviewing a draft law that would introduce stronger penalties against domestic violence and guarantee protection to victims. A 2012 government survey found that at least 36% of married women reported some form of psychological abuse from their husbands, 23% reported verbal abuse, 6% reported physical violence, and 9% reported sexual violence. The draft law would significantly improve protections for survivors, but a provision allowing family reconciliation as an alternative to prosecution offers a potentially dangerous loophole for abusers, according to Human Rights Watch.
Rudaw

 


THE AMERICAS

Going after Gorsuch
In the lead-up to the confirmation hearing for Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch, a former law student is alleging that Gorsuch told his class that employers should ask women seeking jobs about their plans for having children, implying that women manipulate companies starting in the interview stage to extract maternity benefits. Jennifer Sisk, a 2016 graduate of the University of Colorado Law School, told NPR that she made the accusations in a public letter “so that the proper questions could be asked during his confirmation hearings.” A Trump administration spokesman noted that the judge had consistently gotten among the highest student ratings at the law school. Law professors often ask provocative questions in the course of teaching, but Sisk denies that’s what Gorsuch was doing.
NPR
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Are we out of the woods?
Hillary Clinton told a St. Patrick’s Day audience that she is “ready to come out of the woods,” a comment that has led to renewed speculation about what the former presidential candidate will do next. Democrats are divided about the role Clinton should play in shaping the party’s future, with some pushing her to run for mayor of New York City, and others arguing that she should stay out of the spotlight.
The Guardian
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Making the first move
CEO Whitney Wolfe has big plans for Bumble, “the feminist Tinder” dating app that requires women to make the first move. The 27-year-old’s company boasts the lowest abuse rates of any online dating site thanks to photo verification and security, and aims to help women become “the hunters, not the hunted.” “Look, are we solving the world’s problems by allowing women to make the first move on a dating app? No,” says Wolfe. “But I do believe we are helping to change some very archaic norms.”
New York Times
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Trump’s other Conway
As Kellyanne Conway gets billed as “the true first lady of Trump’s America” on the latest cover of New York magazine, another Conway—Kellyanne’s husband George—could soon enter the Trump administration. He will be nominated to lead the Justice Department’s civil division, a job that would put him in charge of defending Trump’s executive order on immigration.
Wall Street Journal

 

 


ASIA-PACIFIC

Landmark law
One Indian law helped save the lives of at least 900,000 girls born between 1992 and 2004, according to new research from economist Priti Kalsi. In 1993, the passage of the 73rd amendment to the Indian constitution required political bodies to reserve one-third of all seats for female representatives. Kalsi’s research proves that the increased presence of women in positions of power also increased the survival of vulnerable baby girls in a society with a preference for sons: “The data from rural India reveals that significantly more high-birth-order girls were still alive if they were born after their particular state had reserved seats for women,” she writes.
Harvard Business Review
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Ready for reform?
The government of New Zealand is under increased pressure to reform its 40-year-old abortion laws, which are increasingly out of step with public opinion. Current law requires two consultants to verify that a woman’s mental or physical health is at risk or the baby would be seriously disabled before an abortion can take place. In 2016, consultants denied 252 women abortions, while 13,000 procedures were performed in 2015.
Stuff

IN BRIEF

Women’s magazines aren’t just for women
New York Times
Chelsea Clinton joins Expedia’s board of directors
Fortune
CIO dedicated to gender diversity on boards finally gets a seat of her own
WSJ
The female directors bringing new blood to horror films
Guardian
ClassPass founder Payal Kadakia steps down as CEO
Fortune
Margarita Louis-Dreyfus: guarding a legacy
Financial Times

PARTING WORDS

"Women put ego aside to figure out how to stand up, whether it's building an entire operation or tackling a discrete problem."
- --Julie Chavez Rodriguez, state director for California Senator Kamala Harris, on why women turned out to advocate and defend those who were banned from entering the U.S. under Trump's first executive order on immigration.

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