Enough already! In their recent editions, both Newsweek and Bloomberg Businessweek are vilifying Angela Merkel, chancellor of Germany, for failing to solve the Euro crisis problem. The Newsweek article describes her in particularly unflattering terms, with not-so-subtle Aryan references (“the lady prefers blonds”), a Germanic over-preoccupation with rules and discipline, and an ill-advised focus on inflation rooted in the history of the Weimarer Republik. Bloomberg Businessweek’s article avoids WWII imagery, but similarly describes her as a cold-hearted incompetent leader, hopelessly stuck in a German paradigm of austerity and unable to grasp the new global economic realities.
I have been puzzled by this concentrated journalistic fire on the German chancellor in recent weeks. Why target her, when the euro crisis clearly did not originate with Germany, and when most country leaders are struggling with their response to the new economic challenge? At this stage, everybody is groping in the dark for a viable economic framework (the division of the US leaders on the virtues of tax reduction vs. stimulus spending constitutes exhibit A), so why zero in on Angela Merkel as particularly incompetent in this crowd of fumbling country leaders?
At the risk of inflaming the debate, these two articles seem to me to tap into both anti-German and anti-women-as-leaders sentiment. One way of hiding our own lack of answers is to find a common enemy, and what better enemy could there be than a German one, and a woman at that? The German thing is annoying because it reflects the continuing parochialism of some portion of the US electorate (witness Herman Cain displaying his utter insensitivity to global affairs in the infamous Uzbekistan interview) (link 4) and the willingness to mobilize against a common imaginary enemy, Germany in this most recent development (although China is the most common boogeyman, hello Donald Trump).
While the xenophobic overtone is annoying, I have particular trouble with the woman thing. I find it striking that both articles describe Angela Merkel as left-brained, analytical tendencies (the lady wrote her doctoral thesis on quantum chemistry) and highlight her lack of human warmth (“nobody really gets close to the chancellor”). What would we want Angela to be? A soft flower seeking men’s help in solving her government’s problems? A “don’t cry for me, Argentina” chancellor? Barack Obama is also predominantly left-brained, analytical and professorial, and arguably struggles with generating empathy among his electorate, yet this is not the stuff of magazine covers.
I am particularly troubled by the implicit reference to the lack of femininity of Mrs. Merkel. The unflattering pictures in both articles imply a “she’s not really a woman as we think of women” imagery, which is disturbingly sexist. There have occasionally been unflattering pictures of male leaders in magazines in the past (most recently Mitt Romney on the cover of Time Magazine), but they have not had the same gender-specific quality. Unlike many countries of the world, the US still hasn’t had a woman as its leader (Hillary Clinton came close in her 2008 presidential bid, and she generated some of the same anti-woman sentiment), so we may have to wait until then to see this ugly feature of anti-women-as-leaders sentiment finally fade away.