Is it a choice to be gender contrary?

Power & fashion: Hold the office

Hold the office - page 1

The notorious transformation of people through office is now preceded by the transformation of people through the media. We no longer choose politicians as they are, but as what they should stand for. The choice is brought forward. It takes place before their actual appointment and intervenes with the candidates. Journalists and citizens who are questioned by journalists and polling institutes vote for the appearance, characteristics and program of a politician - or against it. Then the person seems advised to change. Anyone who wants power in a media democracy will probably be the first to be subjugated by that power.

No politician in this country has ever changed before an election like Angela Merkel. She became a radical social reformer, a fashionably dressed, classically made-up woman. Whereby one should not speculate about the nature of the person, but only the signals sent out are designated.

As for Merkel's appearance, the choice was clear before the election. Left and right, people and elites, last but not least: Men and women criticized their appearance, judged it maliciously and disrespectfully. The concentrated reading of the press articles shows: It was one of the great discourses of the past few years. Germany had discovered something it couldn't tolerate.

In order to expose Merkel's critics, the criticism does not need to be repeated. Praise is more significant, because the ideal reveals itself in praise. "Kohl's girls" surprise with a "new lady look", wear a jacket, "shining like a sunrise". Merkel is now "just as eligible for election in Hamburg as in Halle". The former Bonn Bundestag hairdresser is quoted as saying: "The new Merkel look is really spectacular, the best make-over in the last ten years."

Merkel's clothes are now tailored by Anna von Griesheim, who describes her style to the press as follows: "Costume during the day, little princess in the evening." She makes "the fashion of power - political power and media power". Sabine Christiansen, Maybrit Illner, Sandra Maischberger: "You all trust Anna von Griesheim in what is probably a woman's most delicate question" - which is? Right: "What do I wear?"

To hold office - page 2

They want to make people forget that those who have received praise were once critics - that they are not observers, but actors. So the wrong observer can suddenly observe: With make-up "she feels more comfortable". A party colleague is quoted with the perception that Merkel is now "completely with herself".

In 1996, Angela Merkel had said to the photographer Herlinde Koelbl that she did not love the "styled". "I don't feel well then."

What had happened in the meantime?

For decades, the milieu in which politicians moved was that of the people's parties, churches and trade unions. Bonn and East Berlin were places of party rule. Both were provinces. Democrats and socialists wore the uniform wardrobe. In fact, the proletariat was victorious not only under socialism, but also under capitalism, under democracy. In both systems the workers no longer oriented themselves towards the bourgeoisie, but the bourgeoisie and politicians of bourgeois origin took care not to appear bourgeois, especially not in their habitus and clothing.

Only the Greens dared to be bourgeois again, in the alternative variant. Only they brought aesthetics back into politics, where, after the uniform theater of the Nazis, power and fashion were long wanted to be separated. Joschka Fischer's sneakers presented the majority's convention as stuffy and provincial, as did his three-piece suit later. Both times the news was: The urban middle class that we represent is more aesthetically conscious than the representatives of the popular parties in their gray suits and costumes. With Gerhard Schröder, social democracy began to aestheticize itself. Fischer and Schröder formed the first German cabinet in which fashion played a role again. The stragglers in the caravan of aestheticization were the CDU and East Germany - both ultimately represented by Angela Merkel.

At the time when Merkel was on her way to power, Berlin became the seat of government; politicians sat more and more often in television shows, whereby the politicians had to (let themselves be) compared with the good-looking, mostly younger or at least slim hosts of these shows; parties and unions lost their binding force as a milieu; if there was an aestheticization in all classes, "designer clothes" became a mass phenomenon, fashion designers became celebrities; if there was a boom in international summits and crisis diplomacy, German politicians met more and more often with American, British, and French politicians; The result was an internationalization of the elites, the development of a bourgeois-metropolitan, international media and power milieu. This milieu became decisive for Merkel after she was elected chairman of the CDU in 2000 - and Merkel suddenly saw the upheavals of an eventful decade.

Merkel arrived in a milieu in which clothing, taste and style played a major role. The sociologist Pierre Bourdieu added in his study The subtle differences showed that beauty and style are not only expected to a greater extent by women than by men, but also much more in the upper classes than in the lower classes. The criticism of her was based not only on gender stereotypes, as one could assume, but also on milieu expectations. Merkel was criticized not only as a woman, but also as a social climber. Unlike Margaret Thatcher, daughter of a small-town grocer, who at the beginning of her career cultivated the style of the British upper class and orientated herself on the Queen during the election campaign, Merkel tried, as long as possible, to stick to her lack of interest in the outside world - and thus drew the Mockery and wrath of those she was supposed to represent.

To hold office - page 3

To make matters worse, as is well known, Merkel's ignorance was attributed to "Eastern Bloc roots" (according to a German newspaper, Newsweek quoting). She herself said in an interview: "Half of the German press feels constantly called upon to examine my haircut and give it their antics. I used to think that it had something to do with the fact that I am a woman, but now I think so rather for an Ossi syndrome. They do that with Thierse because of his beard and his suits ".

After her rise to party chairman and into the arena of world politics, Merkel was criticized more than ever. She is not feminine enough, not fashionable enough; in the west: your lack of chic is "eastern"; abroad: Your lack of chic is German. Merkel should finally be a woman, finally bourgeois-aesthetic, finally all-German, finally international. She should understand the story in her person, no longer its relic, but its representative.

Logically, their transformation appeared as a catch-up modernization of the CDU and a milestone of reunification, the "equalization of living conditions in East and West", not least: as a symbol that the Germans are finally - or for the first time - completely normal, i.e. when visiting Washington attract attention neither politically nor aesthetically.

All of this happened to a person who until then had eluded any clarity - and who was actually modern in that regard.

Merkel had always moved beyond typified femininity and masculinity. Femininity was neither an ideal nor a prison for her. Journalists who probed could only wrest a recipe for plum cake from her. Merkel said that she had never had a GDR identity, "I had absolutely nothing in common with this country," and even the unified Germany was at best her home, hardly a fatherland. Class consciousness was also sought in vain with Merkel. Her father's religiosity was perhaps carried over to her privately - she did not become a "Christian politician".

After all, Merkel missed what was previously called emphatic personality and what reporters are still looking for in every election campaign among the top candidates: a vision, a worldview, an unconditional will, a rigorous morality. Everything that previously seemed determined by origin, by the early years. For Merkel - already for Schröder - that was no longer the case. Merkel had experienced history, it symbolized history, but it was not determined by history. Merkel's life did not determine Merkel's policy. She already belonged to the flexible people, a non-generation, without trauma, imprint, order. That is not meant negatively. "Outstanding" personalities are rightly suspect to us today, the autocratic, rigid and ideological. It is precisely in her indeterminacy and independence that Merkel embodied the ideal type of today's political elite.

On the other hand, however, there were the norms which - still or again - demanded that a woman was a real woman, that a representative of the elite was also an aesthetic representative of the elite.

To hold office - page 4

When Simone de Beauvoir wrote her book in 1949 The opposite sex published, there was still no woman at the head of a republic. But what de Beauvoir wrote is still valid today - perhaps even more today than ten or twenty years ago: In a world dominated by men, a woman is never perceived neutrally, but always as a woman. At the same time, her femininity is not given naturally, but must first be established through a feminine appearance. The dilemma: if a woman does not attract attention in public as a woman, she will be noticed. The result: "The pastor's wife, too, undulates her hair, puts on a hand of make-up and discreetly follows fashion. By worrying about a charming appearance, she also shows that she accepts her female role." It is no coincidence that this sentence sounds as if Simone de Beauvoir had thought of the politician (and pastor's daughter) Angela Merkel.

The dilemma is inevitable. If a woman stands out as a woman in public (and at least is inconspicuous according to this convention), she too soon has a problem. The emphasis on gender is reminiscent of the traditional role of women and is only compatible to a limited extent with the principle of the public, in which the individual should largely disappear behind his or her professional or civic role. The woman is quickly discredited as a "chick" or "sex object" and denied recognition as a public person. For many, the dilemma is a constant balancing act that knows no balance.

In addition, a woman's clothing should not only represent her gender appropriately, but also her personality - while, according to de Beauvoir, "conformism is something very natural for a man". Eight politicians who look alike are a summit meeting. Eight politicians who look alike, a joke. At least that's what a perception tells us that still refuses to fully recognize women as public figures.

From these conflicts emerges the appearance of powerful women. Every adjustment is a protest, every protest an adjustment. Some fight to be allowed to emphasize their gender in public - like the head of the EU's Foreign Office, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, who was called a "Chanel pupper". The others fight not to have to emphasize their sexuality. As Merkel did for a long time. Some fight to be allowed to be "themselves" - like Ute Vogt, who also wanted to wear her leather jacket during the election campaign. Others fight to be only allowed to be a politician - in gray pantsuits. In her negligence, Merkel was too much herself on the one hand, and too little on the other.

Golda Meïr, who was elected Prime Minister of Israel in 1969, could not have come to power as the "real woman". Her father didn't even want her to study. Israel was looking for leaders with military skills. Meïr did not use make-up and even refused to wear a mask when appearing on TV. She smoked while she spoke. Cloakroom, she said, was a foreign word to her. She is one of the few politicians in history who can be seen in photos in a thinking pose. Ben Gurion, whom she rescued from an assassination attempt by throwing him aside (and being injured in the process), said: "She is the only man in the cabinet." Meïr wanted and had to be "gender-contrary manly". But she was also allowed to because she was still a personality in the old sense. Meïr was, above all else, a Jew and a Zionist. For her, who survived pogroms as a child, history explained everything. Golda Meïr had a vision, an unconditional will, a rigorous morality. There was a lot that legitimized her going against traditional notions of femininity. Nevertheless, she was also attacked.

Today women in power are, after all, widely accepted. The paradox: from this, too, the expectation arises that they will again emphasize their sexuality. How does von Griesheim say it, interpreting the old norm as new freedom? "It is no longer a contradiction in terms to dress beautifully and sensually and still be a politician to be taken seriously." In fact, women politicians can be happy that they no longer have to look like the German family ministers until the 1980s, when prudishness seemed to allow only short haircuts. But the question is: can they still look like this? The answer is probably no. Rita Süssmuth as Chancellor would probably no longer be feminine enough today - like an Angela Merkel before her change.

In addition, powerful women today are measured not only by powerful men, but also by powerful women. The woman in power is no longer a stranger, an individual. Merkel stands next to a Christiansen, a Liz Mohn, a Condoleezza Rice or Michelle Bachelet. The comparison with the supposedly equals creates a new pressure from which something like a female uniform of power is currently emerging.

To hold office - page 5

It may all be just a misunderstanding. Who says Merkel is a woman? The question is meant seriously. What about women who, when they were girls, only used boys as models, who later chose a "man's job", who could never do much with "feminine" things? Is there any point in talking about genders beyond biology?

In any case, it seems almost impossible to give up the familiar duality. "It's a girl!" Was the headline taz to Merkel's conquest of power. But was that the truth? Merkel has always been made a girl, "Kohl's girl", the "iron girl" - like Thatcher the "iron lady", like Meïr the "mother of Israel". On the other hand, there was widespread ridicule about "Merkel". The irritation about the fact that someone cannot be grasped with the common constructions, about a beyond of zero and one that must not be.

"Lady. Girl. Woman. Woman. All names slip away from her. Virgo: ridiculous, even insulting, later I want to think about why. Young woman. Curious idea, get rid of it." So leaves Christa Wolf in the novel No place. Nowhere her Kleist fail in the attempt to find a suitable name for the poet Günderrode. Merkel has now given the irritated, who are not looking for words but scolding and scoffing when they have none, what they want and apparently still need. Merkel was not Kohl's girl, she was probably never a "real" girl. But then, at the age of almost 50, she did become one after all. At least that's what Merkel is now doing. She has adopted a clear gender identity, a class habitus, has become all German and international. If you ask her, she publicly simulates a bit of personality, even if what you get isn't a vision, just a preference for Wagner and the Margraviate of Brandenburg and an expression of the intention that she wants to serve Germany.

Besides, it should not occur to anyone to take what it now seems for what it is. Since an "outfit" can be made overnight, we no longer recognize personality in it, but merely the ability to dress tastefully.

However, women will no longer be perceived as the opposite sex until their number reaches the 50 percent mark in public. The joy of a German Chancellor, the prospect of a Madame la Présidente Ségolène Royal, a Ms President Hillary Rodham Clinton, is, however, clouded by the statistics. Worldwide, women in power are by no means on the rise. Since Sühbaataryn Yanjmaa on 23.By September 1953, Mongolia became the first woman in a republic to come to power, the number of powerful women had increased from decade to decade. In the sixties, three women conquered a top position, in the seventies six, in the eighties ten, in the nineties 28 State or a government. So far there are twelve.

On the subject:
Who am I? A fashion special