The Power of the PantsuitJune 14, 2011
Last week, my attention was focused on the news surrounding German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s state visit. Her visit was significant because it marked many firsts for women in diplomacy. In addition to being Germany’s first woman chancellor, Merkel was the first female leader and the first European leader to come to the United States during the Obama administration. Merkel’s main purpose for visiting was to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom. She is only the fourth foreign leader to receive the award, joining the ranks of remarkable leaders like Pope John Paul II, Nelson Mandela, and former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl.
I watched Merkel’s arrival at the White House last Tuesday intently from my desk via a live news stream as the events unfolded and President Barack Obama welcomed her. Speculation was floating around leading up to her visit about the tension between the two leaders and the status of their transatlantic relationship. All of that seemed to be set aside as the two leaders acted like old friends.
I got teary eyed at the end of Obama’s speech when he declared, “It’s obvious neither of us looks exactly like the leaders who preceded us.” The crowd roared with laughter, but it was a profound statement as Merkel is one of the most powerful women in the world, overseeing the fourth-largest economy in the world.
Later in the day, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hosted a luncheon for Merkel honoring women in diplomacy. Merkel gave her speech in German, and at the end of her remarks, she gave a huge grin and joked that she had a small present for Clinton. Merkel seemed very amused with herself as she presented Clinton with a framed copy of a front page of Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper, which showed a picture of the two women in nearly identical pantsuits — one in a purple jacket and black slacks, and one in a fuchsia jacket and black slacks — alongside the text, “Which one is Merkel and which one is Clinton?” Merkel took great care to tell Clinton, “You may take it in a playful mode.” But this was unnecessary. Clinton, who frequently jokes about her wardrobe, howled with laughter when she received the gift.
For now, the world of diplomacy may still be a man’s world, but Merkel and Clinton have paved the way for future female leaders by way of the pantsuit.