Don't slate Angela Merkel's reply to the most boring question you can ask a politician in 2017

Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany
Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany Credit: 2014 Getty Images

The greatest political faux pas of 2017 is to not identify as a feminist. If you are a political figure, be it the Prime Minister of Great Britain or Canada, it is mandatory to wave the feminist flag and wear the t-shirt - quite literally. The least you need to do is grab one of the famous feminists of our time - Taylor Swift, Emma Watson - and pose for a selfie.

Failure to do otherwise can result in, at best, raised eyebrows and at worst, the loss of the female vote. (Unless you're Teflon Donald Trump, that is). 

However, the memo does not seem to have reached Germany.

This week, Chancellor Angela Merkel was asked during a panel discussion at the Berlin W20 women's empowerment summit whether she called herself a feminist. Unlike fellow attendee Ivanka Trump, Merkel did not immediately say 'yes'.

Theresa May in a Fawcett Society T-shirt

Instead, she paused. “To be honest the history of feminism is one with which I have common ground but also differences, and I don't want to claim a title I don't have,” she replied.

“For example, Alice Schwarzer [a famous German second-wave feminist who helped make abortion legal ] or someone like that, they have fought so many hard battles, and then I come along seizing on their success and say I am a feminist. That’s great isn’t it?

"I am not afraid of [the label]. If you think that I am one - please, go ahead and have a vote over it, but I personally wouldn’t want to wear the badge.”

It was only when Queen Máxima of the Netherlands said: “I just want that all women have freedom of choice and opportunities, that they can grab and be happy and proud of themselves. If that is a feminist, I am a feminist,” that Merkel agreed: “Then I am one too.”

Despite the fact that she did eventually agree with the founding principle of feminism - for women and men to be equal - many people have been quick to criticise the Chancellor's hesitancy to label herself a feminist.

They want to know why Ivanka Trump raised her hand without pause for thought, but Merkel - who has done so much more for women - hesitated.

To me, it is obvious. She was distancing herself from the sort of celebrity figure who jumps on any opportunity to use the F-word - but doesn't have much to back it up. Instead, Merkel was inviting people to judge her on her actions.

She specifically told the audience: “If you think that I am one, go and vote on it”. Unlike most politicians, she isn’t just ‘saying the right thing’ for the sake of saying it, she’s asking people to look at her political history and decide for themselves whether she has advanced the feminist cause.

Merkel might not have appeared on millennial TV programme Broad City like Hillary Clinton. She might not post pictures on Instagram with the hashtag #WomenWhoWork like Ivanka Trump (who, lest we forget, has no official political power).  But that does not mean she hasn't embraced feminism. 

Her critics are too busy wringing their hands at the idea the Chancellor doesn't see feminism as simply meaning 'gender equality.' They are willfully missing the point.

When she was asked the question at the W20 summit, Merkel sighed and seemed to roll her eyes. It goes without saying that she believes in gender equality - so instead she chose to give a more considered response on whether she deserves to be seen as a Feminist with a capital F, someone whose name can be written alongside that of Schwarzer.

She also voiced her "differences" with the history of feminism - an unpopular stance. But surely only a true feminist - one who believes men and women have total freedom of choice, which includes the ability to make mistakes - would do so? Many errors of judgment have been committed in the name of gender equality. It is not ‘betraying the sisterhood’ to acknowledge this.

Merkel was inviting debate and trying to give a considered answer to one of the most boring questions you can ask a politician in 2017. 

Ultimately, she decided that she would not put herself on a feminist pedestal - but that her voters could.