Letter from Strasbourg

Although Elen G. is a consistent loser at card games, at least where much skill is involved, she is the successful editor of an influential Greek magazine. Katerina Evangelakou and Martha Fritzila are only two of a number of young female theater directors in Greece. Hundreds of women are becoming more important in the local market place as well. Also of late, women are demonstrating higher levels of traditionally «tough» or «male» skills. Politics, traditionally a male preserve in this country, is on the verge of being literally invaded by women. Curiously enough, women’s suffrage came relatively late to Greece in the 1950s (at least compared to our longstanding rival Turkey, where suffrage came after the establishment of the republic in 1923). Now women are becoming more important in politics, not just as workers but also as future heads of government. At the end of the day, if Dora Bakoyannis, minister of foreign affairs, or even Vassiliki (Vasso) Papandreou, former minister of the interior, were to become the first women to hold the post of Greece’s prime minister, no one would be really surprised. For although Greece may be lagging in the EU, the role of women in politics is gradually becoming much stronger. Although according to a recent Institute for Economic and Industrial Research (IOBE) survey, entrepreneurship in Greece remains a predominantly «male» affair, many areas still being regarded as taboo for women and men representing a massive 70 percent of the total, «female» entrepreneurship is gathering momentum. And as Development Minister Christos Folias noted in an address at the survey presentation, «the proportion of women entering business was found to be on the rise for the second year in a row, and our country, for the first time, rose above the European average in the participation of women in business.» The reactionary might be distressed, appalled, sickened but that is what he said. Earlier this year at a seminar on women politicians and the media, members of the European Parliament and journalists discussed aspects of gender equality and diversity. The place of women in positions of leadership, in both politics and the media, was the main focus of the debate. Adriana Cerretelli, a militant spokeswoman for women’s rights from Italy and journalist for Il Sole 24 ORE, who chaired the discussion, described women politicians as a «rare species.» There are only 11 female heads of state or government in the world and even in Europe the figures are unimpressive. In the European Parliament, 236 of 785 members are women but in Europe’s national parliaments the situation is generally worse. Apparently, the European Parliament has for many women politicians been a secondary point of entry into national politics. At the aforementioned seminar, European Parliament Vice President Rodi Kratsa described her own experience. While some female politicians had come to the European cause via women’s issues, she had come to women’s issues, she stressed, through her commitment to Europe, especially to a «social Europe.» She believes that «the emergence of women in politics owes a lot to the feminist movement.» Yet generally it is men who decide the professional position of women and that is because they hold the posts with responsibilities. Men treasure celebrated negatives. «When they speak of women, they tend to speak of their life outside politics» more than they do with male politicians, was Kratsa’s comment on the media. And MEP Monica Frassoni said she believed that if the image of women had deteriorated in the media in some countries, such as Italy, this was partly due to the failure of women to protest. At any rate, this is part of the problem, although, as was emphasized by MEP Anna Zaborska, chairperson of the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality, journalists «trivialize the commitment of women in politics.» Furthermore, Susan von Lojewski, a journalist for German TV station ZDF, argued that women in the media are rarely given responsibility for «serious» topics such as defense or finance. Sounding like the father of the bride in «My Big Fat Greek Wedding,» I venture the opinion that ancient Greeks, certainly freer in sexual matters than we are, were very progressive in making reference to all the heroines in Greek epic. However, with the notable exception of Plato, Athenian philosophers underlined that women had strong emotions and weak minds. Lysistrata was manifestly into politics. Sure enough the irony of Aristophanes’ comedy is that the handful of women at the peak of politics give the impression that women have finally taken power by force, when nothing could be further from the truth. And what about the frustrated individualist Queen Clytemnestra? Wasn’t she in politics as well when she murdered her unfaithful husband Agamemnon with an ax? And as for Antigone, if she wasn’t an oppressed revolutionary then who was? Then and now, the fact is that the patriarchs have every reason to be fearful of women’s revenge should they achieve equality. Our forefathers had suspected this. Eriphyle was certainly involved in politics. Her husband, Amphiaraus, had sworn to her brother Adrastus that she would resolve any disputes between the two siblings. In the face of entrenched sexism, and as women were – and still are – clearly on the move, the risks are high. And should Hillary Clinton – who boldly places her gender at the heart of her campaign – win, it is going to be a brave new world. «Why can’t a woman be more like a man?» wondered Professor Henry Higgins in «My Fair Lady.» The way things are going, future generations might ask why a man can’t be more like a woman.