Friday, August 20, 2004

SPAIN'S SOCIALIST PRIME MINISTER Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero is proud to portray himself as a hard-core feminist. In one of his first interviews with a major foreign newspaper, the International Herald Tribune, he showed his mastery of sociological statistics and his deep, elaborate, non-simplistic political thought:
I'm a radical feminist. In my experience, out of every four people in politics, if they are women, 3 are really good. If they are men, only one and a half to two. That's my experience. For public life and for democratic coexistence, I think being a woman is a great advantage. Because they know how to share things better than men do. And politics is all about knowing how to share.
Indeed, as the Chicago Tribune reported yesterday (free reqistration required), his government is pressing an ambitious social agenda and, among other measures,
[Zapatero] has appointed women to half of his Cabinet posts, and the Socialists say they want to pass a law requiring that at least 50 percent of the candidates on an electoral slate are women. The government is seeking to overturn even a longstanding prohibition against women ascending to the Spanish throne.
[BTW note the ChiTrib is mistaken in this last bit: within the same dinastical degree there's a preference for men to ascend to the Spanish throne but women are not forbidden, as several precedents prove. Just as an example: Prince Felipe is the current heir to King Juan Carlos as his only male son; should he not be able to ascend to the throne for some reason, the next in line would be Infanta Elena, his older sister]

In order to prove that he is a real feminist, what a better way than opening the Palacio de la Moncloa -prime minister's office and residencial complex, that is, the equivalent to the White House or No. 10 Downing Street- for a photo spread of the eight women ministers modeling in Vogue? (click for bigger version)
Posted by Hello

Look how Socialist, and how feminist, they all look posing in front of Moncloa's main entrance, clad in chic designer clothes (not as modest as the San Francisco Chronicle says; they're an average $6,000 each, according to Spanish media reports), and sitting, or standing by, two sofas covered in... fur! Where's PETA when you need them?

Without a trace of irony, Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega, deputy prime minister (the one on white, standing up), declares in the accompanying interview that women "have a less developed sense of vanity." Yeah, and you're proving that precisely by posing in a glamorous magazine?

Zapatero in person supervised the photographic session after one of the weekly Friday's cabinet meeting. The photoshoot lasted... 8 hours! Yes, the best way of proving that having as many women as men in the new cabinet is a profound and not 'cosmetic' measure is to spend several hours in such a frivolous project as this. It's not that they have better or more important things to do, like, you know, running a country or sumthin'; it's the guys are in charge of that.

Not surprisingly, the episode has garnered criticism from almost all sides, and the prime minister's office has gone in damage control mode, using a bit of fuzzy logic:
The prime minister's office defended the feature yesterday, saying the ministers' comments about sexual equality in the accompanying report were more important than the photographs.

"The message is progressive, in favour of equality and in favour of women," a source there said. "That's what matters."
Er, can you be in favor of both at the same time?

I personally agree that government officials should be judged for their performance at work, and not for how they dress or whether they like to sit on the cadavers of formely living creatures while having pictures taken at them. And I think that criticizing them for wearing expensive clothes while being Socialist is bogus and demagogic. But I don't agree that this bizarre episode doesn't reflect on their performance: if newly appointed ministers decide to spend 8 hours of their workweek in this glamorous but futile thing instead of being at their office or in meetings, it does tell something about their ability to set their priorities straight, doesn't it? After all, they've all taken over only a short time ago and I'm sure there are still plenty of things they need to take a look at. It's not like they've already done all their homework (can any government official ever consider he's done it all?)

UPDATE. Wait, it gets better. It was not only one, but TWO magazines, and all on the same week. Besides Vogue, Spain's women ministers have been on another of the country's major fashion magazines, Marie Claire. The editor said that the ministers accepted to pose "only if pics were not frivolous and didn't make them look like top-models". Take a look, for example, at Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega, deputy prime minister, and tell me if this requirement was a token of the minister's arrogance, or if there was indeed any risk that she could be mistaken for Claudia Shiffer:

Not even in your dreams, darling; not even in your dreams.