This important leader handles the debt crisis with grace, navigating expertly between austerity and growth. The leader’s opponents grumble, more out of jealousy than genuine opposition, and loyal supporters hail the leader as a hero. The leader’s popularity soars; re-election is not in question. Meanwhile, unemployment is at an all-time low, and the leader’s nation is looking like its own island of prosperity, a beacon to a suffering continent.
For President Barack Obama, this is a daydream. For German Chancellor Angela Merkel, this is life. Funny how the most admired leader of the Western world right now, the clearest example we have of consistent success during trying times, is a woman.
The pictures in the news, day after day, tell the story: House Speaker John Boehner looks like he hasn’t slept in weeks. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell looks like he swallowed a lemon. Sen. Ted Cruz looks bizarrely smug while the world crumbles around him, and Obama can only shake his head and loosen his collar. The only Washington type who was smiling on the front page of the newspaper this week was Janet Yellen, newly nominated by Obama to be the chair of the Federal Reserve, and anointed by one observer as the most powerful woman in world history.
Oh, and there was one other person smiling in Washington: Christine Lagarde, chief of the International Monetary Fund, who was in the U.S. capital for the organization’s annual meeting and who said just about the only sensible thing anyone in town has said all week on the debt ceiling crisis: “I hope that in a few weeks’ time, we will look back and say, ‘What a waste of time that was.’ ”
This has not been a shining week for the patriarchy. The men in suits dither, posture, plan negotiation sessions and then cancel them, and employ copious military metaphors — “wage battle,” “refuse to surrender” — to no effect. Increasingly they become associated in the minds of the American people with verbs normally used to describe toddlers, such as “tantrum” or “throw a fit.”
Competence, meanwhile belongs to the women, particularly in the usually macho world of global finance. Over in Europe, Merkel was re-elected on the basis of her deft handling of the eurozone crisis, and in the United States, monetary policy was entrusted to Yellen. Making the victory extra sweet for women, she was chosen instead of Lawrence Summers, who will forever be remembered for saying women aren’t that good at math.
And this moment of female triumph extends beyond mere competence to unfathomable bravery. The hero of the moment — the person who has been shot at, nearly killed and is still not afraid to talk — is a heroine: 16-year-old Malala Yousafzai, who was nominated for a Nobel Prize and who told Jon Stewart this week that if she were faced with a Taliban gunman such as the one who shot her last year she would, once again, explain to him how important education is for girls. (In response Stewart asked if he could adopt her.)
Perhaps this will be remembered as the week when everything shifted, when we realized that leaving groups of men in charge of global decisions and of facing down terrorists is not a good idea, and we’d better calmly hand the reins over to the women.
Don’t laugh. It happened in Iceland. Lagarde described the transfer of power recently on a panel at the Clinton Global Initiative. She explained how women brought Iceland out of its recession. After the economy crashed, “the banks, the funds, the government — everything was taken over by women,” she told The Wall Street Journal. “So when it’s messy, you get the women in. But when the mess is sorted,” she added, “keep the women.”
Hanna Rosin is the author of The End of Men: And the Rise of Women, now out in paperback. She is co-founder of Slate’s DoubleX, a Web magazine about women issues.