The president of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen was left without a chair in the recent meeting with the president of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Ankara on 6 April. She was obliged to take seat on the sofa, leaving an image of two powerful men sitting side by side and one woman sitting far away from them. While the meeting went on and the issue was not addressed on the spot, von der Leyen did not miss the opportunity to speak about what happened. And luckily that she did!
The public, especially the feminist community was waiting for her to address this, very serious issue and tell in more details not only how she felt, but explain why this was wrong. The public needed to hear from her in which ways this unfortunate, misogynic event was problematic. In the recent conclusions of EUCO and the outcome of EU and Turkey meeting, Ursula von der Leyen finally spoke about it.
Why we needed to hear from Ursula?
Why was important for us that such a powerful woman stands up for herself? Simply because that meant that she raised her voice for all women at the same time. By saying how she felt at the meeting, she was explaining how women all around the world feel every day. Of course, I am not comparing a life of a privileged, white woman to lives of many other that have no similar experiences, but in all cases the bottom line comes from sexism. Ursula von der Leyen, as a powerful woman, a head of such an important institution has the voice. Her duty is to use it.
Lack of chair in Turkey going viral
The lack of chair in Turkey did become viral. I cannot but wonder if this would have happened only few years back. Ursula von der Leyen says that the images spoke for themselves, the captions on the video were not needed, however it is not always easy to read between the lines.
The video was obviously shared thanks to social networks, but it is not the news itself that becomes news. It is rather the way we see the event in question. The real importance behind this video going viral is the change in our consciousness. It would have never been so shared if we had not viewed it as something problematic. Would we have done it only few years ago? This is a living proof that our mentalities are changing, if not men’s, then women’s and that is more than enough for a start!
Hidden message behind powerful words
As what seemed like a short and clear message, I do believe that there were very powerful ‘’hidden’’ messages that she wanted to send to Charles Michel and the rest of men in the European Parliament.
As the president, von der Leyen, said, she had felt hurt and alone when she was expected to take a sit on the sofa. When she said that, did she actually send a message to, who was supposed to be, her collaborator and colleague Charles Michel? Someone that should have shared democratic European values with her? Can we speak about European Union being democratic and an example for others if it does not support women?
These situations are the living proof that it doesn’t. Charles Michel was there, but is he actually a representative of, if not all, then the majority of men in the European Parliament? Would another colleague have reacted differently?
Ursula would like to see what is going on in our own yard before looking into somebody else’s. Here she means Turkey’s, but it could really mean any other country’s outside of the European Union. Instead of blaming what is going on in Turkey, she does not escape looking into European Union’s problems. The very first president woman of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen was elected as such in 2019! Doesn’t this say enough?
Ursula von der Leyen added that she was sure that women in the European Parliament understood her. What is she actually telling us? Do women equally participate in the important decisions within these institutions? Do women inside of different European parliament really have the voice? If these educated, powerful women are not equals to men in their work, what can we expect from the gender equality on lower, more invisible both personal and professional levels?
The importance of feelings
I really appreciated the fact that she spoke about her feelings. Women on high positions tend to exclude speaking about emotions because sometimes they are afraid of being taken for a weak woman, unworthy of the position she holds. Traditionally sentiments equal female and therefore unable to perform professionally important tasks. We are invited to believe that women are unable to be on high and important positions because they are too emotional and that will most certainly interfere with their work. This is often an excuse for excluding women. That is why many women tend to adopt male way of behaving in order to have an access to the same positions of power.
Charles Michel or why he should have said nothing
Charles Michel, the European Council president, who was at the meeting with Ursula von der Leyen, did not do anything about what had happened and was judged for it. At the recent meeting, he also spoke about his accountability.
However, his response is problematic and, in my views, shameful. He says that he did not want to risk ruining months of political and diplomatic groundwork. Is this really an excuse? Did he hear himself? I don’t see a real apology in his words nor the real understanding of women’s rights. And he claims that he understands that women might have felt offended. But does he really? He claims that he will support the gender equality, but how?
Many other women obviously agree with me.
If an event like this one is addressed in a positive manner and I mean, addressed and condemned, then important changes can take place. It was really up to Ursula von der Leyen to use her feeling of injustice to possibly start something big. Because she is still the one that has a lot of power and it is up to her how she is going to use it! The chair event from Turkey can become one of bombshell situations, that one drop that makes an explosion and after which there is not turning back.