Monday, July 12, 2010

The First Lady of Iceland

I think one of the things that bugged me most in the orgy of the G20 is something that all in all grates me more than it appears to grate a lot of people coverage of 'first ladies', as they accomanied their husbands on a trip to Toronto.

What bugs me? If nothing else, the phrase 'first lady', which is cheesy and of an old-fashioned male-dominated era. It keeps up silly 'behind every great man, there's a great woman' conventions, and it certainly brought home the point of just how male-dominated the G20 continues to be: of the 20 national bigwigs on hand, only Angela Merkel of Germany and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner of Argentina were female (Australia would undoubtedly have sent Julia Gillard had she been prime minister for more than a few hours before the G20 began). So the 'significant others' were overwhelmingly female, and their presence reduced to discussion of what dresses they wore and ridiculous arcana like that. This despite the fact that many of these women are accomplished professionals in diverse lines of work, who have been reduced to mere accessories while their husbands get down to the business of ruling the world.

But then there's Iceland. Iceland is so wonderfully different that it's always nice to take a look at this flight-stopping country. If you were curious about the 'First Lady of Iceland'... well, you'd need to specify. I've often wondered if "First Lady" is meant to refer to the wife of the president or of the prime minister in countries that have both. In either case, the wife of the President of Iceland, Dorrit Moussaieff, is quite interesting. In a world where people often scream at the notion of foreign-born heads of states or wives thereof, Iceland has a president with an Israeli-British wife. If that's not enough, her family is from Uzbekistan, with well-connected ties going back to Genghis Khan.

Such international heritage is, of course, interesting, as is her being an observant Jew in a country with perhaps as few as 100 Jews. She designs jewellery and writes for a British socialite magazine.

While Ms. Moussaieff is interesting, to me the more interesting First Lady is Jónína Leósdóttir, who became the wife of the Prime Minister on the very day of the G20. Ms. Leósdóttir is a journalist and playwright, with a long history of published works behind her. The relative newness of her marriage belies the fact that she and the Prime Minister have been together for years, having spent eight years in a civil union. The reason they changed their status in June of 2010 is that only then did it become legal in Iceland for them to marry. When Iceland became the ninth country in the world to fully legalise same-sex marriages, Prime Minister Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir,the first openly gay head of government in modern history, took the opportunity to make her partner of eight years her wife.

One day, there will be nothing so banal as talking about a gay Prime Minister and her wife. But that day is not yet here: in the meantime, this is exciting progress. And to think that at the same time as the eyes of the world were focused on Toronto and flashbulbs lit as the overwhelmingly male leaders of the élite countries paraded in a traditional, outdated ritual, with their wives in tow, up in often-forgotten Iceland, a different kind of First Lady was taking her vows. While the tacky excesses of the past appear on the front pages, progress happens in the dark, away from the cameras and flashbulbs.

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