During the last G-20 meeting, in April, I noted that the husbands of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Argentine President Cristina Kirchner were no-shows for the big spouse photo-op. Well, they've done it again: According to Sandra McElwaine at The Daily Beast, neither gentleman will be appearing at a two-day "spousal program" hosted by Michelle Obama to coincide with this week's Pittsburgh G-20 meeting. (There's no word yet on whether India's First Gentleman, former politician Devisingh Ransingh Shekhawat, will attend the spouse-only festivities.)
Eighteen wives will meet at Rosemount, the country estate of Theresa Heinz Kerry. They'll be entertained there by the Pittsburgh Philharmonic Orchestra’s Jazz Trio and are expected to dine on organic, locally grown produce. During the trip, the wives will also meet cellist Yo-Yo Ma and visit the Andy Warhol Museum, whose director plans to open one of the artist's famous time capsules in front of the dignitaries.
It sounds like fun! But once again, in their refusal to participate in these events, male political spouses demonstrate just how regressive it is that political wives are expected to spend so much time on ceremonial help meet duties. Not only that, but their interests are assumed to be traditionally feminine: art, music, cuisine. In truth, many of these women, like Michelle Obama, thrive on working alongside their husbands on policy detail and political strategy. Mexican Fist Lady Margarita Zavala is a former legislator. Other spouses have totally separate careers; Chinese President Hu Jintao's wife, Liu Yongqing, is an engineer.
But that's not the face political wives are expected to project to the world. And these expectations won't change until half of all political spouses are male, at which point I doubt we'll expect very much of political spouses at all.
To be fair, Carla Bruni Sarkozy, of France, ditched the last G-20 meeting in Madrid and has traveled internationally this past year promoting her new album. This week, she will be in Pittsburgh, and on Saturday night will entertain at a clambake for the world leaders.