So Wednesday morning I jumped into a cab in front of my hotel in Washington. The Ethiopian driver was sitting behind the wheel laughing uncontrollably. National Public Radio was on the radio. “What’s so funny? I asked, wanting to be amused. “In Spain they have a minister who is pregnant,” he said, shaking with laughter. I smiled, though it made no sense to me. Ministers are allowed to marry and procreate. Priests, on the other hand…. He was disappointed that I didn’t see the humor.
The Spanish minister in question is the newly appointed Defense Minister, Carme Chacon, 37, who began her new job this week, seven months pregnant. Is this really so bad? Whatever I happen to recall about my own abilitiy to focus and act decisively at seven months, the fact is, it passed. She, likewise, will be fine in a few months. The reporter was nattering on about pictures being shipped around the world of the very pregnant woman reviewing troops — as if this is so inappropriate or bizarre.
It turns out that Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodrigues Zapatero, starting his second term, has been pushing hard at Spain’s traditionally male-dominated culture. In addition to cramming through gay marriage, gender anti-discrimination laws, and the like, he named the first European majority female cabinet this week.
The NPR report, and others, also noted that Spanish conservatives and ex-military types are being a little critical. They’re worried that, in these precarious times, the Ministra will take her government-mandated 16 week maternity leave, leaving the key department leaderless. The report did not say that anyone had been critical of the fact that Chacon has precisely zero military or defense policy experience. And only at the very end of the profile did we learn a genuinely shocking — not so funny — fact about our ally’s new Defense Minister. She is, and has long been, a devout, principled pacifist.
A long maternity leave might be the best thing.