Former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt recently retweeted a photo of the “Defence Ministers of Norway, Sweden, Netherlands and Germany”–and Americans in particular saw something so discordant they rejoiced! That is, if one can measure rejoicing by retweeting, which nearly 2,000 Twitter users have done so far. (Hey, in international political circles, that’s viral.) What’s the rub? These defense ministers are all women–and in the amiable amateur photo originally posted by Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert (the Dutch defence minister) they don’t look much like Iron Ladies either. Falklands, rest easy.
— Carl Bildt (@CBildt) February 1, 2014
The discord and excitement stem from our natural tendency to categorize and label people. We know what a defense official looks like, we think, and this ain’t it. And it is difficult to envision Chuck Hagel or David Gates squeezing in on this bench, demurely crossing his hands and smiling. And the notion of Donald Rumsfeld seated there in the middle produces a truly dizzying cognitive dissonance–even if it does add fresh nuance to the phrase photobomb. These women–and, to be sure, it’s this other bit of hardwired, equally wrongheaded stereotyping that makes this photo so popular–don’t look like they’d consider bombing anyone. (Though the Dutch minister would probably condone a graphic representation of Allah–one person’s art is another’s sortie. ) Bildt heard from a few who’d rather he used “women” instead of “girls”, but if anyone might be expected to find middle ground and wax egalitarian along gender lines it would be Bildt. He once led–more dissonance for Americans–the “liberal conservative Moderate Party.” And he’s descended from a noble lineage that’s seen as many queens as kings.