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Iceland’s men wrecked the economy. Can women fix it?

Brazil’s Lula may blame “white people with blue eyes” for the global financial crisis, but in financially-crippled Iceland, many women in finance and government feel they have to clean up the mess left by the country’s boys-club power elite. One former government official who, according to Der Spiegel, runs Iceland’s only still-successful investment firm, put ...

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New Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir gets the key to the office from her predecessor Thogerdur Katrin Gunnarsdottir on February 1, 2009 in Reykjavik.Crisis-hit Iceland's first woman and first openly gay premier took power Sunday as her new left-wing coalition government started attempts at digging the country out of economic meltdown. AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read HALLDOR KOLBEINS/AFP/Getty Images)

Brazil’s Lula may blame “white people with blue eyes” for the global financial crisis, but in financially-crippled Iceland, many women in finance and government feel they have to clean up the mess left by the country’s boys-club power elite. One former government official who, according to Der Spiegel, runs Iceland’s only still-successful investment firm, put it this way:

Brazil’s Lula may blame “white people with blue eyes” for the global financial crisis, but in financially-crippled Iceland, many women in finance and government feel they have to clean up the mess left by the country’s boys-club power elite. One former government official who, according to Der Spiegel, runs Iceland’s only still-successful investment firm, put it this way:

“The crisis is man-made,” claims banker Halla, 40, who like all Icelanders, is only addressed by her first name. “It’s always the same guys,” she says. “Ninety-nine percent went to the same school, they drive the same cars, they wear the same suits and they have the same attitudes. They got us into this situation — and they had a lot of fun doing it,” she says. Halla criticizes a system that focuses “aggressively and indiscriminately” on the short-term maximization of profits, without any regard for losses, that is oriented on short-lived market prices and lucrative bonus payments. “It’s typical male behavior,” says Halla, who compares it to a “penis competition” — who has the biggest?

Now Iceland’s women are rising to the top ranks — in politics, too — and they want to make everything better. Writer Hallgrimur Helgason says the new star is Johanna Sigurdardottir, 66, a Social Democrat, who had previously been known to most Icelanders as an honest and unimposing politician. “My time will come,” she once railed at her opponents angrily almost 20 years ago.

Halla credits her success to bringing “female values into the financial world.”

Sigurdardottir, currently prime minister in an appointed caretaker government, is widely expected to win big in an early election this weekend. She is not only her country’s first female prime minister, but the world’s first openly-lesbian head of state. 

Perhaps Iceland too — as The Onion brilliantly summed up the last U.S. election — is now “finally shitty enough to make social progress.”

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy  Twitter: @joshuakeating

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