The recent appointment of Theresa May and the US presidential election between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump once again highlighted that sexism in politics remain an everyday occurrence.
Women in the public eye face a higher level of scrutiny than that of their male counterparts where their personal lives are concerned, not to mention endless critique about their wardrobe and appearance in general. Male politicians tend to get away with a lot more than their female counterparts, Trump being an excellent example.
Would the media and the voting public have been as forgiving and accepting of Clinton were she to have been caught having engaged in similar “locker room, or should it be powder room, banter” as those of Trump? Hardly, I would suggest.
There are examples on both sides of the Atlantic where men in public positions represent the quintessential absent-minded Professor with rumpled hair and wrinkled suits. On the other hand women in similar positions face constant scrutiny of their clothing, hairstyles and make up. As far as hairstyles are concerned, men with greying temples are seen as distinguished and adding gravitas to their appearance, whereas women with greying hair are labelled as frumpy.
Then there is of course the fascinating discussion about the handbags of the female politicians. Cast your mind back to the endless media scrutiny of Maggie Thatcher’s bags and the perceived secrets it contained. It is reminiscent of my previous post and the magic potions produced by the evil witches in fairy tales who cast their spells on unsuspecting victims.
Women, whether in a political or professional context, are associated with a number of stereotypes namely sex objects, mother or the iron Lady. These labels are assigned based on scrutiny of their clothes, appearance and behaviours. The result is that women are often dismissed as serious candidates. The consequence is that their values, beliefs and experiences are often ignored and overlooked.
These are just some of the examples where the media set women apart from the dominant group, i.e. men, in a way that does not give them equal opportunity to discuss and contribute to the vital issue of policies and priorities. Instead the media focus on the cost of their handbags the length of their skirts and, of course, whether they could balance the demands of a political career with that of raising a family. The latter is never mentioned in relation to men’s commitment to the positions they seek.
Sexism in the corridors of power means that women don’t enter politics in the first place, or when they do, they don’t stay for long. This is compounded by the representation of women in the media. In fact, women as a group are often referred to as sexual adjuncts to men, for example “Blair’s Babes” and ”Cameron’s Cuties”. What would be the equivalent for May, I wonder? I shall leave it to your imagination.
The press spent almost as much time on discussing the serious business of Brexit as they did poring over the appearance of the newly appointed Theresa May following the resignation of Cameron, referring to her as “twinkle toes”. Recently the Daily Mail devoted a two-page spread to her appearance ensuring readers new that Theresa May wore Swarovski crystal studded stilettos by Dolce & Gabbana and yes, the evolution of her handbag habits.
There was, of course, the inevitable reference to her cleavage. Nothing was left out from the dowdy haircut to the recent power bob all the way to her racy underway (whatever that is supposed to be), the perceived shortening of skirts to power necklaces, DIY make up and the fact that she still finds time to paint her own nails. I stand corrected, but I have yet to see such detailed scrutiny of any male politician’s appearance hitherto elected or in any position of power.
However, whether we like it or not, women will be scrutinised for very different reasons to that of their male counterparts. My suggestion therefore is that women should not only accept this, but embrace it and use it to their advantage. As women we know that appearance is incredibly powerful in communicating specific messages.
Therefore, wear your clothes and accessories as armour and as a representation of your individuality and give them something to gossip about.
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