Meredith Speaks on: the Portrayal of Women Within PoliticsBy Merri Leston
From Legs-it to Leather Leggings, women in politics bear the scrutiny of tabloid celebrities. These model citizens are given the same weights and measures treatment as catwalk models; indeed, will we soon hear catcalls in the Commons? Confidence becomes bossiness, my voice shrill where the male booms. The female nag is ready for the knackers (but you’ll still want to publish who has been in her knickers).
A dichotomy is produced in such an environment: the woman who markets her femininity vs. the woman who rejects it altogether. Women in power either bat their eyelashes or bat for the other team altogether. You can’t very well don the twinset of pearls wearing Don Draper’s wardrobe.
But it seems even the neo-Thatcherite masses cannot escape expectation. The motherhood card can be an ace or a joker: Mother Merkel has her motherland where the barren Mother Theresa couldn’t possibly run a country (at least according to Andrea Leadsom).
More than any other country, America simply isn’t ready for a woman in politics. The attempt to rebrand Hilary to give us all the warm and fuzzies spelled disaster for her campaign; a rosy-cheeked grandmother peddling the American apple pie she is not. By exchanging her shrewd mind and sharp tongue for cardigans and ‘the woman’s touch’, she became a snake in kitten heels. In the end, Hilary stood for no woman, feminist or traditionalist. Is it any wonder women elected flagrant sexism, sexual assault and a wardrobe of Ivanka Trump workwear into the Whitehouse before the most qualified woman in politics? What women want, especially from their women of state, remains a mystery that even Mel Gibson couldn’t solve.
But male dignitaries get to keep their dignity; I am indignant. Obama gets to wear a suit more than once, David Cameron gets to put on a bit of weight on holiday, Boris Johnson gets too look like, well, Boris Johnson. By reducing a woman to numbers, weight, height, salary, we are owned. By giving appearance as much press coverage as policies, female figures of state are undermined and women are relegated to figures of entertainment.
A woman in power has always been laughable. Indeed, the comedy ‘The Frogs’ by Aristophanes is a fine example of characterizing a strong female as a joke. These murderous women are laughed at – imagine a woman ever posing a real threat? A female Bond villain doesn’t really fly, better make them henchmen to the real danger boys. The shrew was tamed. The role of pantomime villain, from Jafar to Donald Trump, tends to be reserved for men, unless of course a woman is being replaced by a younger, prettier model (see Snow White for further details). For whatever reason, be it our physiological weakness, the cult of masculinity or even Damsel in distress conditioning, women aren’t going to save the day (especially not in those heels, Wonderwoman), and they’re not going to rule the world either. Female super heroes don’t sell as well. Female super villains just don’t exist.
Perhaps I should ‘calm down, dear’, and assess the extent to which the lack of representation of women in power, and our misrepresentation within the media are of our own making. We are not simple victims; we perpetuate and even promote sexism against us. Even in high heels, the glass ceiling remains firmly out of reach. However, rather than standing on the shoulders of strong women, we adhere to our quotas and focus our energies on intrasexual warfare. The working woman remains a touchy subject and the fashion police seems to be an entirely female force.
Female empowerment is a woman’s job; women must do all that they can to promote and support one another whilst challenging an unhealthy focus on appearance. A woman in power is not a clothes peg. A woman in power is not a bad mother or negligent wife. Double standards cannot be accepted, so yes, I’m afraid you really should stop googling to see whether Justin Trudeau has a naked calendar coming out.
Politics needs women. But the corridors of the Commons will not echo with the clacks of sensible heels unless action is taken. The representation of women in Parliament will not improve until the representation of women in the media does, there cannot be one without the other. Change will not come passively, if women want to command respect, it is up to them to command change.