Thursday, April 12, 2007

Damned if We Do, Damned if We Don't...


Okay... so don't worry, this blog is not turning into an "All Belinda, All the Time" free-for-all but upon the announcement of her retirement from politics and her return to Magna I would like to look at Belinda as a way through which to analyze an interesting problem that I think a lot of women who are in politics confront.

This is of course tedious questions about appearance! Indeed, it seems that women just can't do anything right when it comes to how they look. Whether its suggesting that Rona Ambrose worries more about her hair than her portfolio, or endlessly theorizing about aspects of Hillary Clinton's body, hair or fashion sense, there seems to be a much greater concentration on the way female politicians 'look' than on their politics, and definitely a much greater concentration on their appearances than on those of their male counterparts.

But if we criticize women for looking 'too good' and therefore being silly bimbos like Stronach or Ambrose who, in concentrating on their appearance so much, supposedly neglect their political roles, we perhaps malign those who do not fit into our aesthetic ideals for women even more.

Sheila Copps, who was so often maligned in newspaper editorial cartoons for being 'dowdy' wrote about this for the Toronto Sun:

In my early years I was not too concerned about the wrapping. I believed what I had to say should trump what I was wearing. But I should probably have taken those lessons more to heart. A current editor of this paper covering my run for the provincial Liberal leadership in 1982 described my hairdo as a roman helmet. I, of course, thought he should be covering my ideas and not my head. But, especially for women politicians, appearance counts.

I once had a voter pledge his support because he liked my teeth. I regularly received letters from Parliament watchers commenting on what I wore and suggesting material changes, literally. One fan (and I use the term advisedly) even offered complimentary botox treatments.


Feministing
has a great analysis of how the fashion choices of female politicians in Washington are endlessly written about and debated as thought they were relevant news.

Women are often seen as too boring for wearing conservative 'safe' suits, or too 'sexy' or 'preoccupied with fashion' for wearing more stylish garb. The moral of the story... its not fashion or hair that is the problem but 'women' themselves. How can you get it right, if essentially, the problem is not your fashion choices or your hair but indeed, your gender.

Stronach's political mentor, former Ontario premier David Peterson, spoke to the Canadian Press about the attention that Stronach got saying:

"Look, good-looking women get more attention than they probably deserve. But they also get more criticism than they probably deserve. The bad part is everybody's got an opinion on your hair colour and who you're going out with."


But I wonder when is this extra 'attention' ever a good thing? When has there been a prominent, attractive female politician whose appearance and corrolary intelligence were not a major source of debate? Or a supposedly 'dowdy' female politician who did not get ridiculed for her looks? Likewise, when has there ever been a male politician who had to experience either of those extremes?
And why are female politicians more often fodder for the gossip columns and style pages then they are for the news sections and op-eds. Just take this 'lovely' feature in the National Post which compiles the works of a gossip columnist over the course of Belinda's career in politics.

In my case at least, Stronach was right yesterday when she said that her bad experience in politics has actually been an inspiration for other women:

"While there are many nasty and ugly comments that have been made, it has also in a strange way has inspired younger women to get involved because they want to change that," she told CTV's Mike Duffy.

I for one think that it is about time that this is changed for women in politics and women in all walks of life... After all, with popular radio host Imus, calling the Rutgers Women's Basketball team nothing but a bunch of 'Nappy Headed Hoes' how can we deny the ways in which women's accomplishments in any field are trumped or outshone by their appearance which is considered the ultimate arbiter of their identity and value? Are women only worthwhile if they are attractive and conform to beauty ideals? How silly of me... I thought we'd gotten to the point where we could consider people based on the content of their character.

Just for fun: Feministing subjects male politicians to the same criticism that women have to go through about their appearance... it's quite funny.

1 comment:

Woman at Mile 0 said...

Your post is very true. I loved the criticizm post link..hilarious. I agree men are not held to the same standard although Harper is getting some flak about his weight.