Having boobs in politics is still seen as a sign you're a bimbo
Published 08/04/2015 | 02:30
Miriam O'Callaghan wore a choker presenting 'Prime Time' last week and caused a Twitter commotion. "The reaction has been hilarious. I love chokers and always did, so I am delighted they are all back in fashion," Miriam said. "I got a hugely positive reaction to it so happy days. I will wear another one tonight. I bought it [the choker] myself in Topshop. I'm used to getting lots of reaction to what I wear on TV and that is fine - by and large people are really kind and funny."
Sharon Ni Bheolain wore a biker jacket presenting the news recently; the jacket became a Twitter sensation.
"Jaysus!! Is Sharon wearing rubber? And zips?" one person tweeted. At the launch of Renua, Lucinda Creighton wore a Bastyan tailored suit. Liz O'Donnell turned up at a separate event that day wearing the same suit in the same colour. The sartorial clash - or, in this case, match - spawned a myriad of newspaper articles but doesn't this all feel a bit, well, gender-biased and not very 2015?
For women in the public eye, the entire business of dressing is a tough one. Every garment they wear is going to be scrutinised by teams of reporters and the general population, who will preoccupy themselves with evaluating their hairstyle or choice of shoe, so they can never come out on top.
This scrutiny goes on to the extent that clothing eclipses what any woman has to say or do. Bullying and mockery over clothing choice is something every woman in the public eye is subjected to. Just look at the 'Circle of shame' in celebrity magazines and the 'Daily Mail's 'Downing Street Catwalk' feature. Yes, we seem to be a largely frivolous society that takes delight in anything silly, especially if it's a more fun alternative to boring old things like budgets and policies.
Tune into Oireachtas TV and the sea of grey and navy suits reveals a stark truth: this is a man's world. The women that brave it face a daily firing squad on a quasi-catwalk that is the Dáil.
"Miss Piggy has toned it down a bit today," Mick Wallace was once heard to say in the chamber. "That Mary Mitchell O'Connor one?" said Luke Ming Flanagan, "they'd want to ban her wearing pink." And all this from a man who showed up for work wearing an Oscar the Grouch T-shirt. But this overheard exchange is just another marker for the wider concern of whether women can ever hope to be treated completely equally in politics. This casual sexism in the corridors of power is worrying, especially since women aren't entering politics very much in the first place.
In politics, looking as though you have a pair of boobs is still seen as indicative of the fact that you're a bimbo, or a slapper, or both.
And female politicians can't win where their appearance is concerned in the social media age, a churning bin of satire and jibes where even the smallest thing is parsed for significance and debate.
Too much grooming and they're dismissed as dolly birds.
Too little, and they're damned as sexless spinsters who've let themselves go. It's the female politician's lot to be seen and not heard or, at least, judged, objectified, laughed at, much more than she is ever allowed to be heard.
The tragic implication is that the man is so busy thinking with his giant male brain that the colour of his tie is the least of his concerns.
The sad truth is that most women dress for each other rather than for men, who are, let's face it, much more easily pleased. I'm afraid we can't blame the patriarchy for this one. There's some science behind it too. The 'Intolerance of Sexy Peers' study by the University of Toronto found that women who dressed "sexy" were seen as suspicious and judged more harshly by their female peers, while those who dressed more conservatively didn't illicit a negative response.
And according to a 2010 study that appeared in the 'Journal of Social Psychology' women rated as very attractive often face discrimination when applying for "masculine" jobs.
A woman in the public eye just can't win but it's very low for other women to continue to ridicule her for trying. The argument for equality of opportunity in the workplace is weakened and destroyed if we continue to play the very game we disapprove of.
Women should show a little solidarity and recognise that collective disapproval does us all a grave disservice. Now that is a bad look.