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Let’s talk about Theresa May’s shoes

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Let’s talk about Theresa May’s shoes

BY AMRIT DHILLON| IN Media Practice | 15/07/2016

The appearance of British women politicians is dissected with a sexism that is mercifully unthinkable in India, so far.

AMRIT DHILLON on the UK press’ merciless appraisal of women

Let’s talk about Theresa May’s shoes

Pix: Google search---lots of photos of Theresa May's shoes and clothes


In matters of sexual equality, sections of the British press like to think they are indisputably superior to poor, benighted India with its ‘rape culture’ and ‘degradation’ of women.  They sneer at India de haut en bas. Their commentaries drip with contempt. Yet look at the UK press, in particular the tabloids, and look at how, in contrast, the Indian media’s treatment of women politicians is almost devoid of the relentless scrutiny, savage appraisal and merciless dissection of their physical appearance which characterize British reporting.

The elevation of Theresa May to Prime Minister has exposed the sexism that is ingrained in many papers and commentators. At once, the scrutiny kicked in, the kind of scrutiny reserved exclusively for women in public life. But before we come to that, it was, sadly, another woman, her rival Andrea Leadsom, who perpetrated the worst crime by invoking the patriarchal nonsense that a woman who is a mother is naturally more concerned about the long term future than a childless woman like May (who wanted children but was unable to have them).

The comment, made in an interview to the Times, was ugly and retrogressive. Leadsom said she would make a better prime minister than May because she has children and May does not and this gives her a ‘very real stake’ in the future of the country.

This is an old inanity. It posits childless women as strange and unpleasant because they have not fulfilled their primary role of procreation.  No such comment is ever made about a male politician remaining childless. Nor would a male politician ever suggest he is better for the job of prime minister because he is a father. He has no need to make such assertions because he is taken on his merits and not on his fatherhood.

Leadsom’s remark rightly triggered a backlash which caused her to resign from the race. But this kind of vilification of women over their reproductive status will not end. Earlier this week actress Jennifer Aniston took to venting in the Huffington Post  because she was so sick of false reports that she was pregnant and of her belly being photographed and discussed every time it appeared to bulge slightly. It is a given that the media must perforce project Aniston as an object of pity because, despite her beauty, fame and talent and the ‘advanced’ age of 47, she is not yet a mother.

May and Aniston are just two examples. Every female celebrity and woman in public life in Britain (and elsewhere) is subjected to the same forensic examination, body part by body part, from their hair, mouth, teeth, skin, eyebrows and neck to the breasts, thighs, buttocks, and legs. Even the humble knee is not exempt. The Daily Mail routinely carries stories comparing famous women’s knees to point out which ones are bony and which are pleasingly smooth and round.

So here we are, 67 years after Simone de Beavoir’s The Second Sex, 53 years after Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, 46 years after Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch and a full 26 years after Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth, women are still subjected to the same toxic standard of beauty that demeans them and locks them in a permanent and vicious neurosis of anxiety and insecurity. As Gloria Steinem once said sardonically: ‘All women are Bunnies’.

Thankfully, we are not in such a pathetic state in India. Of course, female celebrities’ appearance is commented on but not with anything like the same degree of ferocity, intensity and micro-detail. The other difference is that while female politicians in Britain suffer the same degrading treatment as celebrities, their counterparts in India are treated with considerably more dignity.

Mayawati and Mamata Banerjee’s unmarried and childless state is not discussed (had they been British, they would long ago have been humiliated as sexually frustrated spinsters). The most that is said about Mamata’s appearance, if anything, is her penchant for traditional Bengal saris and in Sonia Gandhi’s case, her preference for handloom saris. With Mayawati, there used to be much private snickering about her handbag and synthetic suits but no one dared to do a feature on the topic in excruciating detail and accompanied by pictures.  

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