Why should Theresa May, Angela Merkel, Michelle Obama be judged for what they wear?

Noida, Uttar Pradesh, IndiaWritten By: Srimoyee PanditUpdated: Apr 12, 2019, 04:52 PM IST

British Prime Minister Theresa May. Photograph:(Reuters)

Story highlights

When it comes to fashion, women in politics “are held to a different standard across the board” than men.

As the UK takes center stage with the impending Brexit looming large, the world sees a very determined Theresa May shuttling between Brussels and London, dismissing her naysayers, fighting hard to avoid a ‘no-deal Brexit’. And every time she rises to make a speech in the parliament she exudes grit and determination. She is a fighter and it is out there for the world to see.

Yet, people can't seem to get past staring at Theresa May's leopard print shoes, her pencil skirts or her statement neck pieces.

Clothes are excellent means of self-expression for people, gender irrespective. Clothes, shoes, accessories go a long way in sending intended messages across without actually speaking out loud. We often let our clothes do the talking when it comes to leaving a strong impact.

Who would know that better than our women leaders whose every move is under the constant public scanner?

And it is not always easy for the lady bosses who run countries and rule people’s heart with the same panache to live under scrutiny round the clock, more so in an era dominated by social media designed etiquette.

It is sad but true that more often than not fashion choices of our powerhouse woman politicians go on to make bigger headlines than the job they passionately work at.

UK's Theresa May could tell you how tough it is to be a ruling PM who likes to keep it fashionable.

When it comes to fashion, women in politics “are held to a different standard across the board” than men, said Senator Moseley Braun, who represented Illinois, in the US Senate from 1993 to 1999.

Sadly, the sentiment hasn’t changed much since Moseley was in office.

This obsession with what the powerful women of the world wear is not a recent phenomenon. Republican Katherine Langley, who represented Kentucky back in the 1920s and early 1930s was a victim too. “She offends the squeamish by her unstinted display of gipsy colours on the floor and the conspicuousness with which she dresses her bushy blue-black hair,” a reporter had written.

Why should politicians who talk openly and positively about fashion be judged?

PM May has admitted that footwears are her “greatest love”. "I like clothes and I like shoes," she told the crowd at the 2015 Women in the World summit.

Media has always been too eager to pick on her. BBC had once while reporting Brexit focussed primarily on PM May’s shoes. However, thanks to some who wish to look beyond fashion statements, this reportage was rightly and thoroughly criticised. One viewer had pointed out that the shot "sends all the wrong messages, deflects from what she was saying, shows no respect for her position, and reinforces gender stereotypes."

Theresa May and Angela Merkel

German Chancellor Angela wardrobe choices have prompted "letter-writing” at times. She laments her male colleagues have never had to face similar criticism about their fashion choices. In a candid interview to Die Zeit she attempted to draw the attention to this very sexist glare of the world- "It's no problem at all for a man to wear a dark blue suit for a hundred days in a row, but if I wear the same blazer four times in two weeks, that leads to letter-writing from citizens,"

Hillary Clinton must have by now learnt not to be upset for being criticised for wearing pantsuits. Remember Project Runway’s Tim Gunn who back in 2011 had said shamelessly exclaimed, “Why must she dress that way? I think she’s confused about her gender.”

PM May herself offered to break the myth that working women of substance cannot have a nose for fashion when she went on record to say, "One of the challenges for women in the workplace is to be ourselves, and I say you can be clever and like clothes. You can have a career and like clothes.". “I also think it's important to be able to show that a woman can do a job like this and still be interested in clothes," she rightly claimed.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the newly sworn-in New York City Democrat, who is otherwise a hit among colleagues and media, could not escape unwelcome and distasteful comments on her style.

Washington Examiner's Eddie Scarry tweeted a photograph of AOC as a miss. Alexandria is popularly known as, with the caption, “that jacket and coat don’t look like a girl who struggles.” His tweet was intended to cast doubts on her working-class background, she claims she comes from.

Again, why should it be difficult to fathom that women politicians like other working professionals can be very well put together as they go about their everyday business?

Harsh criticisms have often come UK PM’s way and these were not always because she could not manage to strike a timely Brexit deal with the European Union.

On several occasions, she found herself in the eye of a storm for something as regular as the choice of the colour of her dress or the slit of her skirt. When Theresa May stepped out for the Pride of Britain Awards in an attire that stopped above the knee, netizens called her out. "Put your knees away," one Twitter user wrote.

When Melania Trump wore a pith helmet during a trip to Africa in July 2018 she managed to draw a lot of flak. An understandably angry Trump told reporters, “I wish people would focus on what I do, not what I wear.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's low-cut dress at an opera event in Oslo in 2008 caused quite a stir in the media. Die Welt’s headline read "How much cleavage should a chancellor show?" Internet never forgets to keep a count of the number of times an attire was repeated by the Chancellor and is quick to point out how she had worn the “dark blue dress to an annual music event in 2012 as she did in 2008”

Former US first lady Michelle Obama could have moved out of the White House in 2016 but by no means has people’s interest in her fashion choices diminished. Her style has often surpassed her work in the race to make headlines. Obama wrote in her memoir how a reporter had shown more interest in who designed her dress than her speaking engagement. To keep up the fashion pace felt like a task. “Optics governed more or less everything in the political world, and I factored this into every outfit," she wrote. "It required time, though, and money – more money that I’d spent on clothing ever before."

Michelle Obama

Fortunately for us womankind these women have never let the cruelty take them down. These are ladies who like to live with no regrets and honestly, there isn’t any reason why they should.

Merkel said. "You can only carry out this profession when you aren't affected by things so quickly. You have to concentrate on the objective tasks."

"I have no regrets [about being famous for my shoes]," PM May once told a journalist. Politicians are like any other people and “not some different species”, she said sending out a message that she is approachable.

May is painfully aware that she will have to make peace with people judging her endlessly but she refuses to kill the fun. "Look, throughout my political career, people have commented on what I wear. That's just something that happens, and you accept that. But it doesn't stop me from going out and enjoying fashion."

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL.)