Monday, 2 February 2009

The politics of beauty are constrained.

In a friendly meeting with fellow conspirators this evening, we discussed over coffee and snow-spattered mutterings the viability and ethics of our favourite Lib Dem and Labour MPs and PPCs. This is one of the many topics upon which I am both knowledgeable and possess an opinion, and although I was the youngest, least famous and most currently chest-infected person there, I felt that I had a right to be present, to listen and to be heard. I was amongst allies, or potential allies.

And then it all turned sour.

I have met Stella Creasy, Labour's PPC for Walthamstow, and I respect her as a politician and as a feminist, the context of our second meeting having been the Abortion Rights parliamentary rallies over the summer. Were I a Walthamstovian, I'd vote for her; were I sitting next to her on a train, I'd feel she was someone with whom I could have a pleasant conversation. I was about to voice one or all of these thoughts, when the Labour party veteran next to me, a man in his fifties, said, in that oh-so knowing way -

'Well, yes, but she's a bit glamorous to be a credible PPC, isn't she?'

Aside from her many, many political and personal qualifications, Stella Creasy happens to be young, thin, blonde, and intensely pretty. Click here to see just how pretty. In fact, she looks a bit like one of those leggy popular girls who used to tease me at school, which is why I took extra special care to pay attention to what she had to say before passing judgement. And that alone is enough for her to be dismissed out of hand by the very people who she ought to count as the home guard, purely on the basis of her appearance.

It offended me. If you don't understand why it offended me, imagine someone saying of David Lammy, the black, well-dressed MP for Tottenham, 'yes, but he's a bit too bling to take seriously, isn't he? A bit too gangsta?'

Stella Creasy may look like the stereotype of an airhead bimbo, but she's not one, any more than David Lammy is a drug-runner, and to infer in that manner that her physical appearance affects her ability to do her job is deeply problematic. But when I opened my mouth to complain, the Labour old-timer in question proceeded to change the subject and speak over me to a couple of the other men in the group. I looked over at the only other woman there, who met my eyes. And shrugged. Resignedly.

It might seem small, but for me that exchange coloured the entire evening. I'm on a cocktail of antibiotics and lacked the energy even to be angry; I was simply upset. Upset that nominally liberal allies felt comfortable as part of the system which continues to judge any professional woman for her looks more than her abilities. I stumbled over my words; my arguments petered out. Instead of engaging, I listened. I let others claim for themselves ideas that I'd shared with them earlier, and made no murmur. I felt - what's the term? Oh, yes. Put in my place.

Women in politics, as in all professions, are judged on their looks first, last and foremost- whether they're Stella Creasy, Jacqui Smith or Mo Mowlam. I'm not even going to revisit the Jacqui Smith's Cleavage Nontroversy, because it depresses me too damn much - I'm simply going to point you in the direction of a keynote article in the pilot of Ian Dale's latest project, Total Politics, asking if British political ladies are looking too frumpy, not frumpy enough, or just right.

If you'll notice, the woman against whom all British women politicians are measured and found wanting in those all important fashion stakes in the very first line is Rachida Dati, pictured above ('The French Justice Minister wore a stunning, long midnight-blue gown split to the thigh made for her by the house of Dior at a recent Elysée Palace banquet').

That Rachida Dati. The same Rachida Dati who, despite being that rare thing - sartorially and therefore politically acceptable - was last month raked over the spitting coals of almost every major world newspaper for having the temerity to go back to work five days after giving birth. The same Rachida Dati who was pressured to resign just twenty days later, following Sarkozy's embarrassment at the implication that he might be the father of Dati's child. The same Rachida Dati whose wardrobe could not protect her from the limitations of womanhood in the boys' game of European politics.

Can we ever win?

*
In response to theyorkshergob and to this thread over at Liberal Conspiracy, I've turned off pre-moderated comments on this blog. It's not good to be a control freak, so I shan't be one any longer - comments should now appear immediately. Play nice, guys.

23 comments:

  1. Oh this, this, a thousand times this. I have felt that in mostly-male political company too. I have also been the gobby one who spoke up and got smacked down for it.

    I think I prefer being the latter, but I don;t always have the energy or the confidence to do it. But if I can tell myself I'm doing it for you, and for others, I think I'll be able to do it more often.

    Even though I know for a damn straight fact that it makes people think I'm strident and awful.

    (also, re: comments. *smooch* thank you)

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  2. I really am confused as to what the word 'liberal' means these days. It seems to correspond to 'nice' in many peoples minds.
    As in, I like gay people so i'm liberal.
    Or, smacking children is mean so lets stop people doing it.
    Unfortunately, helping people isn't a matter of liberalism/iliberalism - it's a matter of humanity. Forcing other people to do the helping for you is something which the nicest in society seem to delight in, but is rather far from my understanding of liberalism.

    Regarding the liberal democrats - the nicey, nicey party - I really just wish they'd fuck off.
    I used to work in a hotel and when the liberal democrats were in town for conference they'd trash the place. Shit in drawers, blood on the sheets - seriously.
    Now, I'm not really too keen on anti-social behaviour at the best of times, but when these bastards are trying to tell me how to live me life, it's just too much.
    Leave me alone.

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  3. If you had been born on the planet Krypton you would possess skin thick enough to deflect an off the cuff remark by a fifty something political non-entity? Why did such a non-event upset you so much and spoil your social engagement in the way it did? I think it was probably your realisation that you yourself subconsciously similarly categorise people by means of physical appearance much more than you would be prepared to admit.

    I wouldn't be surprised if you were to deny this to yourself and to the world but I think there's more than a germ of truth in what I've said.

    The trouble with feminists is that they predominantly only want to be fully equal to men. This seems to me to be a poverty of ambition as far as feminism goes. Is that really all you and your sisters aspire to be Penny Red? I find it lamentable that more of you don't desire to become BETTER than your male peers considering how fucked up the world has become after several millennia of domination by monotheistic patriarchal societies!

    Stella was born with more than the average number of "pretty" twists in her deoxyribonucleic acid. So what? I'm pretty sure this woman has achieved high academic distinction including, I believe, a doctorate won by research. Besides inheriting conventional good looks from a fortuitous pedigree this glamourpuss also seems to have been dealt a pretty good hand by the genetic lottery as far as cleverness goes as well!

    (And don't berate me for using the "sexist" term "glamourpuss". That was injected for comedic purposes only. Don't read anything into it. As Freud said, "Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.")

    Not all clever and capable people are ugly or plain. Conversely not all stupid and vacuous people are blonde and beautiful. This "one size fits all" approach to "grading" human beings flies in the face of my own extensive personal experience of members our species.

    You will never beat 'em by joining 'em, Penny Red, you can only win your battle by beating 'em by being better than 'em!

    To usurp one chauvinism only to replace it with another would be in my opinion the height of folly.

    (On a personal note I'm sorry to discover that you are poorly once again. Plenty of hot drinks and as much rest as possible is the order of the day for you young Miss! Get well soon.)

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  4. Mark: Yeah, who needs to look at their policies when you have your own personal gripes?

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  5. The trouble with feminists is

    Oh dear, no good set of words ever follows a start like that...

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  6. Nice work on removing the comments moderation. And "Truthsayer", non-event? Don't women get to decide whether it's a non-event or not? Should we put up with casual sexism just because it's casual? Besides, it's not as if Laurie wrote this guy's name down on her "must make this person's life a misery from hereon in" list* - she didn't even make a big deal of it in the meeting (I might've done); she just wrote a blog-post which might possibly get people to think before they make those kind of comments again, or if they catch themselves thinking that way. Aren't you the one who's over-reacting, having written a 9 paragraph comment about it?


    * if she even has one (mine is pinned to my fridge and extends to 3 pages)

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  7. Curious as to how pretty Ms.Creasy actually is in the flesh I clicked the link "Click here to see how pretty" thoughtfully included on the page. Being an oversexed right-wing male chauvanist pig I was kind of hoping that Stella's image might find a home in the "wank bank" section of my memory, to be "used" by me subsequently as per my own personal pleasure and profit. Imagine how disappointed I was to behold a jpg from amazon.com of the cover of "Lost: The Game".

    I valiantly tried to jerk off to this image but couldn't get wood. I just couldn't do what needed to be done with an image of sweaty Hurley looking at me accusingly and blankly.

    Before my testicles turn blue can you repair this link? Thank you in advance for your co-operation and relief.

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  8. tim f.

    I find it two parts amusing and one part commendable that you stood up up to defend Penny Red Riding Hood from a predatory wolf like me. I am sure that millions of girls and women around the globe would welcome such intercession from a self-styled White Knight but, in all honesty, Penny Red just isn't one of them.

    Quite the reverse in fact. Red's razor sharp wits are so dangerous it would be better were wolves like me protected from her rather than the other way around!

    Man.

    Why is everybody so literal these days? Has intellectual and literary subtlety become extinct? Doesn't anybody read between the lines any more? Discourse used to be fun, like a good natured and exhilarating battle of wits, but no longer in the twenty first century it seems to me.

    At least I know now how Gulliver must have felt after being beached on the shores of the Lilliputians.

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  9. I'm sure Laurie can defend herself, ts, but I am allowed opinions too!

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  10. tim f

    You seem like a good guy to me... probably a brother in arms if you did but know it... but lighten up for fuck's sake!

    Best wishes!

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  11. If the liberal democrats were truely liberal and democratic their policies would be to do very little and always ask first.

    I'd support that.

    I can't support a bunch of bedwetters telling me not to smack my children though.

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  12. "It offended me. If you don't understand why it offended me, imagine someone saying of David Lammy, the black, well-dressed MP for Tottenham, 'yes, but he's a bit too bling to take seriously, isn't he? A bit too gangsta?'"

    They wouldn't say that because he doesn't look bling or gangsta, he looks like a lawyer - unless the starting point of the person speaking was that all black people are bling or gangsta.

    In a general sense, I think looks do matter in politics. Politics aside, Robin Cook's elfin appearance was reason enough not to run for the party leadership against the reassuringly handsome Tony Blair - particular in the world of 24 hour media.

    Neil Kinnock and William Hague, political failings aside, probably would have done better if they hadn't been bald.

    All that said, I completely agree with your general position.

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  13. A pretty lady indeed. I would however argue that the better looking you are the more likely you are to succeed in politics and maybe even business.

    That's not to say that a good looking idiot will succeed. But truth be told these things help.

    Take Obama vs Brown for example. Both have very similar policies on the economy. That is -- they believe in intervention. And both of them will increase public debt to unimaginable levels.

    However one has a lovely smile and is the media darling. And the other is Gordon Brown.

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  14. Yay, no more com-mod!

    As for the Lost thing, well I'm used to the memes in their appropriate venues but them spilling out everywhere catches me off guard. It's perhaps quite telling that the nadir of the internet is seemingly its cultural epicentre.

    Next we'll have Iain Dale regaling us with tales of how his tormented Ann Widdecombe with a Zippo Cat montage.

    And yes, that individual sounds pretty Old Labour. New is all about glamour. Cool Britannia, Noel Gallagher visiting #10, etc. I know that you've written about the Blair Babes previously, but it's worth bearing in mind that it took something as bad as the Old form of Labour to drive us into the arms of the New kind.

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  15. Mark.

    You are a provocative bastard.

    Thanks for saddling me with the mental image of an incontinent Ming Campbell taking a dump in a dresser drawer and Julia Goldsworthy leaving menstrual stains on the pristine bed linen in her hotel room.

    Nice one Cyril!

    I've got to say that the idea of the Liberal Democrats as the Guns 'n' Roses of British politics is appealing in a Pythonesque sense.

    In my mind's eyes I can picture the sere Vince Cable P.hD, sexually spent and drug crazed, with a polka dot bandanna wrapped around his balding pate, hurling a outsize plasma television from the window of his fifth floor hotel room into the swimming pool below and screaming, "You'll never take me alive coppers! I always told you the bastards were for quantitative easing!"

    Did Lloyd George know your father, Mark?

    Did your father know Lloyd George?

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  16. I dunno hoo da bird is wiv da dark hair n flashee dress is, but me wud do hur fur shor.

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  17. David Lammy doesn't look "gangsta" to me. Not one bit. To me he looks more like yet another privileged, American educated, mealy-mouthed, neo-liberal, New Labour twat togged up like some Regency dandy in a Saville Row suit that probably cost more money than a person like me is able to earn in a couple of months or more.

    Beauty is in the "I" of the beholder.

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  18. "Can we ever win?" - Well Iceland has a lesbian PM now. That's a start surely?

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  19. Truthsayer.

    LOL. I think you just won comment of the year.

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  20. Rachida Dati's really fit,
    she's fit but my gosh,
    don't she know it!

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  21. Yes yes yes I totally agree! The Thatcher-esque style of dressing in this country undermines the fact that women are slowly but surely getting equal rights. If we're expected to dress like men and condemned for dressing like the women we are how CAN we win?!

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  22. You seem to recoil from your conclusion, there is the faintest whiff of burning, or at least definitely should-not-read, book there. What exactly are you advocating people do with this? What is the critique FOR, other than your having fun writing the post buy facebook fans

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    ReplyDelete

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