Why are people still talking about Theresa May’s clothes?
Should probably just focus on how she runs the country to be honest
In case you’ve missed it, Theresa May was recently appointed the second female Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, after her rival Angela Leadsom withdrew from the race after facing backlash about comments she made regarding May not being a mother.
Over the course of Theresa May’s political career, during which she was the longest serving Home secretary and the MP for Maidenhead, her clothing choices have attracted a lot of media attention. This, unsurprisingly, has carried on now she is Prime Minister, perhaps on an even bigger scale.
Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised (even if we are disappointed) that this is how we talk about female politicians. It happens to Michelle Obama, to Nicola Sturgeon, to Hillary Clinton, to the first female PM, Margaret Thatcher. Newspapers scrutinised her fashion sense, peppering articles about her with references to her handbag or how she did her hair. May is already being compared to Thatcher, purely because they have both been spotted carrying handbags during their time in power or that they both wore blue two-piece suits.
Does this happen to male Prime Ministers? Not usually. Despite the fact the number of female MPs is increasing, the experience you have in politics if you are a woman is still vastly different to that of a man. There’s also clearly a stark contrast in the media’s coverage of males and females.
On the day Theresa entered 10 Downing Street in her new job role, the papers were awash with articles on where she got her outfit from, or criticising her style for being too ‘daring’. Articles sprang up from fashion advisers, recommending she takes style inspiration from Kate Middleton, almost as if the outcome of Brexit negotiations would depend on if she wore a dress or trouser suit.
Predictably, the Sun and the Daily Mail were the worst offenders, the latter even going as far as to follow her to her Sunday church, to comment on her attire. Yes, it probably would get boring if the papers constantly talked about what David Cameron wore when he was in office (after all, how many variations on a navy suit can you get?). But I’m getting equally bored with hearing about how May is “risqué” for daring to wear knee high leather boots to meet the Queen. So what?
Prize twat Piers Morgan couldn’t refrain from mentioning her footwear either, saying “She’s worn those heels specifically so we will talk about them”. Or maybe, Piers, she just likes leopard print kitten heels. Maybe she doesn’t dress to impress people who should really be focusing on how well she does her job.
When the initial leadership battle between May and Leadsom was announced, one cartoonist even created a piece depicting the two women fighting over a handbag. Thatcher didn’t have to face quite as much fascination towards her fashion choices. Have we really regressed 40 years?
The media really ought to know better. Stuff like the cartoon above just reinforces gender stereotypes of women being pitted against each other, whilst being catty. Every time the media mentions her shoes rather than her actions, I can’t help but feel there is some surprise that a woman can be interested in both fashion and politics. It’s not just the media at fault, though. Recently, Labour leadership hopeful Owen Smith vowed to “smash Theresa May back on her heels”. For a man who supposedly wants to run the increasingly diverse Labour party, it’s more than a bit hypocritical.
In fact, this isn’t just a female issue. Jeremy Corbyn is regularly mocked for his appearance, most notably by former PM David Cameron who said: “I think she’d (his mother) look across the dispatch box and she’d say: put on a proper suit, do up your tie and sing the national anthem.” However, in this case it’s a question of snobbery, not the idea that what he wears means he can’t possibly be interested in politics.
Of course, women shouldn’t be exempt from criticism when in roles such as this, but at least criticise her actions as Prime Minister or appalling voting record, not whether or not she wears the wrong kind of outfit whilst doing her job.
Theresa herself says it best: “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”.