It seems that men in politics are increasingly judged by their appearances. Pictures of David Cameron looking tubby on a beach in Cornwall and stories of his quest to cut carbs are commonplace in tabloids and broadsheets alike. Last week saw more of the same from across the pond, where it was reported that the Republicans are on a collective mission to shed the excess pounds in anticipation of an election campaign against Hilary Clinton. This obsession with image is not a new phenomenon; women who choose a career in politics are all too familiar with their ideas being undermined by their fashion sense. For men, being scrutinised by the superficial public eye for how they dress and what they weigh is a relatively new experience.
Initially, upon seeing men under a fraction of the scrutiny that has plagued women in high-powered careers since the dawn of mass media, one cannot help but feel a little smug. George Osborne’s bad haircut inspired a mini fist pump; Ed Miliband looking unattractive as he struggles to eat a bacon sandwich is cause for nothing short of delight. This feeling is short lived however, as the bigger picture emerges and it becomes evident that for everyone the situation is not getting better, but worse.
Gendered differences are evident in the judgement politicians face regarding their appearance. It is no exaggeration to say that the scrutiny men find themselves under is only a tiny fraction of that which is faced by women, and more often than not, it appears in a fundamentally different form. When directed at men, these comments are usually made for comic effect, usually in the context of a panel quiz show, and seldom detract from their political views or endeavours. Their female counterparts however, find their appearances to be a matter of public concern – appearing in national newspapers that find news stories in the utterly mundane. This problematic media portrayal is a contributing factor to the lack of respect and opportunities afforded to female politicians on a daily basis.
The only possible positive outcome from an indiscriminately superficial media is that scrutinising men for their appearances provokes a reaction that highlights the unjust and shallow habits of the mass media. However, this in itself is terribly exasperating, acting as a frustrating reminder that society is more concerned with the views of men than of women, who ultimately have the power to make significant change.
If this is a move towards equal opportunities, it is travelling in entirely the wrong direction. Why is it that rather than lessening the importance of image, specifically in a sphere where it is of little to no concern, in an effort to improve gender equality, society instead allows itself to regress and in essence, to become indiscriminately awful to everybody?
Feminism is better and stronger than wishing the ills of the patriarchy on society as a whole and must never stoop to such a level. Changing sexist attitudes, particularly those ingrained powerful institutions, may often feel like an impossible task, but slow progress is infinitely more important in achieving the ultimate aim of total equality than any sort of tit for tat approach. Everybody knows that two wrongs do not make a right.