When Theresa May delivered her Brexit speech wearing that God-awful tartan suit FOR THE SECOND TIME, I had a few burning questions. Did she come as Johnny Rotten or Uncle Bulgaria? Is she engineering Brexit or off to see the Bay City Rollers? Is that Boris Johnson hiding up one of her inexplicably wide trouser legs?
Only then I read a few articles about how dreadful it was that we were all judging our PM on her fashion choices and not her ability to run the country. My first response was to feel ashamed: what a sorry excuse for a woman I must be because I can’t recite May’s entire voting record, but I do know that she once wore a pair of leopard print kitten heels. How could I possibly believe in equality and then reduce this powerful (albeit unlikable) female to a mere clothes horse? I should be taking her seriously, focusing on her policies and leadership qualities. After all, we wouldn’t dream of discussing something as trivial as fashion if Theresa were a man.
I mean, alright, we’ve talked about sex with pigs and how undignified someone looks eating a bacon sandwich, but fashion? No, that reprehensible kind of ridicule is only reserved for the fairer sex. How sexist we must all be for commenting on the clothes (imagine!) of a person in power. By the way, it’s fine to retweet gifs of Boris Johnson dangling off a zip wire, but if we mention that Theresa May wore Vivienne Westwood we’re definitely a closet misogynist.
Then there’s the issue of gender appropriation. Theresa May’s female so she must like fashion and because most people think her tartan suit was pretty hideous she obviously fails at being a woman. But hang on a minute, didn’t we all laugh at David Cameron when he got Aston Villa confused with West Ham?
I’m going to be honest: I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the media writing about Theresa May’s new hair-cut or her leather trousers or that statement necklace. Hear me out.
First of all, it’s the implication that fashion and politics are mutually exclusive. That we can’t be interested in both Theresa’s wardrobe AND her 12-Point Plan. (I could understand if there was no mention of her Brexit strategy anywhere in the media, but it was just as well covered as her ‘brop’.) It’s as though fashion is a dirty word, not ‘serious’ enough for the world of politics. Well actually, I’m a woman in my twenties who is interested in current affairs, but I also like to leaf through a copy of Vogue from time to time. Do I care about Theresa May’s Brexit strategy (or lack of)? Yes, of course. Was I interested to know which designer was responsible for the tartan monstrosity? Also yes. And I’m not ashamed of that.
Lots of the articles I read shouted about double standards and made the point that the media never discusses what male politicians wear. Well, that’s probably because male politicians wear Boring Suit followed by Very Similar Boring Suit followed by Slight Variation of Boring Suit. If Nigel Farage did Paxman wearing a novelty Star Wars tie we’d talk about it – but he hasn’t so we don’t. One of the things I think is wonderful about being a woman is that we can express ourselves through fashion in a way men (usually) can’t. If you ask me that’s something to be celebrated, not ignored. I don’t think talking about Theresa May’s clothes is belittling her or not taking her seriously enough. It’s the opposite. We CAN be interested in both her clothes and her politics. And frankly, if I’d spent £1,190 on a suit I’d be pissed off if the Daily Mail DIDN’T tell everyone.
Secondly – and I know this might be an unpopular opinion – but I think in this instance people are crying wolf. Yes, sexism and discrimination are alive and well. Yes, the media needs to change the way it reports about women in general. Yes, there are lots of barriers we need to overcome and we shouldn’t be afraid to speak out against things we think are important.
But honestly, I don’t think writing about Theresa May’s clothes is an issue of sexism, and I think by making it one we’re in danger of detracting from the real problems.
It remains to be seen of course, but so far I don’t think May has been getting a raw deal from the media because she’s a woman. She’s been getting a raw deal from the media because she’s a bit shit. Politicians – whatever their gender – are regularly the object of ridicule. We’re a nation of people who love taking the piss out of our leaders and side-stepping bigger issues to focus on qualities that are pretty irrelevant, probably to distract ourselves from the fact that that we’re a Victory Gin away from living in a real-life 1984. Of course Theresa May’s Vivienne Westwood suit has nothing to do with what she’s like as a leader, but neither does Donald Trump’s penchant for ‘watersports’ (and I don’t mean that he’s a dab-hand at synchronised diving.)
My concern is that by crying ‘sexist’ at every opportunity we’re reducing the impact of the word in its real application. Let’s talk about the real issues instead. Let’s about Brock Turner, or the ‘p***y grabbing’ comments, or why there still aren’t enough women in powerful positions.
At the same time, let’s talk about fashion if we want to (and if we don’t want to, let’s not.) But let’s not attach negative connotations to something which for so many women (and men) represents freedom and expression.
And Theresa, I dislike you quite intensely and I think the tartan was a mistake, but you wore over-the-knee high boots to meet the Queen and for that at least, I salute you.
You’ve still fucked it for us though.