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questions of colour

It is with great trepidation that here I add to the troubling amount of literature already devoted to the state of female politicians’ attire. Much as I feel the issue is given far more time than it deserves – which is, of course, none – after recently seeing a certain female head of state in a bright orange suit jacket, I feel compelled to add my bit.

No, this will not be a diatribe about the injustices levelled against women in the political arena in comparison with their male counterparts. Nor, it should hardly be necessary to add, will this be a critique of said orange jacket (for that you could check out the Daily Telegraph, which thoughtfully wrote a list of tips for the owner of the orange jacket; I’m sure they would be sad to note that the tip to “opt for autumnal colours” rather than brighter ones went unheeded).

Say the argument was to be made that female politicians should stick to darker tones, as do male politicians (though the latter admittedly has much less choice in the matter). There would be an outcry over this from certain quarters who would see it as curtailing the women’s right for self-expression. Their right to be taken seriously whatever they chose to wear. A large part of me supports this stance, and vehemently. Yet I wonder if there should be another way at considering this situation.

Suspend your disbelief for a second and image that a male politician felt that a powder blue suit best suited him for that day in parliament. Or perhaps he felt that a colourful paisley shirt was the right choice for a day out meeting his electorate. No matter how well these garments set him to looking his best, he would certainly be ridiculed. Now a female politician on the other hand, could get away with wearing a piece with some colour  (granted it suited her, of course). In this respect, the women in parliament have more leeway than do the men.

But it seems like this very freedom is more of a double-edged sword.

The first, and most obvious, edge is that with more scope for choice, in the eyes of the media at least, the women will have more scope to fail. And so, will be under far more scrutiny and receive far more criticism (and all this without even considering the fact that historically women have been judged solely upon the merits of their clothes anyway).

The second side is this: by wearing colour, women will necessarily stand out in that sea of black and grey. Unfortunately, while women are still drastically underrepresented in government and should be looking to increase their visibility – so to speak – this must not be the way to do it. This is certainly not to say that female politicians go out of their way to wear clothes that will get them noticed – one can only suspect that they do not.  However, their clothes will produce that effect regardless, if they do choose to wear colour.

And what do we associate with colour? Joy, frivolity, spontaneity, a happy-go-lucky attitude…hardly qualities we would want as a matter of course in our elected representatives. While these associations may only be unconscious, with the fight against sexual discrimination not nearly over, women cannot afford to be giving their critics easy points.

If it is thought appropriate that male politicians wear merely those shades on the duller end of the spectrum, then why should women be any different? Why should female politicians be granted licence in the matter of colour? Colours allow us to express ourselves, are more attractive, sure. But as democratically elected representatives, a politician’s primary responsibility is not to express him- or herself. And it certainly is not to look attractive.

(Image credit: 1 [Gary Ramage].)

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