‘Hot or not’ for female politicians

// 26 March 2009

The reality is that the appearance of women in politics is under constant scrutiny. But it’s rarely so explicitly spelled out as by Spanish newspaper 20 Minutos, which carried out an internet survey asking readers to rank the world’s female politicians on their ability on their “beauty”.

Ultimately, women are already disempowered in politics. You only have to look at the data on the percentage of women in parliaments around the world to see that women’s representation is lagging dramatically – and that doesn’t even address the underrepresentation of women in cabinet level/ministerial level positions. Women who have won power have usually fought an uphill struggle to get there.

The UK is 51st on that list, with not even 20% of Commons seats held by women. There are only two ethnic minority women MPs.

So, what those MPs really, really need is some Daily Mail journalist analysing how he doesn’t find them attractive. Right. And, of course, it’s a good excuse to post photos of loads of female politicians from across the world in bikinis (or, in one case, apparently topless with Photoshopped out nipples).

It’s full of gems like this:

Miss Harman, while undoubtedly feminine, goes to great lengths to appear non-sexy. She would regard it as fatal to play up that side of things – it would undermine her credibility. That is true of many of our Westminster women. They have drunk deep at the feminist well. Most of them used to read Spare Rib long before they looked at Hansard.

The story even stoops so low as to criticise the looks of Gwyneth Dunwoody, who died last year.

Other choice comments: patronisingly saying that Theresa May is a “bright parliamentarian” (would he call any male MP “bright” like that?); speculating over Ruth Kelly’s swimwear; describing the female politicians who were listed in the “ranking” as “gamine”… really, there’s so much wrong with this story it’s hard to know where to start.

Comments From You

amy2 // Posted 26 March 2009 at 4:41 pm

It’s so obvious and common when men rate any powerful woman on looks and put them under the microscope it’s becoming ironic sexism now as opposed to ‘not bein’ sexist, just sayin’.

We’re never gonna get anywhere in the world, are we? (Ah well, at least women are so interconnected now :P) Maybe powerful men don’t realise the LACK of respect we have for them – if they got where they are by willy- swinging and attending those extra meetings in lap dance clubs.

I abhor that piece of crap newspaper.

Jane // Posted 26 March 2009 at 4:43 pm

Drunk deep at the feminist well!!!!

Hang on wasn’t it the Mail who got all hot and flustered over the fact that Jacqui Smith showed a nano-glimpse of cleavage a while back? Cue spluttering Chomondely-Warner type pomposities about Not Being Taken Seriously If You Showed Any Flesh.

Clare // Posted 26 March 2009 at 6:02 pm

Haha look at Quentin Letts!

(Can’t believe he decided to put his picture alongside that article.. wtf?)

ERJ145 Artemis // Posted 26 March 2009 at 6:52 pm

Another new low for this disgusting little rag.. Needless to say, the author has the countenance of a melted wellington boot and half the wit, if his writing is anything to go by.

‘Drunk deep at the feminist well’ eh?

If only it were deep enough to drown nasty little men like this..

Victoria // Posted 26 March 2009 at 7:52 pm

How incredibly depressing. And did anyone else think it was odd that the article was in the ‘Femail’ section, which I always assumed was aimed at women?

As if that wasn’t enough to contend with; yesterday I was watching PMQ’s, which Harriet Harman took in Brown’s absence, and afterwards some idiot Tory MP being interviewed called Harman “shrill and hysterical”. Well, we’ve never heard that description for a woman before(!)

Sarah // Posted 26 March 2009 at 8:05 pm

This is truly awful.

No wonder women are put off entering politics. You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t If you make an effort, look “attractive” and “sexy” you get letched over by the tabloids and noone takes you seriously.

If you do the opposite you’re criticised and have hurtful comments made about you and your body. And you’re patronised either way.

This is so so sad :(

Meg M // Posted 26 March 2009 at 8:24 pm


I am horrifed.

And for once, somewhat speechless. I’m far too incensed to form an adequate response right now!

Sophia // Posted 26 March 2009 at 8:37 pm

Quentin Letts is a vile little troll of a man. His inadequacy in the face of these (literally) powerful women is embarrassingly palpable. Keep your frustrations to yourself please Quentin.

Jennifer Drew // Posted 26 March 2009 at 10:38 pm

Ah but women have achieved full human status so we no longer need feminism. Just look at how the Daily Male focused on all these female politicians. The article proves female politicians are not politicians but just sexualised commodities. So, Daily Male given women have achieved full human status I avidly await the second instalment of your misogynist article wherein female readers will be treated to photographs of male politicians captured displaying their ‘sexual assets’ – and no the photos do not need any computer enhancement. Because obviously male politicians will be ‘hot and sexually appealing to women – unlike UK’s female MPs (according to misogynist male journalist).

As for 20 Mintos I wonder whether this newspaper will conduct a second internet survey asking respondents to vote for physically attractive, youthful and slim male politicians.

After all physical ‘beauty’ is far more important than whether or not a male or female politician is intelligent and capable of putting their constituents before their own ambitions and career.

Victoria // Posted 27 March 2009 at 12:25 am

“Harriet Harman, who covered for the absent Gordon Brown at Prime Minister’s Questions today, is always turned out smartly. Today she was in a pinstripe jacket – V. butch.”

No, Quentin. V. formal. It’s customary to dress in formal attire at these events. I doubt that any of the ‘prettiest politicos’ on the shortlist would turn up to Prime Minister’s Question Time in her bikini. Bikinis being, you know, for the beach.

“Miss Harman…would regard it as fatal to play up that side of things – it would undermine her credibility. That is true of many of our Westminster women.”

Goodness. Why on earth would she assume that her style of dress might undermine her credibility? It’s not as if a Daily Mail columnist is going to come along and class Theresa May’s leopard-print shoes as the most noteworthy thing about her. As we all know, female politicans are judged on their ideas and their contributions to politics, never on their dress!

Anne Onne // Posted 27 March 2009 at 1:39 am

She would regard it as fatal to play up that side of things – it would undermine her credibility. That is true of many of our Westminster women. They have drunk deep at the feminist well.

As opposed to perhaps being called out by your own pathetic excuse for bigotry-made-prose that they trying to be too sexy, or not being serious as the men, or that women are all airheads or sluts? Because the Mail themselves don’t spend their time shaming women for being too sexy? Because thinking women who are ‘sexy’ or dress/act in a remotely sexual way (show a tiny bit of skin are dumb and not taking things seriously, is EXACTLY what people like you do. Because if you see a woman as remotely sexual, you suddenly lose all respect for her other aspects once she’s off the ‘frigid, but smart’ pedestal and onto the ‘fuckable’ pile, she’s not to be taken seriously. Because she’d then be considered to have no respect for herself, or taking feminism too far (I hear the Pussycat dolls are doing that these days…*headdesk*).

Remember all the furore when Hillary Clinton showed some cleavage once? Or when some politician here wore leopard print shoes? Whenever women express even slightly ‘sexual’ dress they are punished.

Lauren O // Posted 27 March 2009 at 7:57 am

It wasn’t long ago that a fool somewhere on the Internet told me that it was ridiculous to say that women politicians are judged on their looks or that they have to adhere to different visual standards than men. He didn’t personally find any female politicians attractive and considered that to be the end of the argument. He couldn’t imagine that people would judge women politicians on being too sexual or nor sexual enough; he just dismissed them all as ugly old ladies.

I kind of wish I could find him again and show him this, but that would involve interacting with him, which would decidedly NOT be worth the trouble.

John // Posted 27 March 2009 at 8:44 am

Before getting too depressed , it should be borne in mind that a list such as this probably wouldn’t have been possible a generation ago simply because there were way fewer women active in politics worldwide . I don’t for a moment condone the survey and the data shows that there is still a long way to go in increasing female representation in politics , but at least there is progress to report .

It’s ironic that the survey should originate in a Spanish magazine – Spain is the only country in the World where the majority of the cabinet is female – though , presumably that story won’t feature too heavily in the Mail .

Rosie // Posted 27 March 2009 at 10:58 am

Yeah, I love how he makes it seem like it’s feminism (rather than people like him) that is responsible for women not being taken seriously if they are ‘attractive’.

Kez // Posted 27 March 2009 at 12:30 pm

It’s so stupid, it’s almost funny. Almost.

“Miss Harman, while undoubtedly feminine, goes to great lengths to appear non-sexy.”

As opposed to, say, slinking into Parliament with a pout and a flash of leg, casting come-hither glances at the Speaker. Yes, I’m sure that would do wonders for her credibility.

Anne Onne // Posted 27 March 2009 at 2:13 pm

It wasn’t long ago that a fool somewhere on the Internet told me that it was ridiculous to say that women politicians are judged on their looks…

Someone wrong? On the internet? In all seriousness the fact he didn’t see them as possibly being complete people and only as withered old hags says just as much about him as if he were judging their ‘hotness’. Men are seen as people, allowed to be old, and allowed to have their own sexuality (provided it’s heterosexual, mostly) without it being seen as compromising their seriousness.

I get your point, John, but it’s not that great a trade. Women not being allowed to work (though many did, even when the idea was that women really shouldn’t) has simply been replaced with women being allowed to work, so long as they play second fiddle. Likewise women are allowed to express their sexuality more than they used to, but along with that came the pressure and increased objectification. More women may have managed to get into the cabinet, but if they’re constantly shown a lack of respect and treated like objects, they’re not really much better off than in the bad old days.

lindsey spilman // Posted 28 March 2009 at 8:52 pm

This is a side effect of all the post feminist reclaim your femininity stuff. Those feminists who decided looking sexy to men was more powerful then wearing the practical and smart clothes worn by men have now made it expected that women pander to the male eye. In a way going back to the times before feminism. You only have to look at how much abuse any woman in the public eye gets in the press when she dresses in a way that conveys status and power(like men’s formal wear does), Hillary Clinton was mocked for her trousers and accused of being manly. Men compare women to each other all the time; this creates animosity and rivalry amongst women. It causes women to retaliate by trying to look better then other women so they get better ratings from men. If women had the chance to do the same to men, it would not have the same effect because most of the things that are seen as attractive in men are things that are easy to obtain even for women! The reason for this is men’s only goal is to divide up women, by making them in all consuming competition with each other to achieve none achievable goals. Do you think that women would be successful in such few numbers if most did not spend so much of there life with there head in magazines, shopping for man pleasing items, envying other women and tearing them down and running around after men. Pursuit of false femininity keeps women busy and stressed. It is not surprising that politicians do less of this stuff, if they did they would be too busy and stressed to have ever had the time to get anywhere in life. Femininity and sex appeal are demanded from women by men. That is why it is not liberating or empowering.

And anyway i think the power suit look is hot!

Karen // Posted 29 March 2009 at 6:29 pm

I made a point of reading this article in the Wally Times (sorry, daily mail) to see if it was as predictable, sexist and shallow as I thought it was going to be. Yup, it was. I got stick at college for looking like an engineer instead of a supermodel on a (get this) engineering course. Shock horror! Whatever our trade, the moment men feel threatened, they go for the looks to try and put us down a peg. It didnt work and I wiped the floor with them but it’s a common sign of fear of us. One day when we get a female-run national (not Rebekah Wade either) we may have half a chance but morons like Murdoch, Mckenzie etc. unfortunately have the monopoly at the moment.

kinnerfon // Posted 30 March 2009 at 12:12 am

AnneOnne hits every nail spot on =D

Anne, as to the last sentence (and paragraph really) … isn’t that what it’s about? Articles like that?

Just seemed to me like a giant scream ‘get back to the kitchen’.

Mary // Posted 31 March 2009 at 11:15 am

Those feminists who decided looking sexy to men was more powerful then wearing the practical and smart clothes worn by men have now made it expected that women pander to the male eye

Hey, way to blame other women. I’m not going to argue that what I choose to wear and how I present myself has no effect on the way that other women are perceived and I recognise that as a queer femme I benefit from some heterosexual privileges. But you don’t create equality by pillorying women who choose to dress in a particular way that you don’t like. There’s no feminist uniform.

Anna // Posted 31 March 2009 at 1:11 pm

Yeah, I’m a bit confused by that comment too. What’s wrong with ‘reclaiming my femininity’? Occasionally I do wear makeup and make an effort to dress ‘nice’, because I feel like doing so – to say I should do otherwise is just as restrictive as saying I should do so all the time to please men.

Jess McCabe // Posted 31 March 2009 at 1:41 pm

Hmm, I also find it kind of problematic. I think women are subject to such a huge amount of judgement and interogation of what we wear, how we look and our gender presentation, that it’s just not helpful to add to it at all.

Also, there’s always a flipside. I reckon that quite a lot of “feminine” stuff is looked down on because it’s associated with women not because there’s anything inherantly wrong with it. Likewise, a lot of “masculine” things/dress/presentation is lauded because it’s associated with men, so I think in some ways there’s something quite problematic about saying “oh, well, the way forward is just for all women to reject anything feminine”.

Really, in many ways I don’t think this is about clothes. It’s about how women are judged on the basis of appearance and adherance to a very particular way of presentation which our culture has coded as “this is attractive for men, this is a signal of sexual availability to men”. It’s about how women are both berated for not meeting these expectations and constantly judged against them, and also about how women’s sexuality and women’s bodies are seen as a sort of Achilles heel which can be used to undermine women in positions of power at any moment. (See the furore over Jacqui Smith, for example).

I was so annoyed that I actually forgot to mention it in the post, but I think the homophobic comments in the article are also very revealing about where this bullshit comes from…

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