Looking Good, Dressing Well Not OK?

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When Britain’s Conservative Party elected Theresa May as its leader and next Prime Minister of UK following the Brexit Vote in end June, several media reports commented on her choice of fancy designer shoes. Such stories implied that wearing nice-looking and fancy shoes was somehow incongruent with being a woman Prime Minister.

During and after the Democratic National Convention last month in the US, some snide comments were made about the fancy dresses and new-age tops worn by Hillary Clinton. These comments were meant to put down the woman who had broken the glass ceiling of Presidential elections in America. If you dress too well, you are looking pretty as a woman; and that is not proper for those women in public life?

A week ago, Yuriko Koike was elected the first woman mayor of Tokyo, defeating her opponent supported by the Prime Minister. She was called a ‘caked up’ lady by some opponents, as if unfit to govern the largest city of Japan. When she announced she would work for a new Tokyo “where both men and women can shine”, some reports denigrated her as a ‘decked-up doll’.

What is it that bugs people — mostly men, I guess — when women leaders look good and dress well? Why should wearing fancy shoes, putting on make-up, mascara and lipstick, polishing nails, etc. be seen as inappropriate for women in public life?

I am reminded of a story some forty years ago. Tribal women and men of Shramik Sangathana (labourers’organisation) in Dhule (Maharashtra, India) were marching to protest against ill-treatment by forest officials. A student of a local college asked a tribal woman in the march why she was so well dressed, as if she was going to a fair. Pat came the response from the woman: “This march is very important to our lives; hence I have put on my best saree and make-up.”

Then, as now, derogatory comments about women dressing well and looking good in public life continue. Recently, comments about Minister Smriti Irani and BSP leader Mayawati in India have carried similar accusations. Dismissing such ‘cheap’ remarks about women leaders in public life, the second-term mayor of Surabaya (Indonesia), Tri Rismaharini, is going about her job of leading the development of her city ‘looking good and dressing well’. “If I do not feel good about myself, how will I work towards the good of others”? she is said to have remarked.

Dress well, look good and be an effective leader! Women show the way!!

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