Every once in a while, an incident washes up our shores where the dominant social order reflects in our social behaviour. Recently when the British PM, Theresa May met Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon, the front page of Daily Mail read ‘Never mind Brexit, who won Legs-it’. It didn’t take long for the media to swerve in the familiar path of misogyny. The focus was on their nude stockings, red nail paint, pointed stilettos and crossed legs. The paper indulged in an ogling spree, calling them the finest weapons at their physical arsenal.
‘Finest weapons at their command? Those pins!’
The article referred to one pair of legs as ‘long extremities, demurely arranged’ and the other pair as ‘flirty, tantalizingly crossed….a direct attempt at seduction.’ Poor Theresa and Nicola! They had to use their legs instead of brains to resolve the complicated Brexit issue. Yes, Theresa May has legs. So did Tony Blair. Even Obama. Trump has legs too.
Let’s play fair. The article was written by Sarah Vine, a woman journalist who defended by saying it was a ‘fun piece’. If David Cameron can be mocked for looking portly, why cry ‘sexism’ when the shoe is on the other foot? Equality, after all, cuts both ways, she asked.
Well, the columnist has her right to pen a ‘fun piece’ and indulge in what she finds funny. And some scrutiny of public figures is natural, even expected and overlooked. But I doubt if the paper would joke about David Cameron’s paunch or a receding hairline on the front page featuring a strategic meeting. This is not to wish that Cameron should have been treated the same way but the fact that he wasn’t smacks of duplicity.
Anyway, this is not the first. In keeping with the double standards, the US Presidential campaign was a text book case of misogyny. Little surprise that during the campaign, top sellers included misogynist goodies with lines like, ‘Hillary will go down faster than Bill’s pants. Trump that Bitch. Good Luck Hillary, don’t blow the job.’ In addition to that, cable news made jokes about how Hillary’s voice made men cross their legs. And what’s more, Reddit groups repeatedly laughed about Clinton supporters voting with their vaginas. Flip the coin and wonder what Trump supporters voted with, eh?
It’s an unending series. I remember when French girl, Marion Bartoli climbed through the crowds to hug her father after winning the title, a Radio 5 live commentator thought it was the right moment to say, “Do you think Bartoli’s dad told her when she was little, ‘you are never going to be a looker, you’ll never be a Sharapova, so you have to be scrappy and fight’?” Rather nauseatingly, the commentator didn’t have anything to say about Andy Murray’s face, but he was deeply disturbed by Bartoli’s looks. As it happens, social media took it a step ahead. A blogger taunted, calling Bartoli ‘too ugly to rape’. Suddenly her accomplishment paled in comparison to her appearance.
The sub-text was obvious. Sexism.
It was same old ditty, albeit with different lyrics when Serena Williams won a title. She was body shamed for showing her nipples. In fact a twitter poll asked how many saw Serena get 'hard' while playing and 71% responded in the affirmative.
Whether it’s Serena Williams, Sania Mirza or Smriti Irani, every time a powerful woman makes a point, it disturbs the dominant social order. Rather inadvertently, successful women get shamed socially in order to keep them in their ‘place’. And hell hath no fury, if a woman achiever like Kangana Ranaut asserts herself. Then she’s playing a ‘woman’s card’. Bring on her periods, her past affairs and tell her to leave the kitchen if she can’t face the heat.
All said, it’s a fact that women are judged for their appearances. Both, by men and women. It’s so deep seated that we don’t even realize how it becomes a part of our psyche. More often than not, each time a woman achiever asserts her position, the dominant social order comes into play by pronouncing judgment. Sometimes in the name of safe-guarding community interests. Sometimes in the name of making jokes. And sometimes in the name of free speech. Excellence, as Oprah says, is the best deterrent.
Photo Courtesy: Guardian News
Photo Courtesy: Guardian News