Boobs, thighs and pricey pants: Why women in politics can't wear what they please.

By Jo Fox

In her weekly  ABC column, Jo Fox rounds up the news and views that might have flown under your radar

This week, she asks: Is it ever okay for a woman in politics to wear pricey slacks? What about kitten heels — or cleavage?

And was it fair that Wonder Woman was sacked as UN Ambassador for Women and Girls?

‘Noticed and discussed’: Bitter chocolate leather pants.

Should a Prime Minister wear leather trousers? Or rather, should a Prime Minister wear £995 ($A1,700) leather trousers?

That’s the big news this week in the UK after former education minister, Nicky Morgan, criticised British Prime Minister Theresa May for being out of touch with ordinary voters after she appeared in a Sunday Times photo shoot wearing “bitter chocolate” leather trousers.

The swipe quickly spiralled into a full blown public spat, with Mrs Morgan being disinvited to further meetings at No 10 Downing Street.

“I don’t have leather trousers. I don’t think I’ve ever spent that much on anything apart from my wedding dress,” Mrs Morgan told The Times, adding that the trousers had been “noticed and discussed” in Tory circles.

The PM’s joint chief of staff, Fiona Hill, then disinvited Mrs Morgan to No 10 meetings in the future via a fellow male MP, whereupon Mrs Morgan found out about the message and texted back to Ms Hill:

“If you don’t like something I have said or done, please tell me directly. No man brings me to any meeting,” she wrote.

“Your team invites me. If you don’t want my views in future meetings you need to tell them.”

Ms Hill replied: “Well, he just did. So there!”

Mrs Morgan has become a prominent pro-Remainer since the UK referendum and has also disagreed with the PM’s desire to reintroduce grammar schools.

You can’t promote fashion if you’re a woman in charge.

I imagine the PM does not actually sit at home relaxing in leather trousers — in fact, I’d like to meet a person who does.

But wearing UK designer Amanda Wakely trousers (along with other British brands) is likely an attempt to promote local fashion talent — which is exactly what Samantha Cameron, the wife of former UK prime minister David Cameron, and First Lady Michelle Obama have done, and been lauded for.

It appears you can promote fashion if you’re the consort but not if you’re the woman in charge.

And, in a clear double standard, David Cameron and Donald Trump’s far more expensive Saville Row and Brioni suits (respectively), make for very little comment.

Theresa May is not unused to sartorial commentary. Many words have been written over the years about her fondness for a leopard print kitten heel (racy!).

In fact, leather trouser-gate follows double boob-gate earlier this year, with Ms May being accused of distracting the nation during then-Chancellor Osborne’s budget address with visible cleavage in a (double racy!) red dress.


Or, as Twitter user Darren Smith said: “George Osborne cleverly has asked Theresa May to get her tits out to distract from a dull boring budget. #sexsales #clever #honeywiththemoney.”

Ms May was later accused of bringing sexy back — again — via an Aztec-inspired black and flesh-toned dress, which gave the optical illusion that she was flashing more than her critics thought proper.

But then it has always been difficult to believe that any woman in power can walk around with a pair of functioning mammaries.

When your cleavage is undeniable.

Hillary Clinton in 2007 made headlines for displaying a barely perceptible hint of cleavage, leaving the Washington Post to say of the low cut top: “…there it [the cleavage] was. Undeniable.”

Absolutely undeniable. So it appears not only does a female politician have cleavage, but also some women in power can give good rack.

Of course, Hillary Clinton’s wardrobe choice — the pantsuit — is her and many other professional women’s attempt to make no statement at all about their wardrobe.

As a young female political staffer I nearly always wore a safe pantsuit to disguise, well, that I was a young female political staffer.

In Hillary’s case, it transformed into a ‘thing’, with Hillary-supporting women across the United States turning up to vote in the election dressed in her favoured clobber.

And, at a ‘Get Out the Vote’ concert in support of Mrs Clinton in Cleveland, Beyonce and her dancers performed in pantsuits. Some of which were also deemed too expensive.

Not even female superheroes can wear what they like (and hold down a job)

Even Wonder Woman is not immune to criticism of her fashion choices. The fictional superhero was this week dropped from her role as UN Ambassador for girls and women after just two months.

Wonder Woman’s sacking follows a petition, signed by more than 44,000 people, which argued her “overtly sexualised image” and “shimmery, thigh-baring bodysuit” made her an inappropriate choice for a UN role promoting gender equity. Instead, the petition called on the UN to appoint a non-fictional woman..

Which is difficult to argue with of course, except that the next Ambassador will inevitably get in strife for showing too much thigh, boob, hair as well.

Indeed, in 2016, what women wear remains as relevant as ever.

As former UK Chancellor Ken Clarke said of Theresa May’s trouser-gate:

“I feel sorry for women in politics. I’m glad to say men in politics don’t have great news stories about what they are wearing.”

Jo Fox is a former ALP political advisor, including on the status of women. She is currently on maternity leave, learning how to fumble a newborn and looking at the gendered world with tired eyes.

This post originally appeared on ABC News.

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