Is talking about frocks better than talking about politics?

Mail on Sunday article on Nicola Sturgeon's outfits
Mail on Sunday article on Nicola Sturgeon’s outfits

I picked up a copy of the Mail on Sunday this week. In my defence it was the only English paper available and it was free. As ever I was surprised and twisted with liberal outrage at what constitutes news in this organ.

A particular favourite was this article about SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon.

Why they’re not calling Scotland’s First Lady a ‘Krankie’ any more: Nicola Sturgeon is living proof women become sexier with age, income and office 

For non-UK readers the reference to “a Krankie” is likely to be particularly confusing. The Krankies were a husband and wife team of comedians in the 1980s where the wife dressed up as a school boy and behaved badly while the husband pretended to try and keep her in check. (It was not necessarily a high point of British light entertainment). In other words this is a fairly offensive insult for Sturgeon.

Why this article interested me was that it relates to some of the work that I’ve been doing recently with Julia Yates on appearance and attractiveness in career. In this article Sturgeon is first berated and then applauded for the way that she looks. This discussion mainly serves to draw attention away from her politics and focus it onto her gender and as such opens her up to a new form of attack that would not be used on a male politician (see for example this article about Boris Johnson where scruffiness is turned into one of his virtues).

Where I think that the work that Julia and I has been going is to try and recognise that attractiveness and appearance are important to career. This doesn’t necessarily mean that we think that this should be the case. We suggest a number of responses that career professionals can make to this state of affairs – including opening it up to critique. I think that the Mail on Sunday’s article on Sturgeon is a good opportunity to do that. For contrast it is worth looking at how Caroline Flint was treated by the Mail for being too sexy.

I think that these kinds of articles offer educators some good opportunities to open up issues of career, attractiveness, gender and politics. We need to be talking about what the unspoken rules of appearance and attractiveness in career are, but also about who is making and policing these rules and why they are doing it. I think that this will inevitably lead us to walking a difficult line between complying with social expectations to enable career advancement and critiquing and questioning them. However, I think that career education is a good place to address some of these challenging issues.

Meanwhile I’ll be basing my vote on something other than who wears the best trouser suit.

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