It was Madeleine Albright who said that there is a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other, but she forgot to mention the gigantic reservation in the underworld specially set aside for women who constantly criticise each other.
Not a week goes by without a woman in the public eye being pilloried for something she said, or did, or wore, or ate. Some news websites (ok, one particular news website) thrives on shaming women for sweaty underarms, or ‘flaunting’ their unpainted toenails while going to the shop, or not wearing the right makeup, or too much makeup, or no makeup.
This week it was the turn of RTE Today’s Maura Derrane, who related on radio how she has been the victim of nasty personal comments about her appearance on the hit show. As a regular guest on the show I must admit more than a passing interest in what Maura had to say, mainly because I know that the level of attention to detail that goes into her hair and makeup is matched only by the attention it gets.
Maura’s outfits are scrutinised by viewers, many of whom will go out and buy the same items in an effort to look like their favourite TV host, but many more with the sole aim of saying hurtful things about her.
TV is a visual medium. That is a given. There’s no doubting that Daithi O Se wouldn’t have got the gig either if he looked like something that came out of a mincer, but for some reason it’s always double trouble for women.
On my first ever TV appearance, on another show, I went home and eagerly looked at the show’s twitter feed, only to find a much-retweeted screenshot of me compared with a pic of Tanya from Eastenders in the middle of a rant. It wasn’t a very flattering comparison, and nowadays I try and avoid the hashtags.
But, while social media gets much of the blame for this, I can tell you for a fact that it’s not the root cause of this.
Social media is less kind and it’s easier to get a cheap laugh from a couple of hundred facebook friends than from your dog when you’re talking to the TV at home alone, but the sad truth is that most of us are 100% guilty of making personal criticisms about the appearances of women in the public eye.
I know this because I’ve done it myself. I am more guilty than anyone of exclaiming to the television during a particularly grim report on a murder that Keelin Shanley should wear cobalt blue more often (it really suits her) or that I’m not mad about Sharon’s jacket and I think the previous night’s one was nicer.
Hillary Clinton and Angela Merkel, considerable political and policy brains, are pilloried over their pantsuits, while Melania Trump’s powder blue inauguration suit made her an instant style icon, giving her a credibility which, based on her buffoon of a husband, she doesn’t deserve.
We are missing the point, and it always seems to be with women that we do it.
My mother’s most regular remonstrance when I was a child, and her mother’s to her, was “don’t be so pass-remarkable”. It covers a multitude. It’s better than “if you haven’t got something nice to say, say nothing”, because even if you do have something nice to say, sometimes you still need to keep it buttoned. I’d add one more caveat – if you still want to say it – would you say it about a man?
Women in the public eye aren’t there as decorations, and they’re certainly not there to attract comments, however well intended, about their clothes, hair, makeup, weight, wrinkles or whatever other feature strikes your fancy. They’re there to do their jobs, so button it and let them get on with it.
From The Herald 02.02.18