What do shoes have to do with Brexit? Since the 23rd June the Brexit vote has highlighted how deeply divided our society is. An unexpected positive is that it has engaged the electorate in politics in a way no Prime Minister or political party has managed for decades. It has also brought us the country's second female Prime Minister; Theresa May. There is much debate over whether or not Mrs May will prove to be a good leader for the UK in the coming months and possibly years. However I became confused as to why Mrs May's choice of footwear was seen to be an important factor in the debate.
But a factor it is, as one look at all the major newspapers and networks reveals an outdated and I would argue, sexist attitude towards the new Prime Minister. The Evening Standard seems more interested in 'the most talked about shoe closet' than it is in Mrs May's qualities as a leader. The Telegraph has published a gallery of 'Theresa May's greatest footwear hits'. The day after it was confirmed Theresa May would be the new PM, The Sun's front page headline screamed 'Heel Boys' alongside a blown up picture of Mrs May's shoes. Even the BBC supposedly the bastion of unbiased reporting, decided to list 'shoes' as one of the 'seven notable things' we should know about the UKs next Prime Minister. I echo Susanna Reid on ITV's 'Good Morning Britain' breakfast show by asking 'Does this frustrate you?' The question was asked of Esther McVey, a former Conservative minister, but it might as well have been asked of the wider public in general and women in particular.
Does this frustrate you? Because it frustrates me a lot.
McVey suggested that Theresa May wears different shoes as a subtle way of giving away a little bit of her personality. Mrs May's former campaign manager Sam Olsen has also said that her shoes are part of her personality. Why should anyone care though? I would suggest that Theresa May's shoes highlight a very sad fact about our society. I'd like to think her choice in footwear is her way of thumbing this fact forcefully at journalists everywhere; not that many are listening or appear capable of understanding. The media are obsessed with her shoes because she's a woman. She probably couldn't care less. It's that simple. Perversely this could work in her favour, as the over-eager reporters and photographers training their cameras on her feet, forget to look at what she's doing in government.
The fact that Theresa May chooses to wear leopard print heels or bright red shoes to work has no bearing on her ability to do her job, but outdated dinosaurs like Piers Morgan, Rupert Murdoch and perhaps hundreds of other rich white misogynists think that it does. Sadly even journalists like Alice Cuffe help to compound the problem by devoting an entire article of debate to how Theresa May's shoes are as important to her power as her politics. Maybe they are. Maybe they're not. The point is, it doesn't matter and people shouldn't care.
I was disheartened to read that Sally Biddulph at ITV stated that an analysis of what women in the public eye wear is wrong, but it comes with the territory. Now that makes me angry. It should make every single man, woman and child living in the 21st Century angry. Sexism is tragically nothing new, and it can cut both ways. The CIPD recently reported comments from both male and female workers who are regularly on the receiving end of sexist remarks.
"As I plugged in my laptop under a meeting room table, a senior director said: 'While you're down there love...' I wish I had said something but I just sat there and fumed."
"I am the only male member of staff in our HR department, and I often hear a lot of comments from female staff discussing male colleagues in inappropriate ways. I often feel very uncomfortable by these lewd comments, but I am really unable to challenge this behaviour."
Anonymous Quotes Reported in 'People Management' July 2016
Until more people, men and women, stand up and say 'You can't say things like this," until more journalists and reporters have the guts to say 'no I won't write about Theresa May's shoes because they're irrelevant to her position', comments like the ones above will continue to be reported.
Jennifer Aniston wrote an extremely insightful piece on the way women are portrayed by a wider society, and reflected in a sexist press posing under the guise of serious journalism. But people like Aniston cannot highlight these problems alone. And they are problems. More men need to stand up and speak out against the sexism that still lingers like dog faeces in our society. Women and men in positions of authority must support anyone - male or female - strong enough to do this, and we all must encourage others to stand up and join us. Like racism and bigotry, these outdated and unacceptable attitudes will hopefully die out along with their propagators, but we have to hurry them along to an early grave and ensure that they stay dead.
However I know that there will still be people who read this, shaking their heads and binning it as hyperbolic nonsense. To them I ask this; can you name me a male Prime Minister or male business leader where the media focused on his shoes more than his ability to do a job?
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