Jacinda Ardern MP is a smart, able, accomplished adult woman. She’s been an MP since November 2008, and she’s very, very highly regarded, as shown by this poll rating her as a potential leader of the opposition and/or prime minister, along with parliamentary heavy weights such as Annette King, Grant Robertson and Winston Peters.
On national TV, she was described as a “pretty little thing”.
There are so very many things wrong with that. I discussed some of them on Radio NZ’s The Panel yesterday afternoon.
The biggest problem to me is that it is such a dismissive phrase. It treats an adult woman as a mere decoration, and as a child.
But, some people say, surely Ms Ardern invites this type of comment. After all, she appears all frocked up in women’s magazines. She’s putting herself out there, so what does she expect?
No, she hasn’t invited comments like this. If you bother to read the articles behind the pictures, then you will see that Ardern uses the articles to make a series of points about what she values, what she wants to see happening in New Zealand society, women in the workforce, women in politics, what she hopes to achieve. And by appearing in women’s magazines, she connects with a whole group of people who may not read the Serious Journals That Men Read Which Are Therefore The Most Important Ways of Communicating.
Even that phrase, “women’s magazines” is dismissive. It says that women are a special interest group, and that the default public person is either male, or a best disembodied and genderless.
Those “women’s magazines” are in fact very important avenues for discussion and discourse. They are gossip in the best sense of the word, passing on information and ideas, exchanging views, connecting with a community. Women connect with each other through them, get and pass on information, in an environment of equals. By working with women’s magazines, Jacinda Ardern is making a big effort to connect with a much wider community than just the standard political circles.
But even if Jacinda invites comment on her appearance, the phrase used to describe Ardern is wrong. Not because it focuses on appearance, but because it treats her as a child. And that’s an age old strategy for making sure that women are treated as not important in public discourse.
One final point: I’m deeply uncomfortable with the phrase, “isn’t she inviting it?” The resonances should be very, very disturbing to anyone who is commenting on this issue.