Appearances can be decieving

Both The Hand Mirror and Frogblog have made excellent posts on the way we judge the appearance of politicians, and especially on how it diverges for men and women.

I pretty much agree with everything they say there, but it’s worth expanding a little on why the two male MPs Frog singles out as being judged by their appearance are subject to that kind of scrutiny, which is really the only time that men experience the kind of ridiculous scrutiny on appearance that the ex-expat talks about on The Hand Mirror.

Rodney Hide gets attention to his appearance mostly, but not entirely, because he is bald, and this falls under the general category of men who “appear to lack masculinity”. Bald men are judged as less virile, somehow sick, even despite their actions, and I think that’s wrong. There is nothing a man can reasonably do to prevent baldness, and most of the “cures” are a gamble at best, and rather costly. This is even ignoring the topic of men with actual feminine features.

Nandor gets attention because he is perceived as being counter-cultural. He does not wear a suit and tie all the time. He has long hair. He wears his hair in dreadlocks. He makes no apology for his atypical appearance and is proud of it, as he should be. While women generally attempt to stand out from the crowd with their appearance, men tend to belittle anyone that doesn’t conform to what they perceive as appropriate style in clothes. This goes for school children mocking someone who can’t afford the types of clothes they favour, or for politicians who should know better belittling any man who doesn’t dress like he’s about to head up a meeting of CEOs. While Nandor can certainly elect to change his appearance, there is absolutely nothing more valid about other MPs appearance, and mocking his choices in this regard is poor taste indeed, and not worthy of the debating chamber.

This focus on conformity of appearance is actually just as negative and sexist as the extreme vitriol directed at women who are not unrealistically careful of their appearance. By denying that individual appearance should matter for men, we are stifling self-expression, and we are separating ourselves from understanding the reality of what it entails for women. We are being too cowardly to submit ourselves to the judgement of our peers, and we are also to an extent denying our sexuality. These things all have harmful consequences, and although they go beyond the inequality of verbal abuse that Frog points out, that too is a heavy enough burden on its own to take the matter seriously.

The reality of the matter is that men need to grow up about appearance, and accept that we can’t dictate it to everyone, especially those of us who put little originality or effort into our own.


2 Responses

  1. My approach is the opposite – I don’t think it should matter at all. I’d happily vote for someone who wore a sack, or tracksuit pants. It’s not as if we actually have to look at them very often, so appearance shouldn’t be much of an issue. I’d struggle to vote for someone who was obese, simply because I think politicians should practice what they preach. But clothing… shouldn’t they be spending time on politics rather than buying clothes?

    In a democracy there’s also the observation that attractive people get more votes, which is going to bias voting. Tall also counts (average height of elected officials is higher than the population they represent). That does affect how politicians can dress, but Rodney Hide is in many ways a counterpoint to that – he’s unattractive and oddly dressed but he does get elected. One more positive for MMP IMO (for all that I dislike his politics, he does add to the diversity in parliament, and that’s something I do value).

    I’m a geek, and I work with geeks. Our work dress code is “legal and laundered”. So perhaps I’m not the best qualified to comment on this stuff 🙂

  2. Moz- I’m a geek as well. Hence why I’m so quick to recognise that Nandor gets flak for being counter-cultural- I’m never going to fit in if I dress the way that comes naturally- every time I hear someone go on about how people should dress like everyone else or what have you, I really want to punch them. Damn oppressive societal standards 😉

    Rodney gets elected partly because he has a very caustic attitude, and he’s not afraid to challenge people- in effect he’s big in psyche, rather than size. This leads to odd comments from him like his disbelief that parliament is a mentally toxic place to be- for him, parliament is like swimming in highly insulting water for a fish, so he doesn’t see it.

    As for how the public actually votes- we-ell, I think we can attack those attitudes, but it’s a lot less urgent than the blatant woman-bashing that’s going on right now. Damage control before social counter-engineering 😉

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