Monday, May 7, 2012

Serene and Unruffled

"A female politician is expected to look serene and unruffled," says Professor Germaine Greer.

It should come as no surprise to anyone that Germaine Greer, Godmother of Australian Feminism, has opinions on fashion. She is an inspiration, a walking, talking collection of opinions about women and literature and society and culture. 

Professor Greer is a bona fide Living National Treasure and occasional national embarrassment. No one ever questions Dr Greer's intellect, yet her sanity, even her judgment, are questioned with increasing regularity. Who could have predicted that this extraordinary woman whose theories were shocking us four decades ago is still capable of making headlines by saying "vagina" out loud on tellie? Who would dared to have thought otherwise?

So what has captured her imagination this time? The inadequate number of vaginas in parliament? The revenge that nature exacted on Steve Irwin? The subordination of the feminist id as displayed by the voluntary cramming of boobs into bras?

Not this time. This time around, it's the Australian Prime Minister's preference for those boxy white jackets that make Julia's arse (Germaine's word, not mine) look big. In fact, the issue was first aired by Professor Greer on ABC1's talk-n-tweet fest, QandA, back in mid-March. 

Reaction ranged from a storm of  'don't be mean' tweets fighting the inevitable "so is her nose/earlobes/salary" responses, to questions about why appearance is important, to Tony Abbott agreeing with Greer's assessment of Ms Gillard's style choice and bum size: 'I know, I know, I know, . . . Germaine Greer was right on that subject,'he said.  

Just hours later, Tony Abbott was shifting his charity cycle into reverse: ''It was an off-the-cuff response to an observation from a member of the public. I shouldn't have said it and I regret it,'' Mr Abbott said. At least he admitted his mistake, although it won't help his image problem with women. 

And now, just to be absolutely sure that we're aware of her opinion on the Prime Minister's jackets, Professor Greer wrote an opinion piece in the Fashion section of the Fairfax press. Note the absence of arse-size references. This is serious business. 

Julia Gillard isn't a clothes horse. She's a hard-working professional politician, but she isn't allowed to look like one. Hence the dreaded jackets. Underneath are her workclothes, the same black pants and black top she once would have worn under her gown for court appearances. The jackets are intended to brighten up her image, each one fresh out of the box. Instead she looks as if she's wearing clothes that don't belong to her, like an organ-grinder's monkey.
What Professor Greer hasn't included in her article is why she objects to Julia Gillard's jackets, or what she thinks our hardworking Prime Minister should be wearing in place of the jackets.

 Let's just get one thing out of the way before we move on: Julia Gillard's jackets don't fit, and do emphasise the size of her bum. For the record, her bum is sizeable, but not as abundant as mine. 

The black pants and top seem to have found approval as a base uniform - it also seems to be Professor Greer's current uniform - but then what? For more formal occasions, meetings with dignitaries, official receptions, black pants and top are not formal we're back to looking at jackets. Or for a more feminine image, a nice frilly blouse and a jacket. Add some bling for a cocktail party? Hell, let's do a Cosmo fashion spread on the versatility and virtues of black pants, tops and jackets?

I think Australians are big enough to cope with the sight of their female Prime Minister in shirt-sleeves.
Of course Australians are okay with our PM appearing in shirt-sleeves, when it's appropriate. Former Queensland Premier was praised from On High for donning jeans and boots to tour natural disaster areas. (It's always a better look than Tony Abbott's assorted Lycra garments.) Yes, I accept that forcing businesswomen into suits is forcing women to mimic accepted male business attire...but what's the real issue here: the gender mimicry, the fact that the jackets don't fit, or the fact that jackets are expected as part of the Prime Ministerial wardrobe?

Answer D: None of the Above. Ask Australians why they are deserting the Labor Party and Julia Gillard, and fashion won't be in the top twenty answers. No-one cares or remembers what Julia Gillard was wearing when she replaced Kevin Rudd as PM, when she announced the carbon tax, when she held the press conference just last week to distance herself from Peter Slipper and Craig Thomson. 

Take a look at Australia in 2012. A makeover is not going to be enough to make a dent in the woes of the ALP, and nor should it. Throwing a Greer-fuelled spotlight on the PM's wardrobe choices is a distraction that is markedly at odds with the feminist sensibilities of the twenty-first century. What happened to substance trumping style?

Professor Greer has never wanted to be an equalist. She is a feminist who wants us to embrace our femininity, rather than constantly striving to be equal to men. Regrettably, history may have passed her by.  Rightly or wrongly, our first female Prime Minister has embraced her personal style, ill-fitting, unflattering jackets included, and that's that. 

Yet Professor Greer thinks Julia Gillard isn't allowed to look like a hardworking politician? Bollocks. Prime Minister Gillard is a hardworking politician who looks like Prime Minister Gillard, hardworking politician, and if that doesn't coincide with Professor Greer's idea of what a hardworking politician should look like, I respectfully suggest that the Professor adjusts her perception to meet reality.

Dress and conduct in the Chamber

While the standard of dress in the Chamber is a matter for the individual judgment of each Member, 1 the ultimate discretion rests with the Speaker. In 1983 Speaker Jenkins stated that his rule in the application of this discretion was ‘neatness, cleanliness and decency’. 2 In a statement to the House in 1999, Speaker Andrew noted that Members had traditionally chosen to dress in a formal manner similar to that generally accepted in business and professional circles, and that this was entirely appropriate. It was widely accepted throughout the community that the standards should involve good trousers, a jacket, collar and tie for men and a similar standard of formality for women. These standards applied equally to staff occupying the advisers boxes, members of the press gallery and guests in the distinguished visitors gallery. The Speaker said he did not propose to apply this standard rigidly. For example, it would be acceptable for Members to remove jackets if the air-conditioning failed, and it was accepted practice that Members hurrying to attend a division or quorum might arrive without a jacket. However, they should leave the Chamber at the conclusion of the count. 3 In earlier years it was held that a Member was not permitted to remove his jacket in the Chamber. 4 In 1977 the Speaker indicated that it was acceptable for Members to wear tailored ‘safari’ suits without a tie. 5 Members have been permitted to wear hats in the Chamber but not while entering or leaving 6 or while speaking. 7 Clothes with printed slogans are not generally acceptable in the Chamber, and Members so attired have been warned by the Chair to dress more appropriately.

1 comment:

  1. I so agree. Just cannot believe that this is an 'issue' and it is Germaine Greer that has made it so. And I totally missed that Abbott had made that comment. Not that this is surprising.