Stereotyping: Why can’t women leaders wear leather leotards?


Obsessive stereotyping

I stayed up late to watch the Chime for Change concert last Saturday.  And enjoyed it.  This is not coming from any position of expertise as I’m not qualified to give a competent opinion on the standard of the performance.  I watched it because of the cause.

Brought together by Beyoncé Knowles (the first woman to top the bill at Glastonbury), Selma Hayek and Jennifer Lopez the goal was to raise awareness on education and health for women throughout the world.

But before our ears had stopped buzzing the stereotyping commentary in the media centred on their appearance had kicked in.  Do Bono and Gary Barlow get grief about their on-stage outfits for their charity rock concerts? Not that I can see.

This obsession with the appearance of  our women leaders,  whether pop stars or politicians is distracting and unconstructive. Hillary Clinton is frequently called out because of make-up (lack of) or hair style, as much as her contribution to international relations. Or the brouhaha about Michelle Obama’s toned arms generates as much interest as her philanthropic deeds.

Missing the message

Madonna’s message was clear “‘We cannot change this world, nor begin to treat each other with human  dignity, without an education. Let tonight be the  beginning of this  revolution because education is not a luxury, it is a basic  human right.”

She made very relevant points about education being key to the emancipation of women. Those calls to action seem to be lost in the invective about her “somewhat swollen face.” It has to be said that she did indeed look a bit botoxed as though she was fresh out of surgery.  But does that matter?

It is also true that there were a lot of leather leotards and high heels.   Most of us couldn’t wear one without looking like something from a low budget XXX rated S & M pervert show,  otherwise perhaps we too would indulge.  But we can’t. So we don’t. If I wore heels that high I would certainly have a vertigo attack. However, that attire was probably more visually appealing than say … a bath robe or trackie bottoms and more practical than a cocktail dress or a business suit. Aren’t these over the top costumes also what is expected of them?

Who cares?

So if a group of A List celebrities get together to promote education and health for women and girls everywhere in the world, why such a backlash with a storm of catty comments about their clothes? And who cares if they were wearing fish net stockings and leather thongs? No one seems to be losing a second of sleep to even comment on John Legend’s suit (dapper) or Jay Z’s hoodie (dull).

Why do we expect women leaders who promote the interests of women and girls to be frumpy? Then when they are frumpy they get criticised. Why do we even care?

Sponsored by Gucci,  much has been written by the Twitterati that this is somehow an abuse of… I’m not quite sure what. If initiatives like this take one step towards empowering women across the globe and generating interest in human rights as well as education and health for women, then does it really matter if they are wearing leather knickers and high heels? Not only has it raised money but people have had fun. Isn’t it more important that Gucci, the sponsor, is prompted to take steps to reduce the impact of their stick insect models as the sort after female body image? Both Beyoncé and Jennifer Lopez are curvaceous women, who probably burnt off more calories in one set than most people use up in a week. The fact that they can bounce around in those outfits is nothing short of miraculous.

If the same charity initiative had been headlined by male super stars, would we really be passing comments on their faces, legs and underwear?

I think not.

Author: Dorothy Dalton, Co-Founder of 3Plus International

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