“Frailty, thy name is woman.” Shakespeare may have written this line more than 400 years ago, but it’s still relevant today. Almost every post on my social media feed revolved around elation behind the United States electing its first female Vice President. Yet in the 21st century, it seems wrong that the election of a woman to a major political position is still deemed revolutionary, especially considering that America has positioned itself as “the leader of the free world.”
Politics is still very much a man’s world and we, the voters, should be able to tell the difference between misogynists and our politicians. For example, Donald Trump and Boris Johnson have never been ones to watch their words, but that is a luxury only given to white men in power. In September 2016, ABC News reported that, when asked about Mrs Clinton, Donald Trump responded with, “Does she look presidential, fellas? Give me a break.” As for Boris Johnson, when asked about what advice he’d give to his successor, The Spectator Editor Kimberly Quinn, he said, “Just pat her on the bottom and send her on her way.” If we allow our heads of state to use derogatory rhetoric when referring to women, especially women in power, how can we expect equality to occur? Does this disrespect and disregard not hinder gender equality in society?
Women who successfully work their way into positions of power face barriers that others, especially white men, don’t. Society contains double standards, and while feminism and gender equality movements have made strides in breaking them, many still believe women + power just doesn’t add up. For example, women in power are not viewed as feminine but bossy and controlling. A woman can’t show compassion or emotion without seeming irrational. A woman can’t be a feminist without “hating men.” Yet, if a woman does manage to break the mould, she must separate herself from all things feminine. There’s a reason Margaret Thatcher had vocal lessons to lower her register and become the “Iron Lady.” The idea a woman could effectively conduct war was and is still to many, unfathomable.
Not only do female politicians receive intense critiques over their personality and rationality, but their appearances are no exception to scrutiny. The contestants on America’s Next Top Model have nothing on women in power. In the build-up to the election, Kamala Harris’ cosmetic choices were discussed more than her credentials; and Harris is not alone. When referring to fellow Republican candidate Carly Fiorina, Trump asked “Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, [as] the face of our next president?” And again, in December 2018, journalist Eddie Scarry tweeted a picture of Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez with the caption, “that jacket and coat don’t look like a girl who struggles.” We have a pretty significant problem when a politician’s outfit gets more recognition than their work. This superficial judgement might be more understandable if there were floods of articles critiquing Emmanuel Macron on spending €26,000 on make-up in his first three months as President, or Donald Trump’s spending on spray tans and the up-keep of his hair. But, of course, this is not the case.
The past few decades have been incredible for women in politics, but we still have a long way to go. Britain had her second female Prime Minister, Theresa May, the United States saw a female presidential candidate win the popular vote—although not the election—in 2016, and now the country has its first female Vice President. And just as impressive, female world leaders like Jacinda Arden have navigated the COVID-19 pandemic in incredible ways. In fact, recent studies show female-led countries have consistently handled the pandemic better than their male counterparts. Shakespeare and society are extremely wrong about women—femininity is certainly not frail.