An opinion piece by self-proclaimed feminist and British writer Joan Smith was published in The New York Times on Friday about conservative British Prime Minister Theresa May. Titled "How Theresa May Brought Britain to Heel," Smith brashly swiped at May's fashion choices and even seemed to claim that May couldn't possibly have good fashion sense and be taken seriously at the same time.
While Smith admits in the piece that she calls herself a feminist, and that ordinarily a feminist shouldn't take it upon herself to criticize the way another woman dresses, the writer gives herself a convenient out: May gets attention for her clothing choices, and she dares to like it; shame on her!
"This is the first time in three decades that a mainstream British political party has gone to the polls with both a female leader and a serious expectation of winning," Smith writes. "Isn’t it demeaning, not to say sexist, to focus on how she dresses?
"The problem for feminists like me, who would normally leap to a female politician’s defense, is that Mrs. May would never complain about any of this attention. She gives every impression of liking it," Smith continues, incredulously.
It is not difficult to imagine the backlash that would take place had a conservative made similar-sounding comments about one of their liberal counterparts, especially considering the same author back in 2008 accused Americans of disliking Hillary Clinton because of: that's right, the same type of sexism she engages in when discussing May.
Shaming Americans for making misogynistic comments about liberal candidate Clinton, as Smith just recently did about a conservative woman, she said at the time,"[T]his year's race for the White House has undeniably exposed the previously unimaginable degree of misogyny at the heart of American culture."
However, when the candidate at issue is a conservative like May instead of a liberal like Clinton, Smith apparently believes that mocking a woman's wardrobe choices, to the point of suggesting that May is attempting to dress like a "national dominatrix," is fair game.
Smith went on to insinuate that May even craftily uses her fashion choices to distract the public from her politics and instead bring the focus on her fashion accessories.
"But to dismiss any discussion of Mrs. May’s careful cultivation of image as trivializing or gender-biased is to miss how strategic she is. Her famous leopard-print heels have long been a form of camouflage, usefully diverting attention when she has unpalatable things to say (which isn’t very often)," Smith says. How cunning.
Opining that May "winks" at the role of "national dominatrix," Smith chides the prime minister for not calling out the media who dares objectify her, though she fails to mention that instead of wasting time declaring war on the media for commenting on her fashion choices, May is the prime minister of a country that has one of the world's largest economies, and is thus likely too busy focusing on actually doing her job.
"Such attitudes speak volumes about the social values of the Conservative Party and the insularity of British politics," Smith declares.
And even after she admits that May is in fact an advocate for women, promoting women within her cabinet, and helping work to prevent domestic violence, Smith laments that none of those things can be celebrated because the public pays attention to her fashion choices.
"Mrs. May’s refusal to confront the infantile misogyny of the media leaves her open to the accusation that she got where she is not by challenging patriarchy, but by colluding with it," Smith writes. "What does it say about gender equality in Britain that the politician tipped to win by a landslide in next month’s election is most famous for her footwear?"