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Dressing the part: women, power, fashion - and that bloody jacket!

Germaine Greer had been responding to a questioner on the ABC’s Q&A program (March 19, 2012), who asked what advice the panel would give to the Prime Minister Julia Gillard on her image problem. Gillard’s…

A germaine point… lost in the furore around comments over Julia’s jackets was a genuine insight into the relationship between power and attire. AAP/ Lukas Coch

Germaine Greer had been responding to a questioner on the ABC’s Q&A program (March 19, 2012), who asked what advice the panel would give to the Prime Minister Julia Gillard on her image problem.

Gillard’s style was dry and somewhat terse, Greer said, but there were lots of good things about her. She was an administrator, who knew how to get things done. “It’s unglamorous, it’s not star material but it’s what she’s been doing… What I want her to do is get rid of those bloody jackets!”

The last comment was a flash of mischievous insight that seemed to take Greer herself by surprise, following the rather sober way she’d approached the question. Clearly enjoying the instantaneous response from the studio audience, she added: “They don’t fit.” If only she had stopped there, but by now the impulse to stir was irresistible. The jackets didn’t fit because they were cut too narrow in the hips. “You’ve got a big arse, Julia. Get over it.” That was the line that went viral, and Greer was widely condemned for a betrayal of feminist principles. At her next appearance on Q&A, she was called to account but was unrepentant, and provoked a kind of scandalised hilarity as she expanded freely on the matter of the Prime Minister’s body shape and the need to rejoice in the fullness of female anatomy.

Somewhere in all this, a genuine insight was being lost: that at some level, the cut of the Prime Minister’s jacket does matter, and that to get it wrong signals a lack of one of the many competencies required in the role. Greer’s fix on the jacket question is in line with her fierce concern for technique and construction across a whole range of things, from car engines to Shakespeare sonnets. As a literary scholar, Greer also has a finely tuned instinct for metaphor, and at that particular stage in the political cycle, Julia Gillard risked looking as if she was not cut out for the role of prime minister; her preference for over-sculpted jackets bearing no comfortable relationship to her body shape served to underline the impression that there was a lack of fit.

It is quite possible that a change of style for a female political leader could help to reverse a slide in approval ratings, but Germaine Greer was making a more particular point before she veered off track. She was, quite explicitly, targeting the jackets, and the exhortation was not to get better ones but to get rid of them. This, when you think about it, was a bold and radical piece of advice. A political leader with no jackets?

As a garment conceived to give form to the human silhouette, the jacket expresses a relationship between form and formality; and as a staple item of business attire, it is a mandatory part of the western male dress code for formal occasions. Women have other options, but women in prominent political roles have generally resisted exploring them. There is a feminist issue here, though not the one that was running in the blog lines about the exchanges on Q&A. The earnest principle that professional women should not have to deal with a primary focus on their appearance has become over familiar, and Greer was deliberately flouting it, but in doing so she may have touched on a more interesting question: a question about the relationship between male and female dress codes and the ways in which power roles are culturally defined.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s flowing garments connote traditional female dress.

There are examples of female political leaders from non-western cultures who have adapted traditional female dress to create a personal image free of any suggestion that they are in roles defined by masculine conventions. Benazir Bhutto and Aung San Suu Kyi show how a woman in long skirts of beautiful fabrics, with a veil over her head or flowers in her hair, can look strong, elegant and distinctive. Yet western dress conventions for political leaders of both sexes are based on masculine traditions of business attire, in which the suit works to standardise the personal silhouette, creating smooth, subdued outlines for the lower body and with all the visual accent on the collar area, to draw attention upwards to the face. There is a literal aspect to focusing on the “head” in business. Attempts to feminise the look – through diversified approaches to the cut of the jacket, the introduction of bold colour in fabric choices, and the addition of pearls and crusty brooches – only make the anomaly more conspicuous.

‘Dress for Success’

What is called “power dressing” is essentially a phenomenon of the 1980s, belonging to the culture of social conservatism, economic rationalism and corporate ambition associated with that era. Following the publication of John T Molloy’s book Dress for Success in 1975, the image of the career woman gained increasing currency, but it was Margaret Thatcher who really established the look. When she stood outside 10 Downing Street in May 1979, prepared to cross the threshold as the newly elected Prime Minister, Thatcher’s appearance was contrived to go with an artificially softened voice and sentiments to match. Against the black stone of the building and the grey of the London street, the vibrant blue of her suit, complemented by a light print blouse, still carried vestiges of a prettiness belonging to a former era. The short jacket, contoured around the waist, and mid-calf skirt flaring out in sunray pleats recalled Dior’s 1947 “new look,” and the return of a womanly silhouette after the austerities of the war years.

Margaret Thatcher’s image defined the conservatism of her politics. AAP

As she grew firmer and more assertive in the new role, her suits evolved accordingly. Lapels were accentuated with contrast fabrics, shoulders widened, skirts straightened, blouses were tied off with a flourish in outsized bows at the neck. The blues intensified, becoming more royal, and alternating with black and white or red as chromatic anchors. Her hair was swept higher and wider around the temples so that her head quite literally seemed to expand.

These tendencies coincided with general trends in the fashion world of the 1980s, a decade in which the hippie ideals of the postwar baby boom were abandoned and Generation X focused on the competition for advancement on the corporate ladder. Thatcher set out to be the mould of form but not the glass of fashion; her image served to define the conservatism she expressed in her policies and every outfit she wore was ‘on message’.

Over the ensuing decades, though, the message appears to have got lost somewhere, as leading women from both sides of politics continue to observe a dress code that is caught in a timewarp. Some obvious factors come to bear on the choices they make. Politicians who are at the mercy of constant opinion polling are understandably risk-averse in the business of creating and maintaining a public image, and women in positions of corporate leadership must command the confidence of peers and shareholders. The shifting aesthetics of the fashion world are dangerous ground for those who must project a sense of stalwartness and personal consistency, so a look that is only marginally influenced by style trends is the safest option.

For those who work an exhausting schedule involving international commitments, there is also an aspect of sheer convenience. Hillary Clinton’s adoption of the pantsuit as a personal uniform is a way of opting out of the whole business of personal styling, in order to concentrate on matters of larger importance.

Power and pearls: While fashionable, IMF head Christine Lagarde’s choices centre around the masculine convention of the suit. AAP

Angela Merkel, with a similar approach, has a range of long-line jackets in different colours, all cut to the same pattern and worn with black trousers. Such conscious stylists as Christine Lagarde and Condoleezza Rice are more various in their choices, but operate within the same set of conventions, assembling their outfits around versions of the sculpted jacket and fitted skirt or pants, accessorised with pearls.

Power dressing paradox

So-called power dressing is a vexing paradox. It is associated with risk avoidance rather than adventure, conformity rather than trail blazing and innovation. It is a form of stylistic paralysis. In December 2012, Hillary Clinton addressed delegates at the NATO headquarters in Brussels wearing a jacket with edged lapels that might have cut on the same pattern as many of those in Thatcher’s wardrobe. It’s curious that women in powerful positions choose to present themselves in a style that is an anachronism even as they grapple with the most urgent issues of the moment in an endeavour to set directions for the future.

When it comes to offering advice on the image challenges of the Australian Prime Minister, a call for “the real Julia” has caused enough problems already. But perhaps this also points towards the heart of the matter. One of the hurdles for any woman who sets a precedent in a leadership role is the sneaking suspicion that she is not the real thing, but positions of power necessarily involve role play. There is no getting away from it, and there are weaker and stronger approaches to fashioning the role. The fact so many women in key positions are still trapped in the codes of power dressing is a reflection of the degree to which modern democracies shackle those in leadership to a set of negatives. In politics, those who live and die by opinion polling cannot afford to offend or confuse. They must never appear eccentric, or be open to accusations of inconsistency.

Hillary Clinton’s pant suits were an attempt to opt out of the gender-loaded issue of styling. AAP

To break out of the negative cycle involves projecting courage and a sense of sustained inner conviction, and being able to capture the imagination of the public with vision and inspiration. This is where there is something to be gained in revisiting the dramatis personae of female theatres of power.

“Get rid of the jackets!”

The trouble with Gillard’s clothes, Germaine Greer said, is that they don’t look as if they belong to her. How can those women who have followed Thatcher on the world stage expect to generate an effective presence if they persist in wearing clothes that belong to Margaret Thatcher, and that were designed to be on message for an intensely conservative politician of the 1980s? Presence is about being in the present, and a political leader should look as if their energies are drawn from the here and now.

Generational change is a factor that is due to come into play here. I got my first professional appointment as a lecturer in 1983, and celebrated by buying a pantsuit. At the time it was an exciting but acutely stressful transition in my life and looking back on it, I’m aware of how I was part of a wider social transition, as for the first time it became the norm for women in early adulthood to see their future in terms of career goals. We need to reflect on how recent this is, as a social and cultural transformation. The identity-shift for women is still in a phase of relative immaturity, but we need to look back as well as forward in order to find future directions.

Second-wave feminism took its impetus from an overblown critique of the status quo. Women were perceived to be essentially disempowered, and traditional forms of feminine control came under suspicion as being born of constraint, and having their basis in manipulative sexuality. As a consequence, the career woman of the 1980s who set out to be everything she could be was a figure cordoned off from deep and various traditions of female power. All those witches, queens, courtesans and divas were to be banished from our imaginative world. Banishing the jackets might help to prompt a more fundamental process of rethinking what women of power have been and may become.

This is an excerpt of an essay by Jane Goodall, which appears in the current edition of the Griffith Review 40: Women and Power, edited by Julianne Schultz.

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90 Comments sorted by

  1. Comment removed by moderator.

    1. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Mike Swinbourne

      I agree.

      What fascinating insights regards absolutely nothing.

      No wonder feminist courses (opps….Gender Studies courses) in universities are being axed.

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    2. Edwin Flynn

      I am a early retired executive at Worked in Local Government, Education and Financial Services Industries

      In reply to Mike Swinbourne

      Actually Mike this is a reply to all of you guys who have missed the point. Perhaps your roles in life have revolved around lecturing in universities and similar institution where the creed is "Do as I say you should, never mind about how I dress." This culture is very prevalent in universities where scholars appear in attire I would not use at a fun park.

      So you see I think you have missed the point and have really very little understanding of the power of the first impressions. Those first…

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    3. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Edwin Flynn

      It has been said that “Women dress for other women”

      I think that would be true enough, as so often men just don’t seem to “get it”, and don’t see anything of any great relevance in what women wear (except when they have to work to pay for it of course).

      I personally never noticed Julia Gillard’s jackets, or her waist, or her bottom.

      Germaine Greer did, but that in itself means nothing.

      I have noticed the pearls, which I thought someone else might be paying for, and that would be the unwashed masses.

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    4. Chris Saunders

      retired

      In reply to Edwin Flynn

      The suit. We refer to men who wear them as “the suits”. Who wear suits? Mostly, politicians, managers, gangsters, real estate agents, big businessmen, the offender in court, the footballer up on appeal. Then of course it is a ceremonial dress, worn by funeral directors, and the wedding party.
      What does the suit represent? First off and above all it denotes status, a certain financial standing or aspiration and certainly not someone who works with their hands. Internationally, it is a uniform…

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    5. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to Chris Saunders

      I think you are reading far too much into "the suit".

      If a male wants to go to a funeral, attend court or a wedding there aren't many options other than a suit.

      A guy from Petersham or Point Piper, or Sunshine or South Yarra will wear a suit at some point.

      I'm always amazed at how useless a tie really is.........it's the tie that has more significance, if only I could work out what that is.

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    6. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to Chris Saunders

      Does there need to be.

      It has lasted for nearly a hundred years - perhaps more.

      The women's fashion industry must rub their hands in glee at the money that is made from the ethos of "I have nothing to wear".

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    7. Chris Saunders

      retired

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      As to the suit, I asked why not what. We are all aware of the what.
      But you are right about the strangeness of the tie. I remember the old time performer Bob Dyer in the fifties was prevented entry to a nite club because he wore a cravat instead of a tie.

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    8. Edwin Flynn

      I am a early retired executive at Worked in Local Government, Education and Financial Services Industries

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      I think you have made my point precisely. Clothing indeed makes the man and the woman. It is in our nature. Our eyes are in the front of our face and are the first point of impression when we meet someone. The next is the sense of smell (well most of the time anyway) If you smell bad and people walk away. Smell too rosy and people walk away too. It is all a matter of balance because of first and lasting impressions. That is how nature made us.

      As far as not noticing Julia’s clothes or bottom I can relate to that a bit if I am preoccupied and consumed with something very interesting. But usually I do notice bad taste. I can relate a true story that once occurred on a beach, but I digress and it will probably not be believed by any one any way.

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    9. Lorna Jarrett

      PhD, science educator and science advocate

      In reply to Edwin Flynn

      "scholars appear in attire I would not use at a fun park".

      I wouldn't dare comment on how hard I laughed. Being able to wear what you like is one of the joys of academic life (which is otherwise not as cruisy as it's made out - not this millennium, at least). Similarly, teachers are famously daggy compared to other professionals - in our defence we point out that most professionals don't have to face a scrum several times a day when moving from one part of their place of work to another. Nor do they have to worry about getting potassium permanganate spilled on them.

      By coincidence, I commented that if I wore my "weekend" clothes to work it'd cause comment. Nothing unusual - except that if I was an art teacher, no-one would bat an eyelid.

      Comfortable, climate-appropriate clothes - for men and women - don't have to be daggy, of course. Nor do they have to hide any vestige of individuality.

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    10. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Edwin Flynn

      Probably the only thing of relevance in all this, is how did two universities in Australia award Germaine Greer an honorary doctorate?

      Here is someone who has bad mouthed and abused people all across the planet, but held in the highest regard by staff at the University of Sydney and the University of Melbourne, who nominated her for an honorary doctorate.

      That was based on nothing more than Germaine Greer's abuse of others, while at the same time portraying herself as being oppressed.

      Adored by feminists, Germaine Greer’s bad mouthing of the Prime Minister and her dress, is simply added to the list of why Germaine Greer would be Australia's greatest living national embarrassment and national cringe.

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    11. Edwin Flynn

      I am a early retired executive at Worked in Local Government, Education and Financial Services Industries

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      Agree 100% on that. But as you know it is the noisey wheel that gets all the attention. As I said I have never liked her or what she preached. If she had come along 100 years prior maybe she would have been relevent, but to my thinking the world had moved on a long way since the WW2 and woman had achieved all that they had and have without her influence and with a great deal of tact. She just made a noisey commentary and offended half the world to boot.

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    12. Mike Swinbourne

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Edwin Flynn

      Actually Edwin, this is a reply to all of you people who have missed the point - spectacularly!

      This article, and your response, perfectly encapsulates what is wrong with the media and politics in this country. Here you are, arguing about the PM's jacket, and holding forth on 'first impressions' and whether or not her bum is too big, what sort of glasses she wears, and what hairdressers should ask their clients.

      I think my first comment was spot on. Not only is this piece vacuous, but it has brought out all the vacuous responses from people who care more about the PM's clothes than her policies.

      So you go ahead Edwin. You vote for the politician who has the best haircut and dresses the best. Me? I will analyse their policies.

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    13. David Thompson

      Marketing Research

      In reply to Mike Swinbourne

      Breathtakingly so! I was glued to it, like watching a train wreck unfold. The casualties? Where to start? Innumerable. TC claims to offer "experts" against the dross of the MSM. What possible expertise could be found in this?

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    14. David Thompson

      Marketing Research

      In reply to Chris Saunders

      The whole point of the suit is the tie. The suit jacket slims the waist, while an appropriate tie knot accentuates the shoulders. Women have more options for creating visual 'illusions' than men have.

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    15. David Thompson

      Marketing Research

      In reply to David Thompson

      On reflection, I went too hard on the author, so my apologies. I'll add some more measured comments.
      1. The author is a "writer". Well, we are all writers. If your depending on your dinner just because you can write, expect to go hungry some nights. It is far from a rare tool.
      2. Female political leaders in 2013 have absolutely nothing to do with the 1980s. Not even the frumpier leaders whose sartorial mediocrity you attribute to 1980s 'power dressing' look anything like Krystal Carrington, Alexis…

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  2. Helena Grehan

    Associate Professor in English and Creative Arts at Murdoch University

    I think that drawing attention to the performance of politics and specifically the ways in which the media operates in this regard is important. I also think that the jacket as trope (following Germaine Greer's comments) is a good one - it provides a lens through which to reflect upon what has happened, what has failed and where we might (or must ?) go in terms of developing frameworks that support women - in business, politics, the home and the media saturated 'post'? capitalist world. For opening up the discussion I thank you Jane.

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    1. Jena Zelezny

      research for second PhD in Humanities and Social Sciences (Performance Studies/Theatre & Drama/Dramatic Literature/Visual Arts) at La Trobe University

      In reply to Helena Grehan

      In this instance it is the appearance/facade/surface perception of governmental authority and credibility at work rather than the performance of politics. Politics and political discourse/argument are different to that which we see emanating from Capital Hill.

      Is Jane Goodall's article a credible contribution to the discourse on the politics of gender representation in the public sphere?

      Can perceptions of governmental authority and indeed, academic authority, be considered under the rubric…

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    2. David Thompson

      Marketing Research

      In reply to Helena Grehan

      " it provides a lens through which to reflect upon what has happened, what has failed and where we might (or must ?) go in terms of developing frameworks that support women - in business, politics, the home and the media saturated 'post'?"
      How about we all pass the plate around, and just get the Prime Minister some decent stylists!

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    3. David Thompson

      Marketing Research

      In reply to Jena Zelezny

      Penny Wong kind of disproves your theory. Penny Wong dresses as a man. But she looks nothing like a character out of Prisoner- Cell Block H. But unlike a lot of her female political peers, Penny is blessed with soft and rounded features, very youthful Asian skin, and a naturally softer and deep voice, so her "look" is very unique; it is very Penny Wong. Sort of Chairman Mao meets Giorgio Armani. She can wear a black pant suit, but it's expensive and classy tailoring "work with" her other assets…

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  3. Helen Grace

    Associate, Dept of Gender and Cultural Studies & Research Affiliate, Sydney College of the Arts, at University of Sydney

    Thanks Jane for drawing attention to some of the things that limit women's acceptance in public life - and a couple of the superficial responses just go to show that women's clothing somehow is considered too superficial a topic to be included in the rhetoric of public life, reinforcing the idea that these roles just don't fit women.

    Didn't Tony Abbot in fact say something along these lines awhile back? Actually there's been some quite good discussion on political rhetoric and performance in Australia. Graeme Orr has written some nice stuff on elections and rituals (The Ritual and Aesthetic in Electoral Law' (2004) 32 (3) Federal Law Review 425-450), Meaghan Morris's Ecstasy and Economics looked at Keating & I remember reading a piece by Jeffrey Minson on Bob Hawke a few years ago.

    But not much on suits & how (and who) they fit. So I look forward to where you might take this.

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  4. Stephen Ralph

    carer at n/a

    So it's come to this.......a serious discussion about female politics and their wardrobes.

    No wonder there is criticism from various quarters.

    This does a disservice to women everywhere by concentrating on the least important aspect of a female politician's credentials and qualities.

    The Age has it's lifestyle and other sections that serve up the same sort of stereotypical tripe about the Kardashians and women's fashion and foibles.

    Sad stuff.

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    1. Jena Zelezny

      research for second PhD in Humanities and Social Sciences (Performance Studies/Theatre & Drama/Dramatic Literature/Visual Arts) at La Trobe University

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      It's about perceptions Stephen, perceptions of credibility and authority.

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    2. Mike Swinbourne

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Jena Zelezny

      Good on you Jena.

      You worry about perceptions. Let the rest of us worry about reality.

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  5. Jesse Kaellis

    logged in via Facebook

    I get most of my fashions at Walmart, but that's okay because I am a man of the people.

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  6. Lorna Jarrett

    PhD, science educator and science advocate

    I don't think this topic is vacuous. It would be nice to think that what people wear is irrelevant - but we evolved as highly social and visually-focussed creatures, and clothing has played a part in the theatre of political power ever since clothing/personal decoration and politics started to exist. The idea that we can just ignore them now is cute, but not exactly realistic.

    Nor is the topic of political attire limited to women. Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Susilo Bambang Yudhoyo spring to mind as leaders who have often - or exclusively - worn traditional dress. Tony Abbott's frequent near-naked public appearances are worthy of mention in this topic too.

    I wonder if the inclusion of male political attire (which I think is equally interesting) in the debate will change the minds of the commenters below...

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    1. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to Lorna Jarrett

      I don't think I have read any comments re Susilo Bambang Yudhoyo's attire.

      This article does nothing for women's except reduce their status to fashionistas.

      What relevance is JGs apparel to her position.

      Men wear suits.......perhaps to save all this diatribe it would be better for women to do the same, but then I guess their would be criticism that they are trying to be like men.

      Again a trivial attempt.

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  7. Roma Guerin

    Pensioner

    Not surprised most of the chaps have missed the point. The 51% of voters do not. It's not about fashion, it's about perception.

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    1. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to Roma Guerin

      A perception about what a woman wears and what to make of it...........

      I don't think men have missed the point...the point is men don't care that much, and to women's detriment - they do.

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    2. Edwin Flynn

      I am a early retired executive at Worked in Local Government, Education and Financial Services Industries

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      "I don't think men have missed the point...the point is men don't care that much, and to women's detriment - they do."

      Really?

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  8. linda chalmers
    linda chalmers is a Friend of The Conversation.

    Delivery systems

    Great article and very timely I know it's very sad that women's clothes choice is considered a topic for discussion but in reality it's a whole lot more that that.Its time we started focussing on the lack of choice, the suit with its ugly unsuitable it really is time for it to go it is so old fashioned ugly and uncomfortably men look so chained by it no matter how beautifully it has been tailored. The denial of the reality of the middle age human body in tailoring is the problem, the release of the new designs for the qantas and train uniforms continue the tradition of designing for the young attractive members of the organisation leaving the rest to be uncomfortable and unhappy with how they look. We need more options in clothing styles ones that reflect the reality of our bodies. Good on the Prime Minister for trying new styles she is looking very attractive.

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    1. Edwin Flynn

      I am a early retired executive at Worked in Local Government, Education and Financial Services Industries

      In reply to linda chalmers

      Quote
      "We need more options in clothing styles ones that reflect the reality of our bodies. Good on the Prime Minister for trying new styles she is looking very attractive."

      Linda, is this really what it is about, "Attractiveness?"

      Forgive me if I have been misunderstanding this issue Jane Goodall's article. I thought it was about clothing and images portrayed. Attractiveness is a side issue, perhaps even a bonus, but I do not think it is the principal issue. Julia is a naturally attractive woman. Her clothes before the comment where ill fitting and looked uncomfortable. They did not portray the qualities that the electorate wants from a prime minister. She is an extremely competent person, but her wardrobe was not showing that.

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  9. Roma Guerin

    Pensioner

    Thank you Jane Goodall for your article. Thank you Edwin for keeping the conversation in perspective.

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  10. Pat Moore

    gardener

    If you think discussing the appearance of a woman in the public eye, the prime minister of the country no less, is "vacuous" or means "absolutely nothing" you're missing the point.

    Widespread and deep seated misogyny does indeed focus upon a woman's appearance as attested to in populist ridicule which came down to venemous, Jonesian-like personal attack focusing on physical appearance including clothing. Perhaps Germaine's advice (being germaine AND Germaine) was an attempt at being objectively…

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  11. Stephen Ralph

    carer at n/a

    I wonder if a man had written this article would the comments have been the same.

    And the last sentence of this article -

    ** Banishing the jackets might help to prompt a more fundamental process of rethinking what women of power have been and may become.**

    to suggest that wearing or not wearing a "jacket" will prompt a more fundamental process etc.is ludicrous.

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  12. Corinne Cowper

    general layabout

    Whether you like it or not, how we dress speaks volumes about the sort of person we are. So take note, you of crumpled clothes, poor grooming and unpolished shoes.

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    1. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to Corinne Cowper

      I agree......if any politician turned up to an International forum with crumpled clothes,moccasins, and a frizzy mop of hair their career would be short-lived - I presume.

      This article is not about bad dressing or poor taste (except a smart jacket seems to be bad taste) but more about the politics of what women in "power" should wear or not wear.

      It's more grist to the mill of the idea of "what women want".......

      Things that seem to exemplify women's clothes >>

      "a woman can never have too many pair of shoes"

      "retail therapy"

      "does my bum look big in this?"

      "Big names, you know. Chanel, Dior, Lagerfeld, Givenchy, Gaultier, darling. Names, names, names."

      "That dress really suits you"

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    2. Lorna Jarrett

      PhD, science educator and science advocate

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      "Things that seem to exemplify women's clothes" - in your mind at least.

      Your list speaks volumes - not about "what women want" (newsflash - women are not all the same), but your own insecurities and prejudices.

      Also interesting to note that you came up with a bigger list of "big names" than I could.

      I've just finished repairing an evening dress handmade by a friend, sold to another friend who gifted it to me. Some of the scraps of fabric from which it was made may originally have had "big names" - but that's really not the point. Clothes can have a lot of meanings, but I wonder if youre capable of comprehending some of them.

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    3. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to Lorna Jarrett

      That was a line from Ad Fab....................not mine.

      I'd be interested to hear what you believe my insecurities and prejudices might be - not that I don't have any naturally.

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  13. Raine S Ferdinands

    Education at Education

    Who the hell cares what women in power wear. Simple minds and people with nothing better to do chat about clothes and for men to comment on this topic .... simply distasteful. JG can wear anything she wants; how she performs is what counts and what should matter. Unfortunately she will always be remembered for her treachery and blatant lies. Go on Julia, wear what you like; it matters not to me.

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    1. Edwin Flynn

      I am a early retired executive at Worked in Local Government, Education and Financial Services Industries

      In reply to Raine S Ferdinands

      So if a male politician plays politics and undermines his prime minister to take over power, or changes his mind about a election promise he is remembered as a tactician and a politician. If it happens to be a woman she is remembered for her treachery and blatant lies.

      Think about what you wrote.

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    2. Raine S Ferdinands

      Education at Education

      In reply to Edwin Flynn

      I know what I wrote, Edwin!! I am not alone in associating JG with treachery. The main discontent among the once Labor supporters is purely based on her performance, including 'treachery' and the details associated with this treacherous, deceitful act of JG. You are entitled to your views but stop preaching, mate.

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    3. Edwin Flynn

      I am a early retired executive at Worked in Local Government, Education and Financial Services Industries

      In reply to Raine S Ferdinands

      Ok Raine S F. Should I suggest that perhaps you really should think about what you are writing again. Because of the shallowness of your comments you are giving me the impression that you are indeed misandric. The object of this essay was to highlight society's apparent fixation on clothing and the messages that are given by what we wear. It has nothing to do with Julia Gillard’s political exploits. I for one was one of those made angry at the treatment of K. Rudd by the labor party. At the time…

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    4. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to Raine S Ferdinands

      I don't know that it's "too drenched" in labor, but most don't want to drink from the Liberal well.

      If there was a third viable alternative (and I don't mean that as an invititaion to MWH to go through his repertoire again), I'm sure many voters would take it.........in many ways it's a case of which party we dislike the least.

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    5. Edwin Flynn

      I am a early retired executive at Worked in Local Government, Education and Financial Services Industries

      In reply to Raine S Ferdinands

      Is negativity all that you can muster?

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    6. Raine S Ferdinands

      Education at Education

      In reply to Edwin Flynn

      JG & Current Labor mob ...my negativity? LOL .
      Watch the election mate. Then we shall chat 'bout 'positivity'. Hmmmmm.

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  14. Jena Zelezny

    research for second PhD in Humanities and Social Sciences (Performance Studies/Theatre & Drama/Dramatic Literature/Visual Arts) at La Trobe University

    What's a girl gotta do!

    for Mike, Dale and Stephen ...

    In this instance it is the appearance/facade/surface perception of governmental authority and credibility at work rather than the "performance of politics" (as mentioned in Helena Grehen's comment below). Politics and political discourse/argument are different to that which we see emanating from Capital Hill.

    Is Jane Goodall's article a credible contribution to the discourse on the politics of gender representation in the public sphere…

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    1. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to Jena Zelezny

      I'm sort of amazed at the reaction.

      When men criticise women for focusing on clothes etc we get howled down.

      What I'm saying is that forget the clothes it's the job that's important, and yet here is an based almost entirely on JGs jackets.

      There is a double standard afoot.

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    2. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Jena Zelezny

      Condoleeza Rice liked her shoes (often very expensive ones), and there was a certain issue regards her going on a shopping spree for shoes during Cyclone Katrina.

      http://articles.latimes.com/2011/nov/01/news/la-pn-rice-katrina-20111101

      I don’t think most men could care less what female politicians wear, except perhaps if they start spending so much of the taxpayer’s dollars on clothes, shoes and jewellery.

      Germaine Greer didn’t mention that, which shows how much she connects with men.

      Like naught.

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    3. Jena Zelezny

      research for second PhD in Humanities and Social Sciences (Performance Studies/Theatre & Drama/Dramatic Literature/Visual Arts) at La Trobe University

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      With respect Dale, Dr. Rice was National Security not Emergency Response (before becoming Secretary of State). The pertinent question with regard to Katrina is, what was the President doing?

      And again, the article is not about what males think or want. It's about conforming to accepted standards rather than establishing new patterns. It's about inclusivity and diversity rather than conformity. It's about representations of power and public perceptions of authority in the public sphere.

      (That…

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    4. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Jena Zelezny

      There is a problem for female politicians, in that they somehow have to connect with the male population to get their vote.

      Dress sense does not do that in the longer term, and the more a female politician spends money on clothes and accessories, the less she will be admired by many male voters I do believe.

      There is a knack to being a good leader, which I don’t think can be exactly formulated.

      I think it has something to do with knowing when to be there, when to give orders, and when to listen to others etc.

      As a quick example, I had a boss who would turn up to work wearing thongs and his shirt was always hanging out. At pre-start, he would say to the men “You all know what to do, so go away”.

      However, his projects usually came in under budget and ahead of time, and his last project went for 6 months without one safety incident or injury.

      He had a knack of knowing when something could go wrong, and then he acted.

      Rather different to others I would suspect.

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    5. Chris Saunders

      retired

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      How far to the right does Julia have to shift before she can connect with men to get their vote? Somehow, I don’t think dressing up in thongs and letting her shirt hang out will cut it. It’s usually an OH&S issue. But I do gain the impression that Rudd was controlling and micro managing while Gillard does allow her ministers to get on with the job and for the most part keeps them informed. So, according to your definition, she’s got it partly right.

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    6. David Thompson

      Marketing Research

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      Getting the sartorial "just right" is challenging for all leaders. But some seem to have the instinct better than others. Those leaders who have the better sartorial instinct are those who have got to the top after shaking a hellish number of hands, knocked on the darkest doorsteps, attended ever lamington drive. That is, those people who reach the top after a career spent seeking out every possible citizen to vote for them. THEY know what to wear, what not to wear, when and where to wear, what to…

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    7. David Thompson

      Marketing Research

      In reply to Chris Saunders

      Chris, Gillard's big problem is now women. And the clothes issue has a lot to do with it. Women notice this stuff. A LOT. And analyse it. A LOT.

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    8. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to David Thompson

      I find the emphasis on clothes that politicians wear (women in this case) so pathetic.

      The only notable feature for Hawke was his hair and his "silver budgie" nomenclature.

      To me the less a politician's clothes are noticed the better policies or lack thereof standout.
      (just to feed you a line - not that you need it after you bagging of the p.m.)

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    9. Chris Saunders

      retired

      In reply to David Thompson

      You are so emphatic about this, you must be right. Oh, yes that’s the problem Gillard’s not far enough to the right.

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    10. David Thompson

      Marketing Research

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      I actually really, really, prefer the beer-garden Julia. The problem with her whole Prime Ministership (that is AFTER the problem of leading a minority government) is from the moment she got it (no doubt because of the way she got it) she froze. The real Julia has been locked up in the attic. But there are thousands - maybe millions - of people out there who make their livings picking clothes, makeup, accessories, haircuts etc to maximise a person's look, particularly in the context of the complications…

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    11. David Thompson

      Marketing Research

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      "I find the emphasis on clothes that politicians wear (women in this case) so pathetic."
      But you're a man. As this article only reinforces for the 1 billionth time. Gillard's clothes are a huge issue among WOMEN.

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    12. Chris Saunders

      retired

      In reply to David Thompson

      Yes, Gillard is so out of touch she has been able to negotiate deals that no other Australian Prime Minister before her has been able to.

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    13. David Thompson

      Marketing Research

      In reply to Chris Saunders

      Chris, like Hawke, deal-making is Gillard's political G-spot. But an Australian Prime Minister really does deserve to have an innings unencumbered by feeble alliances with natural enemies. But like dealing with Stalin in WWII, she had no choice. If she were to win the next election with an outright majority, I think her whole game would lift quite a few notches. Including her awful, awful wardrobe.

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    14. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to David Thompson

      I would think Hawk’s clothes were much more utilitarian than Margaret Thatchers.

      One can sense all he had to do was change the jacket, and he could be mowing the lawn, or underneath the car fixing the diff, or leaning over the rails at the cattle sales.

      Unfortunately, Margaret Thatcher would have required a complete overhaul of her outfit to do any of the above, and the rings, earrings and bracelet would have to come off.

      The whole refitting exercise could have taken many hours.

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    15. Chris Saunders

      retired

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      I can't quite share your image of Hawk under the car's bonnet, Dale.
      Now, sitting at a casino table draped by two attractive young women on either side, now that image is hard to shift.
      But no, even though I found Thatcher really quite scary, I can see her pulling an apron on over all that glamour and dishing up hubby a nice parsley omelette.
      Being older, I see Penny Wong as an adolescent daughter of great promise and integrity even though she is a tree climber.
      And as for Julia Gillard, she's that authentic woman with a mind of her own. I don't really think Julia worries much about dressing, it's a uniform.

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    16. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Chris Saunders

      I personally haven’t really gotten into the habit of denigrating a man whenever I see a picture of one.

      So in the case of a picture of Bob Hawke, I don’t see him at a casino with two women draped either side.

      I think this system of denigrating men and attempting to devalue them is a by-product of our education system.

      Perhaps culminating in a university awarding Germaine Greer an honorary doctorate after she denigrated men and wrote that they were “surplus to requirements”

      http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2002/nov/16/gender.germainegreer

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    17. Chris Saunders

      retired

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      No, not denigrating Hawke at all. Just an eye witness account. Most of us thought it a cack. We certainly didn't get upset about it. It's a free world I think. Do you think Germaine Greer has a sense of humour?

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    18. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Chris Saunders

      I would think Germaine Greer is not only Australia’s greatest living embarrassment, she is also education’s greatest living hypocrite, and a feminist.

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  15. Annabelle Leve

    Researcher/Educator

    I have just read through the 41 comments and find the gendered responses very discomforting, and all too often, beside the point. Perhaps dated now, but I can't help thinking about the first time I read The Beauty Myth, by Naomi Wolfe. Simply acknowledging the necessary thought and dilemma of what to wear each day to present oneself effectively in whatever sphere one is trying to influence. I hate to think it matters but from enforced toddler 'uniforms', school uniforms, and the neverending life of judgements and appropriateness accorded to how we appear, it is shown to matter, perhaps more for some than others. If we don't notice what one is wearing, does that eliminate the fact that may have been an intentional choice for that person? Thanks for the article, I enjoyed the questions you raise.

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  16. Lee-Anne Walker

    logged in via Twitter

    Ditto Mike S. While your article is interesting and eloquently written Jane, it is ironic in the extreme and reduces women to the most superficial level, rather than sheds light on the real issues of gender imbalance.Would anyone ever invest such time and thought on writing a piece on men's attire - Rudd's ties or Abbott's shirts (aside from the red speedos)? No, because they're men! It seems that even women perpetuate and trivialise powerful women. Greer's comment about Julia's jackets and bottom were impetuous and no doubt she's regretted making the remarks since ,(despite her strident defence of them); they were mean-spirited, cheap shots but worse they were irrelevant. Please let some intelligence and common sense prevail.

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  17. Veronica Kelly

    Retiree at University of Queensland

    It is fascinating to follow the conversation contributions sparked off by Jane's observations, many of which seem to want to comment on what she did NOT select to write about: be that men's ties; how Penny Wong is hotter; Gillard's political policies; or whether Greer is a major cultural heroine or (in my opinion) a larrikin media celeb who too often lets herself down. But writers are entitled to choose their own subjects and emphasis. To me the key subject is the jacket, not the bum that it seeks…

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    1. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to Veronica Kelly

      I don't know that men put much (or any) emphasis on clothing apparel. Most but not all of course.

      But they may notice or comment on the attractiveness/beauty of a female politician (or male as the case may be).

      I tend to agree with your comment re Western female politicians - the G.G. can in my opinion look a tad Barbara Cartlandish at times. Those hats are really a blast from the past.

      I do think though that women need to move on from needing clothes and shoes to bolster their images. In…

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    2. Annabelle Leve

      Researcher/Educator

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      Watching Borgen, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Borgen_(Danish_TV_series) well encapsulates the drama surrounding a woman in politics, touching on those things some may like to think are irrelevant - bodies, images, emotions, and lives of politicians in and out of the public sphere. And yes, a first female prime minister. Our democracies depend on human figureheads and they are all fallible.

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  18. Jena Zelezny

    research for second PhD in Humanities and Social Sciences (Performance Studies/Theatre & Drama/Dramatic Literature/Visual Arts) at La Trobe University

    Thanks to Veronica Kelly for this comment.

    Just to clarify - I mentioned Penny Wong as a way of introducing the notion of sexuality and same sex intimate partnerships.

    It seems to me that the relation between perceptions of governmental power and authority, and attire, necessarily excludes any reference to sexuality and yet there is a definite contrivance within image control mechanisms to confirm the appearance of heteronormativity (in most cases).

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  19. Stephen Ralph

    carer at n/a

    I've rethought my attitude to this issue.

    There has been much discussion about the differences in gender, and how men and women should embrace the differences rather than use them as criticism.

    I now more clearly realise that women value clothes and fashion, in a way that men might value cars or sport.

    Whereas many men don't give a damn about their appearance, women are more often concerned about it.
    I have criticised this attention to what I saw as "window-dressing". But ultimately if fashion and looking good is what makes someone happy - why not. (men or women)

    Women may have many pairs of shoes, but o.t.o.h. men may have the same fascination about tools or golf. !

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    1. Chris Saunders

      retired

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      Well done Stephen. Just remember some men, some women never all men, all women, or even most men, most women.

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  20. Jena Zelezny

    research for second PhD in Humanities and Social Sciences (Performance Studies/Theatre & Drama/Dramatic Literature/Visual Arts) at La Trobe University

    Stephen and Chris - sweet peas

    You've missed it guys. It's gone by and you have no idea what it was or how to understand it ....

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    1. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to Jena Zelezny

      Well I wouldn't say that - what did we miss btw?

      I hope you are not promoting that ethereal myth that "women are mysterious creatures"!

      we are are mysterious in our own way - at least I am?

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    2. Chris Saunders

      retired

      In reply to Jena Zelezny

      Must agree Jena, I haven't been able to make head nor tail of your techno punk observations on the issue. Very conscious of not being 'with it', but do believe in the fair go and all of that naivety. Perhaps, you could try to explain once again, if you are not feeling too frustrated with me (us)?

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    3. Jena Zelezny

      research for second PhD in Humanities and Social Sciences (Performance Studies/Theatre & Drama/Dramatic Literature/Visual Arts) at La Trobe University

      In reply to Chris Saunders

      I have to have another coffee first ...

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  21. Roma Guerin

    Pensioner

    I am astonished that this conversation is still going, but I am impressed with many of the comments. My last word - in a strictly practical sense yet still looking good, Cheryl Kernot never looked like a bloke or someone who was clueless about clothes that fitted or was shy about wearing colours, yet when she spoke, people usually listened respectfully, and never felt the need to comment on her apparel.

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    1. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to Roma Guerin

      Agree - I don't think people even noticed her clothes - she drew attention because of her skills as a politician. As it should be.

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  22. Jena Zelezny

    research for second PhD in Humanities and Social Sciences (Performance Studies/Theatre & Drama/Dramatic Literature/Visual Arts) at La Trobe University

    My feeling about what this article is not about is as follows (and I note that it is only an excerpt from a longer essay - which maybe what has precipitated confusion):

    1. it is not about Julia Gillard. It uses the Prime Minister as an example of a female in a power role.
    2. it is not about Germaine Greer.
    3. it is not about 'women' being or not being mysterious creatures.
    4. it is not about shoes, tools or golf clubs.

    I think that Veronica Kelley's comment is a good summation.

    For me the article brings up the following questions:

    1. Do females 'fit' the power role and do accepted methods of being in the power role fit females. (see Helena Grehan's comment about the trope)
    2. Why is it that female leaders need to frame their image as strictly heterosexual and how do they do this?
    3. How do the voting public perceive the credibility and authority of females in power?
    4. What would be an alternative to the suit and/or variations on the suit jacket?

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    1. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to Jena Zelezny

      ****Somewhere in all this, a genuine insight was being lost: that at some level, the cut of the Prime Minister’s jacket does matter,****

      A response >>>>

      1 -There are (and have been) enough women in leadership roles around the globe to not have to "fit the power role". I think that many men want women in parliament as a counter-balance to men, and thus set their own power-role parameters. I don't think anyone wants "quasi-men".

      2 - They don't need to. If Penny Wong became P.M. one day we all know she is gay, and that doesn't seem to matter much to people. Let her do her own thing.

      3- The same way they see men. Do a good job (always subjective tho) and who gives a rats.

      4 - Do we need one - what ever gets you through the day. But not a safari jacket or fish net stockings - during the day (at night an entirely different matter). And if they are good enough for Alex D, why not.

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    2. Jena Zelezny

      research for second PhD in Humanities and Social Sciences (Performance Studies/Theatre & Drama/Dramatic Literature/Visual Arts) at La Trobe University

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      On your points Stephen

      1. There are not enough, not nearly enough females in leadership roles anywhere.

      2. The Minister for Finance and De-regulation is not the Prime Minister - yet - and I think she is an exception as well as being exceptionally good in the job.

      3. If this is a realistic assessment, why is Julia Gillard the first female Prime Minister. Why was Baroness Thatcher the only female Prime Minister in the UK. It may be that this is only true for you Stephen (as it is for me).

      4. It would be interesting to see alternatives. Alternatives are always interesting, as is difference. Uniformity is not only boring it indicates conformity.

      As a sign off, consider this. Females are not born 'women' they become 'women' through cultural paradigms and various levels of coercion. (Idea borrowed from Simone de Beauvoir.) Conformity of appearance is part of that coercion.

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    3. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Jena Zelezny

      Regards your question

      "How do the voting public perceive the credibility and authority of females in power? "

      A possible answer is "When females in power get it right much more often than they get it wrong"

      Power jackets and Germaine Greer don't really count in that regards.

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