Rathika Sitsabaiesan’s official photo after digital editing (left)
The more women advance in professional settings, the more unfairly they are judged by their appearance. This is especially true in politics. But it is not as simple as being pretty. This nuanced shade of the double standard makes a woman’s every fashion choice into a finely calculated statement.
Female politicians walk a tightrope between being un-feminine and hyper-feminine. They have to be just sexy enough, but not too sexy. They have to work harder to be seen as competent, but cannot put off vibes that they are too aggressive. Too feminine, and they’re not seen as real politicians. Too aggressive, and they’re not seen as real women.
Unfortunately this toes-to-knees gymnastics seems to be the one thing that crosses all party lines. On one side we have society’s knee jerk reaction to Sarah Palin: un-threatening in a skirt suit, but also overly sexualized. On the other side of this painfully thin line is Hillary Clinton, taking charge in a pantsuit and oddly threatening to men.
Of course neither of these women is as simple as the caricatures society paints of them, but both have been called out for not fitting in the narrow range of acceptable political sexiness. No one seems to know exactly where this boundary is until someone steps outside of it.
This brings me to Rathika Sitsabaiesan, a Scarborough-Rouge River MP (Member of Parliament, for my fellow Americans). According to The Globe and Mail:
As a 29-year-old woman from political cultures – both Canadian and Sri Lankan – in which older men make most of the decisions, she exudes the poise, organizing skills and confidence of an old-school political veteran.
Sounds awesome, right? But as Contrarian points out, she is not above the double standard. It was recently discovered that MP Sitsabaiesan’s official government profile photo was digitally altered to remove her cleavage.
Yes, apparently we are living in the 19th century, so grab your smelling salts because this woman’s scandalous bosom is an affront to our delicate sensibilities. Sometimes I wonder how women can even look at their own breasts without being morally offended. Oh wait, no I don’t, because breasts are a natural part of human anatomy and roughly half the population has them.
What’s more, MP Sitsabaiesan wasn’t exposing her breasts (even though I hear that’s legal in Canada), the photo merely contained evidence that she has breasts. Heaven help us. Maybe they should just Photoshop her into a man.
As Hillary Clinton could tell us, the scandalous act of being a woman got her Photoshopped out of a picture entirely. I don’t find Sitsabaiesan’s case to be very different. If we continue to judge women’s merit based on their appearance and focus only on their gender, they will remain virtually invisible despite the strides they are making in politics and beyond.
Since my solution of telling those who are bothered by the sight of cleavage to poke out their own eyes will probably not become very popular, it seems we are back where we started. We can march against the double standard, we can dare to stand outside of it, but it will always be applied to us, whether we like it or not.
Until we make some headway in this department, women’s advancement will continue to be a rough, uphill climb. Anyone who has tried to walk in heels knows how rough that climb can be.