Sunday, 10 May 2009

You're not up to much

OK, this post is going to be a tricky one, but I feel it's about time I had a bash at it. Tricky because I want to talk about women in public life and the extent to which physical appearance or, to be more precise, attractiveness should be the subject of comment. And in doing so, to illustrate my argument, I will have to repeat some comments I regard as offensive. Anyway...

Non-Bristolian readers may not be familiar with the output of Bristol's answer to Woodward and Bernstein, the Bristol Blogger, who hides under the clock of anonymity but I would wager is probably not quite as attractive as Robert Redford in his All the President's Men days. (Feel free to provide any evidence that proves me wrong!)

The Blogger spends most of his time railing against the goings on at Bristol City Council and one of his targets is the fairly new Chief Executive, Jan Ormondroyd, whom he has wittily dubbed Jan 'Bum Disease'. So far, so par for the course. But in a recent post about her he also felt the need to refer to 'saggy tits' and 'bad teeth' and called her 'a sad old moose'. His defence? That the Chief Exec 'uses' her appearance in her line of work and has put herself at the forefront of various publicity efforts by the Council, and therefore such criticism is permissible.

Through Twitter I asked him whether she 'used her breasts' and he said 'they have been noted'. I replied by asking, 'noted as in deliberately put on public display, or noted just because they exist?' (In which case virtually every woman would be fair game). I didn't get an answer. I don't think such comments are acceptable in any circumstances, unless someone is taking her top off for a living in which case I think it's fair to expect a degree of customer feedback. So yes, BB, as one of your readers says, you are a 'sexist old loon'.

But on a more general note... Like other politicians my job involves putting myself in the public spotlight. People need to know who their MP is, and that's means having name and face recognition. To be honest, I cringe at the thought of putting leaflets through strangers' doors with my pictures on them.... but it has to be done. And that inevitably means people will pass comment on those pictures, (with special thanks to the woman during my 2005 election campaign who said I looked like Sonia from Eastenders). But is that a case of me, or any other politician, or Jan Ormondroyd, 'using their appearance'?

I'd ask the Blogger this: if a man puts himself in the spotlight in order to promote an organisation, or publicise a cause - let's take Richard Branson as an example - would you regard him as using or exploiting his physical appearance? I don't think you would. So why does it apply to women with a high public profile? Or is that only permissible for young and attractive women? Should all middle-aged women only be allowed out in public with bags over their heads?

Seeing as it's inevitably going to come up, yes, I have seen the pictures of Caroline Flint, the Europe Minister, in today's Observer Women, modelling for a fashion shoot. They're nice pictures. Does doing this shoot make it open season for people who want to comment on her looks? I think that horse has already bolted a long time ago, judging from the blogs, but I suppose it makes it more difficult to sustain the 'judge what I say, not what I look like' line. But some - most - female MPs - aspire to nothing more than not looking too scruffy or too knackered (or am I just speaking for myself here?)

I accept it's unrealistic to expect not to be judged on appearance, to an extent. I asked my mother once what she thought of Barbara Castle and she said 'well she was always very smart'. A lot of women voters, including my mother, didn't approve of Shirley Williams because she was always rather dishevelled looking. That's to be expected, it goes with the territory. But there's a big difference between that and assuming that because we have our photos in the paper, fully-clothed, we're inviting public commentary on our breasts. (I say 'public'; I recognise the futility of expecting men not to talk about them at all!)


Bevanite said...

can I say I third the 'old sexist loon' comment. It is ridiculous to suggest that a women shouldn't put her photo on campaign material or publicity unless she's Heidi Klum. How disgusting. Should Glenda Jackson have stopped showing her face once she reached 50? or earlier perhaps.
In any case, a woman shouldn't feel the need hide away, good looking or not so great, because she is judged by bitter men (and often women too). I think the woman who puts herself out there, photo and name, should be respected at least for doing that...not judged by an anonymous, faceless troll.

p.s. I'm struggling with my conscience as to why, however, I found the Caroline Flint pictures so unbelievably cringe-worthy. I think she's brave for doing them. Not sure if it was a great move though. Maybe once you decide to be a politician, and get to ministerial rank, you kind of have to put the modelling on the back burner.

Steve said...

Bit of a no brainer, clearly the Bristol blogger is sexist there is asolutely no defence for the references to the Bristol CE.

As for Caroine Flint I fear that she has rendered your position as a woman MP that little i more difficult, similarlly if a male MP was to appear on in a similar publication and pose he would invite negative comments.
Politics is a serious business and peoples lives depend upon decisions that our representatives take, there is no place for superificiality. Give me substance over style any day of the week.

Jennie said...

An entirely non-partisan "hear hear" from a Lib Dem here.

Anonymous said...

Talking of tits, Kerry. You may remember that a few months ago, one of your henchmen had the cheek to call my femininity into question.

Well now, I’m in a position to make you a handsome offer. I will make available to you, completely free, gratis, and with no obligation, to prove to you that I really am a woman, a photograph of my tits, HOT off my computer! You may even, if you choose, use my breasts for your own staff on their computers. They’re not at all saggy, in fact they’re really quite pert for a woman of our age (yours and mine that is, Kerry.) You will not be disappointed.

Kerry said...

That seals it. You're definitely a bloke.

Dick the Prick said...

I think it's perfectly fine using people's appearance as criticism as long as it's acknowledged that in so doing the 'ejeet' label applies immediately.

On a sort of sartorial front and stuff - and i'm sure it's a bit of a truism, it's significantly easier being a bloke - clean shirt, clean keks, boring tie, shower, shave and brush of teeth - 15 mins - job done.

Bristol Dave said...

In fairness, Jan's desire to get her photo about the place goes a bit further than just on a few council leaflets.

Such is her narcissism that I'm reliably informed BCC staff have to have a page with a (and I quote) "massive gurning photo of Jan" along with her daily thoughts she wants to pass on to her minions pop up every time they log onto their PCs. The request to have this happen apparently came directly from the top.

She seems to want to have her photo everywhere, a la Chairman Mao - I think it comes under "marketing the city" or some such bollocks - and this is what (as I understand it) the Blogger took as reasonable justification to pass comment on her appearance. The less said about Jandroid's tits the better, though I'd be lying if I said I didn't laugh at his blog post.

Tina Louise said...

Excellent article and a good thought provoking read.

I tend to look at politicians and particularly the behaviour of politicians appearing as if from a different species from almost everyone I know.

As to there being any thought of breasts or judging on attractiveness - I am too busy watching for signs that they can make some wise decisions - not if they look lovely or otherwise whilst doing so.

timbone said...

In everyday life it is well known that a woman can get a different response depending on her physical appearance. If a woman is slim and attractive people can be more helpful. If she is plump maybe not. If she is tarty she is not taken seriously.
As far as women with a public profile are concerned, their physical appearance can effect the public response initially. I do believe however that there personality and characteristics and most important of all, there attitude and belief overide this.
Deborah Arnott is plain but well groomed and inteligent. If she was the head of a successful school, both academically and socially, then someone like me would think well of her. Because she was instrumental in a law which has a negative effect on me however, I cannot stand the sight of her, and her whole appearance makes me sick.
Here is something confusing though. Although Caroline Flint was also part of that attack on my lifestyle, I read your article and was annoyed that I did not get the Observer today. Go figure.
It is not just appearance though, it is also the sound that you make. When Margaret Thatcher went for elocution to get a more assertive sound to her voice, her popularity began to plummet even more. On the other hand, could you imagine a Prime Misnister with a thick Birmingham accent - that being thick as in intense, although it does conjure up the stereotype.
I know this was about women, but it applies equally to men when it comes to having a public profile. Noone could ever take Michael Foot seriously because of his appearance. To this day he is thought of by many as a joke, when in fact he was a very intense, well read person with innovative ideas. Another man to draw into the equation is Gordon Brown. If one came across him in everyday life, he would just be a Scotsman with a few strange mannerisms minding his own business. Instead, he is a Scotsman who many cannot stand to even look at minding everyone elses business.

Kerry said...

I think that if one is in the business of coining insulting names for people, which is not to say I endorse such practices, then
'Jandroid' is a considerable improvement on 'Bum Disease'.

Bristol Dave said...


"This is not the Ormondroyd you are looking for."

Obi Wan Kenobi, Star Wars


Anonymous said...

Well Kerry, first I appear on your blog, and, when I say things with which you and your henchmen disagree, I am accused of being a man. But, I suppose that’s how it is in NuLiebore land; everyone has to fit the politically correct stereotype.

So Kerry, what am I to do? Should I sit back and accept what you say about me? No! I’m just not that kind of girl. You know that there’s only one way that I can reply to your calumny:

Warning, Boobshot! Do not visit if you don’t want to see the proof.

Kerry, this is what you have forced me to do.

Anonymous said...

Feels a bit like I've been called to the headteacher's study to explain myself ...

Leaving aside the entertainment to be had from prodding the Harriet Harman brigade with a sharp stick and watching them jump up and down, Bristol Dave has already correctly pointed out the context of my comments.

This is Ms Ormondroyd's bizarre efforts to market herself on the council's computer system to her own staff. She has effectively decided that every member of her staff must have a dreadful photograph of her on their desk.

The humour in my remarks - such as it is - arises from the gulf between Ms Ormondroyd's intention - to try and sell herself as some sort of stylish, state-of-the-art charismatic leader and authority figure - and the utter derision with which these efforts have been greeted by her target audience.

This is entirely the result of Ms Ormondroyd's amateurism and artlessness. She wafted into town banging on about business and marketing and then implements a leadership strategy so pisspoor, clueless and embarrassing in its execution it's laughable.

Marketing an organisation based around your own image is a big ask. Marketing a small, provincial arm of government around the image of a dull career civil servant borders on the insane.You might think someone claiming business and marketing skills might have the awareness and self awareness to realise this.

I like to see my own artless and dumb comments as a corollary to her absolutely pathetic efforts.

But what really worries me about all this is that our political class find time to criticise throwaway lines on an obscure internet site but have no comment to make about a clueless idiot being paid £180k a year for business and marketing skills - which they blatantly don't have - from the public purse.

PS. You seem to be confused between Robert Redford the actor who plays journalist Bob Woodward and the actual journalist Bob Woodward. Perhaps there's a lesson in there somewhere on skilful image manipulation for Ms Ormondroyd?

Kerry said...

You mean Jan O should get Kelly Brook to act as a stand in on public occasions?

I don't have any objections with you criticising her for the way she does her job, or how much she is paid, or even her alleged propensity for self-promotion. But I still fail to see what her breasts have got to do with it.

Bristol Dave said...

Oh, another point - if you read the blogger's post he was only quoting a "senior (female) council officer".

Evidently she thought the breasts were worth commenting on, and despite the Blogger repeating these comments on a widely-read blog I think there is a small case of shooting the messenger here.

P.S. I haven't seen All The President's Men, but Robert Redford was crap in Sneakers (Mind you, who wasn't?)

Emerald - nice shot :)

timbone said...

Emerald said "Kerry, this is what you have forced me to do." - and I went and had a look. OMG, Kerry's blog now has a page 3, and may I be the first to compliment the first of said pages. What an inteligent pair of statements, backed up by two cups brimming with wisdom.

Anonymous said...

I was kinda hoping no-one but Kerry would look (lol). Anyway, thanks guys - that’s got me blushing, I’m told!

I can’t believe that Kerry called my bluff like that. It is IRONIC, particularly in this context, don’t you think, that a blogger who, presumably, considers herself to be politically correct, right on, LGBT- and woman-friendly, refuses point blank to accept the self-identification of another woman, and so pushes one of her own constituents into having to prove online her credentials as a “real” female … and all just because she and her cronies consider my views to be unsuitable, or inappropriate for a woman to hold?

Kerry, you had better hope that this doesn’t go much further, because it doesn’t take too lively an imagination to figure out what a gift of a funny story it would be to some of the tabloids. “MP forces woman constituent into getting her tits out online”. Oh dear.

Still, we shouldn’t really expect any better from a party whose women’s section barred one of their own elected councillors (Cllr Rosalind Mitchell) from section meetings, on the pathetic grounds that, as a transgender person and self-identifying woman, she was somehow also not a “proper” woman.

Bristol Blogger wrote: “what really worries me about all this is that our political class find time to criticise throwaway lines on an obscure internet site but have no comment to make about a clueless idiot being paid £180k a year for business and marketing skills - which they blatantly don't have - from the public purse.”

Too, too true, BB. As a constituent, it worries me very much that my MP appears to have been stewing over a relatively unimportant, if transiently amusing story (ie., what put-upon BCC staff reckon to being daily subjected to the sight of Jan’s body - whether clothed or otherwise - on their computers at work) for a whole two, yes that’s two weeks. Huh?????

And this while her party is disintegrating around her, having not only completely screwed over the country, but also having betrayed traditional (Old Labour) communities and created an ideal ecological niche for parties like the BNP.

Get a sense of proportion, Kerry, before it’s too late!

On the subject of film characters, did I see Old Holborn revealing that Penguin looks “just like Brad Pitt” ? ... mmmm, yes please ... I must visit HIS blog more often ...

Kerry said...

I didn't actually look at the link - I assumed you were calling my bluff. Have I just posted porn on my blog? At least it's not publicly funded!

As for the 'is this an issue worth talking about' point... yes it is, because it's not about one man's comments about one woman, it's about a much wider issue than that. And at the risk of sounding a bit crotchety... why do people always accuse me of 'only blogging about X, Y and Z'? There are over 1000 posts on here, take your pick!

Anonymous said...

Too right it's about a wider issue.

It's about a political class more concerned with the minituae of our everyday conversations than with the sound conduct of public affairs and finance.

And we end up with a shattered economy and finance system while the absurd political-bureaucratic class responsible develop an ever grander sense of their own superior morality and entitlement to our money.

Kerry said...

I spend 99.9% of my time talking about issues other than your misogynistic ramblings. Stop trying to get off the hook.