Dress sells the politico

Date: January 1, 1970
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The article looks at how a good dress sense or lack of, plays a part in making or breaking one’s political image.

This article may be used to:
  • highlight the extent to which women are regarded as accessories to their male partners;
  • as a good example of subtle stereotyping of women in the media;
  • discuss how media often focuses on women’s physical appearance; and
  • encourage discussion on women in politics. 
Trainer’s notes
This article looks at how a well-dressed woman can enhance her husband’s political career; it treats women as accessories who are there to play a decorative purpose in their partners’ lives. The women referred to in the article play a much important role in their partners’ lives, making decisions that affect not only their families but their entire counties as well, yet the article fails to appreciate this.
It fails to take into recognition that some of the women mentioned, like Winnie Madikizela Mandela and Graca Machel are politicians in their own right, and mentioning  them in relation to their husbands is doing them no justice at all. As well, the article insinuates that people feel less fond of Graca Machel because her style of dress is not fashionable, whereas in reality she is very well respected in her own country, and around the world.
The article also fails to look at the men’s dress sense, making it unclear why it would choose to focus on the women who are often on the periphery .Only Thabo Mbeki, Nelson Mandela and President Mandela’s dress sense is mentioned in passing. The fact that the article choose to look at only female partners only (it could have looked at male partners, e.g the husband of Liberian President and the husband of the Irish president) confirms that it has relegated women to roles of being nothing more than accessories. Although there is probably some truth in that first ladies are judged by the pubic by their style, the article could have chosen to interrogate this.
Another issue with the article, it does little to highlight any kind of leadership debate. Rather than examining the politicians involved and their contributions, their successes or failures are associated with how their partners are dressed. What perhaps would have been more interesting would be to examine how leaders personal relationship with their wives reflect their public policies.
Discussion Questions
  • What angle would you have taken to highlight the role that politicians’ wives play in their husbands political roles?
  • Have you ever come across any articles that concentrate on male politicians’ dress sense? If so, how was it reported? If not, why do you think the media never bothers on reporting on such news?
 Training exercises
  • Take a poll, what do people expect from their leaders partners? What makes them good first wives/ husbands?
  • Conduct a research poll, ask people who their favoured leaders are, and what they like about them.
  • Conduct media monitoring on how media covers men and women in politics differently. 

Links to other training resources
Gender and Governance
Picture our lives: Gender and images https://www.genderlinks.org.za/page.php?p_id=97
Business Unusual: Gender and the economy https://www.genderlinks.org.za/page.php?p_id=310 


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