Hillary Clinton Often Gets Flak For Not Smiling Enough. Why Don’t Female Politicians In India Face This?

Posted: September 29, 2016

There was a huge buzz on social media about Hillary Clinton not smiling enough. However Indian women leaders are accepted more easily for their public image. Why should this be?

How often have you heard, in the past couple of months, that Hillary Clinton had digs and swipes at her for not ‘smiling enough’ or for looking ‘tired’ and such? It’s almost a slap on the wrist from the media, the opposition, and perhaps bloggers from the basement that have an opinion around pivoting Hillary Clinton’s identity, as a woman to drag her down.

Interestingly, though, India doesn’t seem to have an undercurrent that suggests a similar prerequisite for its women leaders: I’ve never read about anyone expecting a smile from Jayalalitha or Mayawati, or anyone purporting that Sushma Swaraj or Smriti Irani looked too tired, or that Sonia Gandhi or Mamta Banerjee need to dress differently. I’m genuinely curious to see how that would pan out: imagine piping up at a press conference and saying to one of these women leaders that they should smile more. Yeah – I’m willing to bet that no one would.

And hold your guns: this is the same country that spent time scrutinizing Hina Rabbani Khar’s outfit and bags, and Michelle Obama’s memorable dance to Rang De Basanti.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying that we should be expecting this of our women leaders – bless them all for regardless of their political affiliations, they’ve all been hard working and strong women to stand tall against a sea of men. But rather, that this dimension of the politics and gender discourse seems pretty intriguing.

One wonders what this is all about: is the ‘gori mem’ standard a different one? Are our expectations of our women leaders so substantively driven that the patriarchies propping up aesthetics and appearances have been shed and cast aside? Or, is it that we have a different way of looking at it altogether?

I’ve been mulling over this question for the greater part of the day: and between an injured wrist and hours of watching the television in a public place because they always show the news, or a wildlife channel – thank heavens it wasn’t the latter because I can only digest this much of one animal being torn to bits at the hands of another. I digress with an apology. The question went deeper, answers were sought from people around me, and the findings are pretty interesting. One idea that came to my mind was that this could be because women leaders in India have a different image to portray, one of party perspectives, and their endorsement of these ideas ultimately becomes their identity – so such things as smiling don’t have a role to play so long as these women endorse the ideals they are aligned with.

Another idea, though, opened up a can of worms. Could it be that the aesthetics of appearance were a thing reserved for the women in the entertainment industry in popular culture, not so much for women in politics. Why? Because, there is this notion that since our leaders represent our nation in their specific areas of expertise, and that a woman’s behaviour is given so much weight (by being an ambassador of what they are ‘asking for’) – the pressure is a reverse effect. They simply have to look sanskari and serious and bereft of glamorous frills that are required of women in, say, perhaps, the entertainment industry. Yep. Perhaps that’s it. Welcome to the politics of aesthetics!

Image Source: Youtube

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