This article first appeared on Malta Today
Michelle Muscat must be feeling somewhat relieved that some of the pressure has been taken off the constant scrutiny she has been subjected to ever since Joseph Muscat was elected Leader of the Labour Party in 2008, and even more so when he became PM. From the minute she was thrust into the spotlight almost ten years ago, she has been relentlessly and often very unkindly picked apart from head to toe, not only when it comes to her fashion choices, but also her general appearance, from her facial features to her figure.
These days, however the public gaze is focussed on Opposition Leader Adrian Delia’s wife, Nickie Vella de Fremaux who has just appeared on the political scene and who is now feeling the brunt of the same kind of poison tongue treatment.
And before anyone comes back at me with that tired phrase “where were you?”, may I remind them that I have always objected to this gossipy sniping about women’s appearances. I had also pointed out that it was eventually bound to happen that those who used to relish mocking Michelle and pouncing on her every gaffe, would not take too kindly to a situation when one day, a similar type of ridicule would be heaped on the Opposition Leader’s other half. Well, that day has come.
Now, I can understand when the spouses of politicians are criticized for what they say or do, because once one steps into the limelight by giving interviews or making public appearances, then one becomes a public figure and that’s it, you have to take the flak. As anyone in the public eye, from celebrities to Royals have learned, media attention is a double-edged sword and you can’t court it when it suits you for your own ends, but then expect it to vanish when it turns against you.
But it has always bothered me that women (whether they are politicians themselves, or else the wives of politicians) who appear on the public’s radar, are considered to be easy prey for those who have nothing better to do than be snide and nasty about their looks.
It certainly has not helped matters that people are given online platforms to write malicious things anonymously against others either. For all you know it might be those whom you consider “friends” who are being so openly (yet sneakily) vicious and tearing you apart like famished vultures licking their chops at the opportunity to tear you to shreds without you knowing who they are. You cannot help but wonder: have they secretly always harboured this personal resentment and are simply thrilled to finally have the chance to let it all out?
It’s like everyone has become a wannabe Joan Rivers, zooming in on every pimple, blemish and fashion faux pas for all the world as if a whistle had been blown and it has been declared open season to attack the way women look and dress. Think about it, no male public figure is analysed so mercilessly, from every flick of their hair to their type of shoes, as women are, because we do not normally judge a man on how he looks and even downright ugly men can get away with being in the public eye if they have personality and brains. And tragically, they get away with it even when they have neither. It is also true that the sheer intensity of the bitchiness usually comes from other women, who know all the tricks of the trade when it comes to artificial enhancements and the magical powers of the right kind of make-up. But come on, let’s admit that we all try to look our best, even if we are not in the public eye, and as I always say, thank God for whoever invented make-up.
When I read the hurtful, malicious online comments I always cringe and think, thank God it’s not me they’re talking about because it must be devastating to read such things about one’s self. My next thought is that it has to be a very conceited (or completely delusional) woman to sit there and attack another woman based purely on her looks. For who among us is so utterly perfect that we can point fingers and jab at the flaws and imperfections of others? I can assure you that there are very few women who can wake up in the morning sans make-up, and still look beautiful (and usually they are in the bloom of youth). And even if one were blessed with naturally stunning looks, it is just not done that one lashes out at another woman for her appearance, especially in an online comment for all the world to see. It’s simply cruel and heartless, apart from requiring a lot of chutzpah because the immediate reaction will be for others to take one look at your photos and tell you, “seriously? who are you to talk about looks?” (Which probably explains why so many people hide behind anonymity, a perfectly cowardly thing to do).
And what is it about politicians’ wives which brings out the Mean Girls syndrome in so many people? One of the silliest threads I saw on Facebook recently turned into a comparison of who was better-looking, in that proprietary way people have when speaking about politicians from their party: “our Michelle” or “our Nickie”.
Here we are trying to teach girls to rely on their intellect rather than their looks to get ahead, and yet in the narcissistic social media world we live in we are still pitting women in the public eye against each other as if it were some beauty contest.