Feminism, Pop-Culture | Posted by Sophie M on 12/30/2013

Helle Thorning-Schmidt vs. Mary Beard or Why Women Just Can’t Get It Right

You’ve been living under a rock if you’re not in the know about the Obama #selfie pic which circulated after the Nelson Mandela memorial service. If you have in fact been residing under said rock then here’s the low-down: Obama, President of the United States and Leader of the Free World teamed up with UK PM David Cameron to sandwich Danish Prime Minister, Helle Thorning-Schmidt for perhaps the most powerful selfie ever taken.

While I personally do find it a little inappropriate that these three world leaders deemed it the opportune moment to snap a pic for posterity, I don’t think it deserves the hysteria it’s amassed. Especially since the photographer who took the picture has admitted that their behavior was actually in tone with the jovial atmosphere of the memorial.

Of particular note is this article written by Andrea Peyser in the New York Post. Peyser perpetuates the worst kind of sexism – the kind that is directed at your own sex. In a world where women should stand together for support to eradicate sexist stereotypes and judgemental misconceptions over appearance, Peyser instead chooses to imbed her article with snide comments, such as:

“Not to be outdone by the president’s bad behavior, the Danish hellcat hiked up her skirt to expose long Scandinavian legs covered by nothing more substantial than sheer black stockings.”

Peyser omits mention of David Cameron from her article to feed the shit storm that she is trying to whirl up regarding Obama and the Danish PM. The mere fact that she has reduced the Prime Minister of Denmark to nothing more than a provocative ‘hellcat’ begs the question – what has an attractive blonde done to Andrea Peyser in the past? Peyser slams Thorning-Schmidt for wearing ‘sheer black stockings’ which I think we can all agree weren’t exactly held up with a garter belt and teamed with a corset.

Helle Thorning-Schmidt is an attractive woman but she is clearly also a successful, intelligent, powerful and driven woman. Oh, and married to boot. As is Obama, who is vilified for animatedly talking to her while his wife, Michelle Obama, sat nearby. Is Peyser simply feeding fraught and paranoid female mentality that should your husband talk to a good looking woman he must be flirting, or with a mind to cheat? If your relationship is strong it shouldn’t matter that your husband is enjoying a conversation with a pretty woman. Should Helle Thorning-Schmidt dress more like Maggie to avoid implication that she is, in fact, just a Danish hellcat? Would Andrea Peyser feel less threatened if the Danish PM didn’t take the time to get her highlights done or put on a lick of lipstick? Should intelligent women pay no heed to their appearance so that women like Andrea Peyser don’t feel threatened and proceed to stir up a media frenzy so that other women do too?

Which brings me nicely to my next point and the alternative post title: Why Woman Just Can’t Get It Right. In stark contradiction to the whole HelleCat scenario is an educated and strong woman who has paid an equal price for her success in the press.

Mary Beard AKA one of the loves of my life (I’m a Classicist, not a stalker) has often suffered at the hands of cruel comments regarding her appearance.

Mary Beard may arguably be the greatest living classicist but after an appearance on Question Time it wasn’t her opinions or contributions to discussions which sparked viewer debate, it was how she looked. One viewer commented that Mary has ‘cheese straws for teeth’ and she has been dismissed as ‘too ugly’ for TV, a fact which apparently outshines her superbly crafted documentaries all imbued with her standard wit and humour.

While Beard herself manages to dismiss the cruelty (although I can’t imagine this is easy, even for the most rational and level-headed of women) it again makes you wonder. What do people want from intelligent women? These women just can’t seem to get it right.

While the media and public should focus on Helle’s policies and her ability to lead her country along with Mary’s contribution to studies of the classical world, it is their appearances which take center stage when it plays no role in either’s professional capability. The Danish PM is branded an adulterous hussy for not wearing a burqa while Mary Beard, a University of Cambridge lecturer, is bullied for not forking out money she earns penning best selling books on expensive cosmetic surgery to fix her teeth.

It seems to me that the real problem isn’t how either Helle or Mary look, it’s how society looks on them. Modern women are given free reign to educate ourselves to a level that we personally see fit, those that have denied women this opportunity in the past and present are branded misogynistic bigots. You don’t hear anyone saying ‘she shouldn’t be on TV because she’s too smart’ or ‘she shouldn’t be on TV because she’s too dumb’.

Women should be granted the same liberty with their appearance as they are their education. I’m not advocating filthy clothes or ceasing to wash, but if Mary Beard chooses to cultivate her mind rather than her barnet then this should be celebrated, it took women a long time to achieve this ‘right’. Equally Helle Thorning-Schmidt should be praised for her ability to run a country and look great in the process.

In their own ways both of these women are getting it right and it’s ignorant people with stone age opinions that are getting it wrong. You’ve only got one life and it doesn’t last very long, learn what you what to learn, look how you want to look and don’t judge other people for doing the same.

Originally posted on Sophie’s Face

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