Rugby league legend Graham Lowe alarmed Jacinda Ardern after he described her as “a pretty little thing” when asked if she would make a good Prime Minister.
National Council of Women New Zealand chief executive Sue McCabe said the description of MP Jacinda Ardern as “a pretty little thing” was dismissive and condescending.
“Within the context, a woman’s appearance is irrelevant; rather the focus should be on her abilities as a politician and potential Prime Minister.
“By focusing on her appearance and describing a grown woman as ‘little’, the panellist showed a lack of respect for Jacinda.
“This comment is sexist. Often when people highlight sexism, the concern is dismissed. More often than not, it’s seen as a one-off comment and the person apologises.
“However, these comments are symbolic of the sexism that is entrenched in our culture.
“We call on New Zealanders to think about the language they use and make sure it reflects the equality of genders.”
But the context around Ardern’s surge in popularity complicates all of this a bit, I think. She isn’t popular because she’s an effective campaigner, or because she’s been breaking big stories or landing hits on the government in the House. She’s popular because she’s gotten glowing coverage in the women’s magazines over the last few months, appearing on the cover of Next magazine and being profiled in the Woman’s Weekly. I assume this is all being facilitated by Labour’s new comms director who is a former Woman’s Weekly editor and it is a level and type of coverage that any politician – even the Prime Minister – would envy.
Ardern’s popularity subsequent to that coverage tells us something very interesting about the power of that type of media, which is something that political nerds like me are usually oblivious to. But it’s also something that’s happening because she’s really pretty. And there’s something problematic about insisting politicians shouldn’t be judged on their looks when they do appear to be succeeding specifically because of their appearance.
Update: Accusations of sexism in the comments which were inevitable and may, I guess, be true. What I’d genuinely like to hear is a feminist perspective on politicians elevating themselves through the celebrity/gossip media instead of traditional media platforms. People like Clark and Key have appeared in these magazines, obviously – but after they’ve risen to prominence. Ardern’s use of them to achieve prominence is a new phenomenon in New Zealand politics, I think, and worth talking about. So it’d be a shame if it was just me pontificating away while everyone else declared it a taboo subject.
Another update: Hooton argues that Ardern’s popularity comes from an imitation of John Key’s mastery of soft media:
Much more important to Ms Ardern’s rise, as for Mr Key’s, are her regular appearances in the likes of the Women’s Weekly and Next and on Back Benches and Breakfast. She has well over 35,000 Twitter followers while Mr Little has yet to break 8000, and an army on Facebook and Instgram. We know her first cat was called Norm.
It was this activity – not her endorsement by chief executives or any portfolio work – that saw her enter DigiPoll’s preferred prime minister list, even if only at 4%.