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It's 2018 and the Irish media is still talking about the 'sex appeal' of female politicians

A headline in the Irish Examiner read ‘There’s no denying Mary Lou’s sex appeal’.

FOR THOSE OF you who missed it over the weekend, the Irish Examiner ran the headline ‘There’s no denying Mary Lou’s sex appeal’.

PastedImage-1807 Source: Irish Examiner

On first glance you might think ‘It’s 2018, why on earth is that a headline?’.

Then you decide you won’t a snap judgement and you read the article. Unfortunately it doesn’t really improve from there.

First it starts off by comparing Mary Lou’s attractiveness to Margaret Thatcher which is given Sinn Féin is left-wing, I don’t think Mary Lou would be mad keen on.

Margaret Thatcher documentary Source: PA Wire/PA Images

From there we get a description of Mary Lou and Vincent Browne discussing Brexit during the week at a meeting in Drumconda which because of boundary changes, Mary Lou is now the local TD of again.

Instead, her poise intact, she sat confidently, smiled and joked with Browne, toyed with him in fact in a flirtatious and playful way. As they sat beside each other at the top table, she nudged him with her elbow, she tapped his hand playfully, all subtly saying to the quizmaster and to the room, that she was in charge. It was intoxicating.”

Honestly we’re about two seconds away from the writer describing her as a ‘porcelain skinned goddess with sumptuous breasts and legs to die for’.

And herein lies the problem.

Mary Lou McDonald is an established politician and the President of Sinn Féin. It wasn’t her looks that got her to that position and to title this piece with such a headline is pretty insulting and boring. It’s 2018. We should be talking about male and female politicians equally.

And just to prove I am not coming from a sexist viewpoint, Bertie Ahern had it, Tony Blair had it, Leo Varadkar has it, Justin Trudeau has it. They light up a room, make people sit up and listen and Ms McDonald is the most captivating female leader Ireland has seen in a long time.”

Saying you’re not sexist does not absolve you of inherent sexism.

I don’t recall ever seeing a headline like ‘Bertie Ahern: The Sex God of the Boom’ or ‘Leo Varadkar’s Sex Appeal Will Prevent a Hard Border in the North’. You know why? Because nobody in their right mind would ever write them.

Source: PA Wire/PA Images

You can describe a female politician in a million different ways without having to refer to her appearance. Not once does the writer use the word ‘charismatic’, something that is used to describe Leo Varadkar all the time. That’s how you should describe female politicians.

The way we talk about our female politicians is important. Given that just over a third of the current Dáil is female, pitting them against one another by describing their appearance is a waste of everyone’s time and energy.

She transcends that and has used all of her considerable skills — including her attractiveness — to climb the ranks of Sinn Féin in a relatively short time to become its unassailable leader. I think, like Thatcher, Ms McDonald has exploited her gender positively to make herself the obvious choice to succeed Gerry Adams.

Or maybe you know, she was the best qualified candidate for the job. Maybe it has nothing to do with her looks at all.

Women can be attractive and damn good at their jobs too. Both are not mutually exclusive. Just because Mary Lou McDonald is attractive doesn’t mean that’s why she’s President of Sinn Féin.

It’s not 1975 anymore. Women can be successful and to put it down to their sex appeal is missing the point.

I’ll leave you on this note. We’ve had a few female leaders of political parties such as Joan Burton of Labour and Catherine Murphy and Róisín Shorthall of the Social Democrats.

Funny how they haven’t had a headline written about their sex appeal isn’t it? Surely it would be nothing to do with their age or anything?

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About the author:

Rachel O'Neill

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