It’s really easy. Don’t tell a woman what to wear. Not ever.
Some women feel confident in a business suit while others feel powerful in button-downs. It’s all about choice. You would think Canada’s first female prime minister Kim Campbell would understand that. Campbell broke new ground in 1993 leading this country but 25 years later, she seems to have lost touch with groundbreaking women in a single tweet.
Her tweet, posted Tuesday morning, reads: “I am struck by how many women on television news wear sleeveless dresses — often when sitting with suited men. I have always felt it was demeaning to the women and this suggests that I am right. Bare arms undermine credibility and gravitas!”
She posted it along with a link to an article about public speaking wardrobe tips written by a man who bills himself as one of America’s top communication theorists and coaches. His advice? If you wear a sleeveless dress, “it means you’re going to look less brilliant than if you covered your arms.”
For the record, no television executive has ever told me what to wear. In my 20-year career on television, I’ve worn sleeves, no sleeves, cap sleeves, three-quarter length sleeves. I haven’t lost brain cells while wearing a sleeveless dress. I also haven’t grown smarter in a business suit. I’m not sure why Campbell thinks I should feel demeaned sitting beside a suited co-anchor. I hope Alan Carter doesn’t feel demeaned sitting next to me.
One photo that has been brought up since her controversial tweet is a stunning 1990 black-and-white shot of Ms. Campbell, then Canada’s Minister of Justice, standing bare-shouldered behind a judge’s robe. Back then, it got a mixed reaction.
Campbell was described as everything from Canada’s Madonna to its Margaret Thatcher. Polls even suggested the Conservative Party would double its support with her as leader. Campbell pointed out today that the photo was art and that she “wasn’t presenting the news!”
No, she wasn’t, but she is representing countless women whose shoulders she stood on as leader of the country and countless women who are working hard to match her achievements.
When you are the first woman at anything, you have a responsibility. Whether you intend to be or not, you are a role model and what you say has an impact.
We often tell young women that what they say matters, the work they produce matters, but the one woman who has achieved something no other woman has in our country is saying, “No, it is how you look that matters.”