Danyl McL blogs:
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.
My thoughts are three-fold:
- Graham Lowe’s comments were inappropriate as the phrase “a pretty little thing” is sexist and condescending
- However it is a fact that attractiveness is a factor in political success. There have been peer-reviewed experiments backing this up. And it is not inappropriate to comment that attractiveness is a factor, especially when as Danyl points out that you are doing front page photo shoots for women’s magazine covers. And this doesn’t apply just to female politicians. Simon Bridges’ looks play a part in his success also, in my opinion.
- One can recognise attractiveness as a factor in political success, but it is silly and demeaning to suggest it is the only factor in their success.
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.
Matthew Hooton has also written in the print edition of NBR about how unprecedented it is for a non leader like Ardern to be at 4% Preferred Prime Minister, as it is an unprompted question. It means that one in 25 New Zealanders when asked who they want to be Prime Minister, name her without prompting. That is an extraordinary achievement, when you take into account she is only the 9th ranked Labour MP.
For myself I rate Ardern’s political skills, and will point out that in 2012 I predicted she will be Labour Leader and Prime Minister one day.