Let’s be honest about it. Former Canadian prime minister Kim Campbell didn’t just get it wrong when she tweeted that women broadcasters shouldn’t be showing bare arms. She got it right as well. Too bad she didn’t take the argument all the way.
“Bare arms,” Campbell asserted, “undermine credibility and gravitas.”
Well, she does have a point. Perhaps most women don’t care what the shape of other women’s arms says about the rest of their bodies, but I’m willing to bet that most men do, irrespective of who approves and who doesn’t. Assuming that roughly one half of most TV news audiences is male, that makes for a sizable number of potentially distracted viewers.
Maybe it’s really no big deal. If you’re into ogling women, everything counts, from the shape and colour of the lips to the depth of the dimple at the base of the neck. Unless you have a fetish for them, bare arms add no more than just another little jolt to an already aroused curiosity.
Yet the question needs to be asked: who’s responsible here? The ogler or the ogled? And what do “credibility” and “gravitas” amount to anyway if not qualities traditionally associated with men?
Campbell’s critics, and they blew in fast and furious, correctly point out that what’s at stake here is women’s right to make their own decisions. What would you have female broadcasters wear to achieve credibility and gravitas — the boring suits and strangulating neck ties that men sport to confirm their self-given importance? Is that all emancipation amounts to — looking and behaving like those whose power you’re pushing against?
Campbell’s critics, and they blew in fast and furious, correctly point out that what’s at stake here is women’s right to make their own decisions.
Campbell seems to have taken her cues on this issue from professionals like Nick Morgan, an American expert on public speaking. According to Morgan, a speech is only as effective as its presentation. To his credit, he doesn’t discriminate. He considers bare arms on female presenters every bit as distracting as T-shirts on male counterparts.
Morgan may very well be right. If so, Campbell walked both courageously and foolishly into the oldest hornets’ nest of all.
Showing skin may no longer be the taboo it once was, but the annual red-carpet celebrity spectacles of vertiginous plunge lines and fastidiously tied collars speak of a persisting divide between men and women that keeps the hornets flying.
Campbell was going to get stung one way or the other, so why not take the argument to its logical conclusion. If female broadcasters are asked to roll down their sleeves, maybe male broadcasters should be encouraged to unbutton their collars. The two sides could meet halfway, and we could take the rest from there.
God knows there’s plenty left to argue over.