Here’s a quick thought: in a week when political wives shone, and political husbands were shunned, why is it that we love the modern female political spouse so much? Granted, they do the job allotted to them with supreme grace and humour, but that’s the point: it’s a job and yet not a job. Increasingly, these women have the patina of both celebrity and deep political involvement, and yet they are not public figures in any meaningful sense.
By definition, politicians must make decisions that genuinely affect lives; they must take countries to war, tax the rich or the poor: the unpleasant realities of power are such that we rarely love our elected figures, except in the first post election flush, and particularly not our female ones.
Interesting then that we didn’t hear much about the women in power this week. Hilary Clinton: who’s she, now she’s got a proper job? Angela Merkel was largely derided as a potential trouble maker. As for the Argentinian President: does anyone even remember her name? No, that may be because press coverage dwelled almost obsessively on that wonky seam at the back of Michelle’s Junya Watanabe cardigan instead.
Ironically, it was much easier to see through the illusion/contradiction of political wives when Carla Bruni visited London last year, largely because she played the Jackie O role to the point of parody: all that demure Dior couture and those tiny seductive smiles. In contrast, Michelle Obama and Sarah Brown are patently sincere and caring, as both private and public wives. Even so, the amount of positive coverage given to all those women up for Best Supporting Role, rather than active decision makers, still makes me uneasy. Not about them. But about what it means for women in general.
As for male political spouses, they will always court public pity and disdain, and not just because of occasional slip ups over home viewing. We are at heart such a conservative society, we will never truly appreciate a man who takes the back seat to a powerful woman just as we rarely applaud a woman who wants to rule a country, rather than a man or nation’s heart.