Kim Campbell tells it like it is

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It is incomprehensible how many women on Fox and CNN news networks appear to have breast enhancements, bottled hair and perfectly toned bare arms. Can you imagine Peter Mansbridge reading the news in a muscle shirt? The idea is laughable.


First published on Monday, February 19, 2018 in The Hill Times.

OTTAWA—Long live the right to bare arms, NOT.

Conservative Member of Parliament Michelle Rempel felt the need to cross hairs with her party’s former leader last week by contradicting Canada’s first woman prime minister on the question of gravitas and female flesh.

Kim Campbell kicked up a Twitter storm when she linked to a blog post citing a study suggesting people who wear more clothing are considered smarter.

Campbell tweeted the following observation: “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!”

Campbell is right.

Flip on any national news network and the amount of flesh exposed by women stands in stark contradiction to their fully clothed male counterparts.

Move south of the border, and not only do you get plenty of flesh candy, most of it is fake.

It is incomprehensible how many women on Fox and CNN news networks appear to have breast enhancements, bottled hair and perfectly toned bare arms. Can you imagine Peter Mansbridge reading the news in a muscle shirt? The idea is laughable.

It used to be the same way for women. When I was elected to Ontario’s provincial parliament back in 1981, we were given a day-long media briefing by the local Canadian Broadcasting Corporation team in Toronto.

I was told, in no uncertain terms, cleavage was a no-no when it came to dressing for prime time.

Now cleavage is a normal part of women’s exposure on television.

Years ago, Campbell herself drew attention to the anomaly of women’s flesh and power, when the former justice minister posed for a portrait holding her judicial robes just below bared shoulders.

The photograph was very controversial at the time as it appeared to the naked eye that the future prime minister was in the buff behind those robes.

Some of the Twitterverse reaction last week recalled that earlier portrait and suggested that somehow Campbell had forgotten previous views on skin exposure.

Campbell made short shrift of that perspective, tweeting “Photo was art-juxtaposition of bare shoulders (femininity) and legal robes (male-dominated power structure). No, I haven’t forgotten!”

And again, how right she was. Women should not have to bury their feminine side to succeed, but nor should they have to bare their skin in pursuit of journalistic excellence.

Cleavage, fake or not, bare arms and tight clothing put the media focus exactly where it should not be, on the person’s body instead of their mind.

A newscaster whose main attribute is perfectly coiffed hair and pearlized white teeth reinforces the notion that the most important aspect of their job is looking good.

And when it is juxtaposed against the obvious image of serious male broadcasters, fully clothed from head to toe, it sends a message to young women that the key to their success is based on buff arms, not sharp minds.

A few days ago, I was chatting with a young journalist on the question of sexual harassment on Parliament Hill.

While very knowledgeable about what is happening today, she had little understanding of just how difficult it was for the women who came before her. I reminded her that as a young Member of Parliament, I was called “baby,” and “slut” to peals of laughter amongst the majority of male colleagues. That would not happen today.

But what I did not have to do was to bare my body. In that sense, the message for women and men was equal.

A long-sleeved business suit was de rigueur for both genders, and nobody cared what colour my hair was or whether my breasts were perky.

Today’s additional pressure forces women to look good while working and reinforces body shape as a key element of the job.

Painted finger nails, blow-dried hair, tight clothing, exposed skin and perfect makeup are onerous requirements for today’s women in broadcasting.

As well as honing their reporting skills to make a breakthrough into a male-dominated world, women have to be ready to bare their shoulders and more.

It is just one more clear illustration of sexual inequality in the workplace. If we are serious about stamping out predators, we need to start by stamping out sexist work practices.

The need to bare female flesh has no place in the workforce, on television news or anywhere else.

Bravo to Kim Campbell for telling it like it is.

Sheila Copps is a former Jean Chrétien-era cabinet minister and a former deputy prime minister. Follow her on Twitter at @Sheila_Copps.