Mocking Trump’s hair is too easy – and it won’t help bring about equality

As Donald Trump and Marco Rubio hurl insults at one another, Gaby Hinsliff argues that mocking male politicans is not the answer to more equal politics

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By Gaby Hinsliff on

It’s the hair that launched a thousand memes: implausibly coloured, occasionally airborne, often unkindly compared to a guinea pig attached to Donald Trump’s head. The only thing more divisive than The Donald himself is surely The Hair, followed swiftly by The Make-up.

Or so Marco Rubio, the Florida senator now lagging behind Trump in the race for the Republican nomination, seems to think. He's started cracking some startlingly personal jokes about Trump flying “Hair Force One” and having “the worst spray tan in America”, adding that maybe he “should sue whoever did that to his face”. All very hilaire, maybe, until you consider that, if Democratic challenger Bernie Sanders was as rude about Hillary Clinton’s hair and make-up, all hell would rightly break loose.

Women in the public eye are still more vulnerable than men to having their looks ripped apart for no good reason. This morning, some of the world's hottest actresses can look forward to reading all about how they looked too frumpy/vampy/thin/old/surgically enhanced at the Oscars – while actors mostly read about what they actually won, did and said. Men don't regularly receive forensic critiques of everything, from their eyebrows (hello, Duchess of Cambridge) to their toenails (Samantha Cameron, during the last election campaign), and nor are they endlessly judged on their sexual attractiveness as if no other achievement mattered.

But does that mean poking fun at men for their looks is fair game? I’m not convinced it does.

Going after men on the basis of their looks is really no better than bitching about women's clothes or cleavage and it leaves a nasty taste in the mouth

Last week at prime minister’s question time, David Cameron responded to Labour taunts about his mother – who has rather awkwardly just signed a petition protesting against cuts to local children’s services – by snapping that she’d expect Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to “put a decent suit on, do up your tie and sing the national anthem”.

It’s trivial in the grand scheme of things and Corbyn was right to dismiss it lightly afterwards, joking that Cameron was “just jealous” of his wardrobe (think 1970s geography teacher).

But it was an unnecessarily catty remark from a prime minister and a reminder that men are increasingly vulnerable to damaging assumptions based on their looks, although in subtly different ways to women.

Corbynites who see this as a case of rich Tories looking down on the poor and shabby are arguably missing the point. Corbyn’s salary puts him comfortably in the top 10 per cent of earners. He wears what he wears not because he can’t afford fancy clothes but because he’s not really interested – and fair enough. Appearances shouldn’t matter for men any more than for women.

But what Cameron was trying to do is what Rubio’s trying to do to his billionaire opponent, and what Labour did to William Hague by mocking his baseball cap: make the other guy look fundamentally unserious, lacking in the gravitas required of high office.

Men can command respect perfectly well without wearing suits, of course. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg dresses like a student who’s just rolled out of bed and nobody underestimates him.

But, in Silicon Valley, dressing down is pretty much how men project power, because it makes you look creative and fresh – qualities prized in tech.

In politics, however, men are judged increasingly on whether they look (as well as sound and act) like leaders – whether they radiate authority, strength, dependability and power. And that's harder to do when people are audibly sniggering at your combover.

Personal attacks may well backfire on Rubio in the end. For Americans sick of conventional politicians, Trump’s eccentric looks are, if anything, part of the appeal – just as Corbyn’s aversion to makeovers is, for his supporters, proof of authenticity and honesty.

But going after men on the basis of their looks is really no better than bitching about women's clothes or cleavage, and it leaves a nasty taste in the mouth. Equality is about fairness, not just grimly enjoying the boot being on the other foot for a change. Or, to put it another way, best to play the man, not The Hair. 


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Gaby Hinsliff
women in politics

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