Sunday, 23 November 2008

She isn't the First Lady

Since when have we referred to the Prime Minister's husband or wife as the "First Lady / Gentleman"? Absolutely bloody never, as far as I can recall.

But the Herald is doing it, in an article in which it criticises Bronagh Key's fashion sense, and then twitters on about the alleged fashion faux pas she committed by wearing the same garment twice.

Oh noes.... sensible woman makes good use of her wardrobe! Global credit crunch looming, busy woman with children to rear, more-or-less on her own for practical day-to-day purposes because her husband has one of those more-than-full-time jobs so she has precious little time for fluffing around shops (NB John Key seems to be a loving and devoted daddy, so this is not a criticism of his parenting, just a simple acknowledgment that his job means that his time with his wife and children is limited), presumably no clothing allowance from the NZ government for the PM's spouse, and yet, the fashionistas are criticising her for wearing the same garment twice.

I can't recall any criticism of Peter Davies' fashion sense - why is it open season on Bronagh Key?

We have not elected Bronagh Key, she is not paid by the NZ government, and there is no position of "First Lady". Moreover, whatever job John Key has, Bronagh Key is a private citizen. Leave her alone, fashion police.

*****

Udate: Ele at Homepaddock and Kiwiblog are onto this too. (The comments thread at Kiwiblog is priceless - one commenter alleges that the NZ Herald never criticised Labour in 9 years of government. You would think that DPF would sometimes feel embarrassed by the people who turn up to his place.) Perhaps the NZ Herald might take note that criticism of this fashion nonsense is coming from both the left and the right.

Further update: Idiot/Savant is unimpressed too.

29 comments:

Anna said...

Agreed - but do you think that Key has courted this kind of attention to his 'traditional' family somewhat? On election night, watching him on the stage with his slightly bewildered and uncomfortable-looking family made me cringe, I have to say.

It was also really odd that the Keys opened their home to the cameras in the few days after their election. It was supposed to be a typical family scene, except the Keys' home is a mansion complete with swimming pool. It all seemed like a misguided attempt to play the family values card.

homepaddock said...

Even if Key had courted this sort of attention (and I don't think he has) this is still a symptom of the fashion industry's disdain for women.

Women in the limelight are subjected to unsolicited advice on their wardrobes.

If it happens to men it's to a far lesser degree.

Anna said...

Fair point, HP. Let's hope the scrutiny of wives and families doesn't become a staple of NZ politics.

The sight of Key with his family, the term 'First Lady', and the general concern of the media with campaign aesthetics over policies all worry me. I'm concerned that we might be moving towards a different kind of politics that is less concerned with substance...

Hugh said...

While it's early days yet, I don't think the scrutiny Bronagh Key has encountered is anything compared to what Peter Davis had to put up with.

Personally I'd rather be accused of having crappy fashion sense than go through what Davis had to go through.

To be fair, though, Peter was always on the platform with Helen when she won - and she actually went one better than Key this time by having her parents up there on election night this year. (Admittedly, I believe Key's parents are dead, so perhaps he would have done the same given the opportunity)

Brett Dale said...

Welcome to the media in 2008.

Unfortunately our journalists are becoming more like, Eonline/Faux news.

Its the dumbing down of society.

Idiot/Savant said...

WTF? We're not a monarchy where the partner of the Prime Minister is public property. We're a democracy with a very sensible consensus that the unelected families of elected politicians are entitled to their privacy. And the standard decency of sharing the moment of your partner's victory doesn't change that in the slightest.

Hugh said...

We're not a monarchy

Quoted for humour.

I know you want to give Queen Bess the chuck, Idiot, but you might find your efforts to get a Republic set up more successful if you realised that it hasn't already happened.

Idiot/Savant said...

Hugh: I was speaking culturally, not legally (legally, we're merely a de facto republic - as opposed the US which is legally a republic but culturally a monarchy). We barely view our PM as a public figure, let alone their family.

Hugh said...

Idiot

This is the first time I've encountered the concept of a cultural Republic, or a cultural Monarchy. Please elaborate.

Deborah said...

It's a well-rehearsed point, Hugh. Even though we have the form of a monarchy, we have the substance of a republic. We are entirely self-governing, and inherited position carries no weight in our affairs.

It's also a very old point. The 18th century commonwealthmen spent a great deal of time pointing out that England, a formal monarchy, was in many ways a "republic in disguise."

muerk said...

Having your family there when you win an election is pretty special and a wonderful thing to share with them. It's also a great support if you lose. The Maori Party MPs had their entire whanau around them, would we scrutinize their dress sense?

Peter Davis should have been left alone and Bronagh Key should be left alone too.

Idiot/Savant said...

Deborah: ...and when the "Herald of Arms Extraordinary" cries out "God save the Queen" at the closing of Parliament, it is greeted with silence.

And to run the flip side of the argument: the US is in form a republic. But their president is treated like a king (though an elected one), from the exaggerated respect paid by all (as opposed to the general contempt we have here) to the way their family are treated as a public freakshow and required to be some sort of model of virtue for the nation.

Hugh said...

Much as I'd like to debate the general conceptions of what defines a Republic and a Monarchy, it's pretty peripheral to the point of this post, so I'll resist the temptation (and, admittedly, I have no desire to be associated with the negative personal traits Idiot proscribes to monarchists).

But I will say that, regardless of whether or not the way Bronagh Key is being treated is good or bad, it's not new. The spouses and personal lives of politicians have always been in the public eye - Yvonne Moore, Naomi Lange (especially) and Thea Muldoon were constantly in the public eye. And Michael Savage's lack of a spouse and children was frequently used against him by his political opponents.

The idea that up until now such things were considered inviolate is at best startlingly naive and at worst promoting a very self-satisfied concept of the practice of politics within the New Zealand state which risk engendering a massive complacency towards important issues.

Madeleine said...

I have blogged on it too. This treatment of women who figure in the political sphere is not ok.

John Key's blue ties don't get knocked so why Bronagh's jacket?

It's rubbish. I have (and still) endured enough of it over the years to make me feel rather titchy over this treatment of Bronagh.

PS. Thanks for the link to MandM, any chance you could update it to our current URL? Its pointing to our old blogspot one and we are trying to stamp out all old links as they muck up our stats.

Deborah said...

Updated, Madeleine. Thanks for letting us know.

Madeleine said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Madeleine said...

Thank you Deborah :-)

HP you are so right:

"Women in the limelight are subjected to unsolicited advice on their wardrobes.

If it happens to men it's to a far lesser degree."


This has been my observation and, as I blogged, my experience too.

This is not the 1950’s where the wife's proper role was that of the accessory, complete with pretty frock.

Craig Ranapia said...

I can't recall any criticism of Peter Davies' fashion sense - why is it open season on Bronagh Key?

Oh, don't remember the high-level negotiations between Clark and Davies over a ratty but comfortable and sentimentally valuable jumper?

Personally I'd rather be accused of having crappy fashion sense than go through what Davis had to go through.

And with all due respect, Hugh, why didn't Davies (and Bronagh Key) follow the example of Judith Steinberg -- who consistently took the line that her husband, Howard Dean, was standing for public office and she considered running her busy medical practice was a better use of her time than fatuous photo-ops or making cow-eyes at him every time he gave a speech?

Yes, I believe the partners and families of politicians should be off limits to the media. But you can't have it both ways either.

Anna said...

On a slightly different note, I find John Key's support of his daughter's fashion design aspirations quite endearing - particularly encouraging her to dress as she pleases, even though her taste is probably regarded as a bit unusual by many.

Madeleine said...

His daughter's fashion sense was a hit with my teenage daughter so I don't think his judgement is off there.

Anna said...

I bet there were a few heartland National voters who were a bit bemused by it!

Julie said...

Shouldn't Bronagh be re-wearing clothes on a regular basis in this new time of Austerity that we currently face anyway? ;-)

Whenever we've seen these scenes where the partner is on stage with the politician proclaiming victory I usually turn to my partner and say "don't expect me to do that". There is definitely a place for acknowledging the support of family, especially partners, but I'm uncomfortable with the high level of scrutiny that families seem to face these days if there is a politican amongst them. As if it wasn't hard enough to keep a family going with one member largely absent.

ideologicallyimpure said...

For some reason, as much as the fashion-stuff pissed me off, it's actually the First Lady thing that's keeping me angry. First the bullshit "pretend we still have FPP and only Labour and National matter" leaders' debates, and now this ... we're not the US. We have no reason to become politically more like the US. ARGH.

I also posted at my place.

Craig Ranapia said...

I bet there were a few heartland National voters who were a bit bemused by it!

Anna: I suspect there are more than a few parents out there -- "Heartland National" (as opposed to Lower Colon ones, I guess) or no -- who wish their teenage daughters had been that restrained. :)

And can I just say that I'm reliably informed that Bronagh Key has done a hell of a lot less media than certain folks on the campaign would have liked, and it's not accident that the children have been pretty much conspicuous by their absence. Which is as it should be.

Hugh said...

And with all due respect, Hugh, why didn't Davies (and Bronagh Key) follow the example of Judith Steinberg -- who consistently took the line that her husband, Howard Dean, was standing for public office and she considered running her busy medical practice was a better use of her time than fatuous photo-ops or making cow-eyes at him every time he gave a speech?

I'd be all for that. It certainly doesn't interest me.

Julie said...

The other assumption that goes with the First Lady crap is all of that palaver about a woman's place being to stand by (and just a little bit behind) her man and support him in whatever he does. Peter Davis got some similar crap, although I don't recall Burton Shipley being treated in the same manner, probably because he was so stereotypically Kiwi bloke?

Anna said...

The Shipleys were an interesting bunch. On the one hand, Jenny's 'mother of the nation' image was quite played up. On the other, I don't remember her using her family to any sort of political advantage.

Julie said...

Didn't Burton shear a sheep on telly to prove his manhood or something? I recall something during APEC about him organising the "wives" tour??

M-H said...

Hugh, I also remember the fuss about Naomi Lange and her pink cardie. Such a load of rot. But I don't agree about Thea Muldoon - my memory is that she very much stayed out of the limelight.