Why We Should Care About Theresa May in Vogue
"...Throughout my political career, people have commented on what I wear. That’s just something that happens, and you accept that. But it doesn’t stop me from going out and enjoying fashion. And I also think it’s important to be able to show that a woman can do a job like this and still be interested in clothes.”
- Theresa May in Vogue
As women, we are constantly asked to negotiate the relationship between our substance and our surface. Substance and style are often treated as mutually exclusive propositions: we can care about what we think or how we look, but caring about both is trickier, particularly as a woman's position becomes more high profile. In this paradigm, time and again, fashion falls into the realm of the superficial, and an interest in fashion seems to trivialize the hard fought investments we have made in our substance—whether that is our ideas or our work, our values or our worldview. So when the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom decides to sit down and speak with Vogue, and proudly claims an interest in fashion, it's a significant moment for all of us women who get dressed in the morning and then chisel away at our small (or in her case, big) sliver of the world for the day.
At the heart of it, a single question looms large: can intelligent women care about fashion?
The cultural, social, and historical landscape is cluttered with instances that say no, from the role clothing played in the origins of feminism, to the way we treat the subject of appearance in raising young girls, to how we approach fashion in our day to day lives (we use words like "escape," and "a mental break" to describe our relationship with it). Even Nina Simone, a revolutionary in so many ways, has added to the confusion. She wrote in her memoir, "We never talked about men or clothes. It was Marx, Lenin, and revolution—real girls' talk." And that's just the thing: for so long, our relationship between our intelligence and our appearance has been framed as an either, or when the reality of it is, I believe we women care about both what we think and what we wear, and we shouldn't have to choose.
Which is why Theresa May's stance is so important. Whether or not you agree with her politics, her statement that a modern, thinking woman—and a powerful and ambitious one at that—can also care about clothes and enjoy fashion empowers us all, women and men alike. And it empowers us because it gives us the permission to be whole, to embrace the polarities that accompany the human experience, and to define ourselves on our own terms. If we are allowed to bring the entirety of who we are to everything we do—whether that's getting dressed or running a nation—instead of holding bits and pieces of ourselves back, everyone would benefit. Not just in the narrow sense that we'd be individually happier (which we would), but broadly, as a society, in boardrooms and government offices, in classrooms and hospitals, in all the places that we make decisions and wield power, we'll see a marked shift in how we act. If, like Ms. May, we brought more of our full selves to the table, Prime Minister and fashion aficionado, businessman and father, politician and animal lover, we'd all be better off.