Why does women's fashion matter more than their accomplishments? NUIG Sin's Aoife O'Donoghue examines the issue.
On 9 March, renowned human rights lawyer Amal Clooney delivered a powerful speech to the UN regarding the plight of the Yazidi people in the wake of Isis’ terrorist crimes. A highly successful, educated, intelligent and inspiring woman, speaking the day after International Women’s Day to one of the most powerful platforms in the world in defence of those more vulnerable than herself: naturally, Amal made headlines. They were not, however the headlines either she nor the Yazidi community deserved.
“George Clooney’s wife Amal Clooney shows off her blossoming baby bump in a chic yellow dress as she heads out in New York” – so The Sun informs us.
“She’s starting to show! Pregnant Amal Clooney shows off twins baby bump as she heads to the UN” – an offering from The Daily Mail.
Even Time magazine got in on the act, making sure to inform us that; “Amal Clooney shows off her baby bump at the United Nations”.
See where I’m going with this?
Yes, Amal Clooney is pregnant with twins, which is undoubtedly fantastic news and the whole world should be delighted for her. But here’s the thing: lots of women become pregnant and acquire baby bumps. Some baby bumps are big, some small, some are round, some are pointy, high up, low down, all different kinds of baby bumps, all equally fascinating in their own way. However, not every woman is an internationally acclaimed human rights lawyer speaking at the UN. Such an accolade quite frankly deserves much more recognition and discussion than comparative bump size and whether or not Amal is ‘nailing her maternity wardrobe’.
Speaking of said maternity wardrobe, it’s not only the yellow dress that Amal wore to deliver her speech at the UN that appears to have piqued the attention of media the world over. A quick Google search of ‘Amal Clooney’ and the first three entries after her Wikipedia page are articles and blogs about her fashion, style and ‘best looks’. There is no denying that Amal is a beautiful woman with a timelessly elegant sense of style and it would be offensively narrow-minded to suggest that a woman cannot be successful and intelligent while also being beauty and fashion-conscious. However, when that aspect of her media coverage begins to overshadow her career in its most crucial moments, that is when it becomes a problem. Perhaps as a human rights student I am alone in this, but I would much rather Google ‘Amal Clooney’ and be greeted with results about her legal career than what shoes she wore.
Furthermore, for Amal Clooney to have studied and forged a successful career as a human rights lawyer and yet be referred to as ‘George Clooney’s wife’ is an insult to her capabilities and independence as a woman and is proof that misogynist mindsets are still alive and well. Of course, George Clooney is also to be respected, equally as successful in his career as Amal is in hers. However, the fact that Amal was making a speech on human rights issues at the UN had absolutely nothing to do with George Clooney or with Amal being his wife. Could you imagine a headline saying ‘Amal Alamuddin’s husband George wears grey suits as he wins award’ if he won an Oscar? It would never happen, but rightly so. Everyone, man or woman, deserves recognition for their own individual achievements without having to stand in someone else’s completely irrelevant shadow.
There have been claims that the media coverage directed towards Amal’s wardrobe and appearance is a part of a game-plan of sorts, with Amal using her style to gain new audiences and raise awareness of human rights issues further afield. In fact, speaking to the BBC, Clooney said: “If there are more people who now understand what is happening with the Yazidis and ISIS and if there can be some action which results from that… then I think it’s a really good thing to give that case the extra publicity that it may get.”
There is, of course, logic to this statement. If Cosmopolitan choses to run a feature on Amal’s maternity outfits for her New York trip and educates some people on human rights issues in the meantime, that’s fantastic. However, we must not forget that journalists and the media have responsibility over what they choose to write and publish. A fashion-focused Amal article in Cosmo is perfectly fine; in Time magazine or a national newspaper, it is inappropriate and irresponsible journalism that misses the most crucial elements of a politically and legally important news piece.
So, Amal Clooney delivered a speech to the UN about the Yazidi people of Iraq, detailing how mass murders, gang rapes and enslavement are constant threats that invade their lives while the leaders of the world do little or nothing to help them. She looked beautiful while doing so.
Which is more important?