Mary Beard at the London Review of Books:
It is happily the case that in 2017 there are more women in what we would all probably agree are ‘powerful’ positions than there were ten, let alone fifty years ago. Whether that is as politicians, police commissioners, CEOs, judges or whatever, it’s still a clear minority – but there are more. (If you want some figures, around 4 per cent of UK MPs were women in the 1970s; around 30 per cent are now.) But my basic premise is that our mental, cultural template for a powerful person remains resolutely male. If we close our eyes and try to conjure up the image of a president or (to move into the knowledge economy) a professor, what most of us see isn’t a woman. And that’s just as true even if you are a woman professor: the cultural stereotype is so strong that, at the level of those close-your-eyes fantasies, it is still hard for me to imagine me, or someone like me, in my role. I put the phrase ‘cartoon professor’ into Google Images – ‘cartoon professor’ to make sure that I was targeting the imaginary ones, the cultural template, not the real ones. Out of the first hundred that came up, only one, Professor Holly from Pokémon Farm, was female.
To put this the other way round, we have no template for what a powerful woman looks like, except that she looks rather like a man. The regulation trouser suits, or at least the trousers, worn by so many Western female political leaders, from Merkel to Clinton, may be convenient and practical; they may be a signal of the refusal to become a clothes horse, which is the fate of so many political wives; but they’re also a simple tactic – like lowering the timbre of the voice – to make the female appear more male, to fit the part of power.