ALL this furore over Michael Lowry’s ‘not bad looking either’ comment in the hand-written note passed to the Taoiseach in the Dail, outlining the attributes of a particular female candidate for another term on the board of the NTA, leaves me cold. There aren’t many people in Tipperary who haven’t asked Lowry for help at some stage or other and I don’t know what he’d do if he couldn’t rely on hastily scribbled abbreviated notes. He’d need a cabinet the size of Brussels and that’s for sure.
But whatever about the purists who regard such cheeky and informal lobbying as an insult to the sanctity of the Dail, most of the self-proclaimed feminist biddies who have expressed outrage at the deputy’s audacity, spend a fortune on their own appearances, and they wouldn’t be doing that if they really believed that looks were totally irrelevant to their own ambitions, or that nobody ever judges a woman by such shallow criteria any more. You only have to look at some of their airbrushed election posters or column by-line pictures in newspapers, as the case may be, to see the importance they attach to looking their best – or even better if they can help it.
But I would say that, wouldn’t I, being a steadfast Lowry loyalist and never having bothered with make-up in my life? But I have been air-brushed once or twice.
The thing is I come from a time and a place where women had more to worry them than reacting hysterically to a bit of politically incorrect banter. What I’d like to know, however, is who dropped the note and who picked it up? I wrote a note across the classroom once to a friend after getting zero marks in an Irish grammar test and it ended up in the hands of the Reverend Mother. I have no idea how that happened, but as far as I was concerned, it was the most politically incorrect experience of my life – apart from the time when my application for a position as a junior executive in the Central Bank was turned down, with a letter telling me that, “the position is open only to young males”. If they had just told me straight out that they didn’t like the look of me, I wouldn’t have held the grudge for nearly 50 years.
For all the reaction to Deputy Lowry’s indiscretion, none of the righteously outraged who emerged last week appeared too anxious to pursue the issue to its conclusion, or even to ask the obvious question. That, of course, would be a bit much to expect in a country obsessed by beauty and image. We’re spending more on beauty products and treatments now than we ever did before, and if we were honest we’d have to admit that the biggest challenge of the recession for many of us was not putting food on the table, it was keeping evidence of the ageing process at bay.
If the feminist lobby wants to expose shallow thinking towards women, the question they should be asking is to what extent do good looks still influence a person’s chances of getting a job, reaching the top of the ladder or simply securing a seat in the Dail, in this progressive and egalitarian society? If that influence is significant then, in all fairness, maybe they should be thinking about how to put a handicap on this beauty premium and maybe start introducing quotas for the less winsome.
The trouble is that beauty is in the eye of the beholder anyway, and transparency could never be guaranteed. It would be a nightmare.
Meanwhile, what the rest of us would dearly love to know is this: is Mr Lowry really as antediluvian in his attitude as they claim he is, or is the old adage ‘handsome is, as handsome does’ just a patronising sop to those of us whose faces wouldn’t launch even a single ship?
Several studies across the globe, some scientifically based, have revealed that beauty is indeed a factor in a person’s success. Attractive people are hired more readily, get higher salaries and have better prospects of promotion. I don’t know, however, if it works with appointments to state boards! Other factors may be at play there.
The whole thing, of course, may be down to nothing more exciting than some antediluvian interviewer with a Trojan complex being swept off his feet by the face of Helen of Troy. Apparently, it is even more mundane than that. Good looking people almost invariably exude more confidence and more self-esteem simply because they have never had to worry about how they look. As a result they are more employable. It’s an instinctive thing, I’m told.
It looks as if Lowry is even more astute than any of us had imagined!