File this one under "stories I wish I never had to write." On Wednesday, Michelle Rempel, Conservative MP for Calgary-Nose Hill, wore a white sleeveless dress in Parliament.
This should not be news. And yet, by Friday morning, Rempel was trending on Twitter. Not for her speech in one of the few IRL sittings of the House of Commons this COVID summer, during which she questioned the Liberal government about overlooking a local company for a contract. Nope. All online conversation centered around a photo she’d posted of herself standing with two members of her team and wearing a high-necked, body con dress she’d purchased from Amazon. (Frankly, it was gorgeous, but not that’s not the point.)
“Totally unprofessional attire for a politician,” said the tweet that reportedly started it all. It’s since been deleted. “Very sad indeed that you give so much attention to self serving issues about yourself, and not much for your constituents,” said another member of the mob. ICYWW, there is no official parliamentary dress code, except that MPs dress in “contemporary business attire,” which she did. She was wearing a sheath dress, not sweatpants. Was it unprofessional because she looked hot? Or, god forbid, showed her arms? (You’ll recall former PM Kim Campbell’s face-palm of a hot take that “bare arms [on women broadcasters] undermine credibility and gravitas.”)
I get that Twitter is a cesspool; it’s also worth noting that many people came to her defence, but the fact that Rempel not only has to defend herself, but even discuss what she’s wearing to the office, is bonkers. Even though I have seen plenty of terrible ties and ill-fitting suits in the House of Commons, I’ve rarely read stories (that aren’t about Donald Trump’s oversized wardrobe) policing what men in power wear. Any commentary is typically fawning.
According to Rempel, this is par for the course since she entered politics. “I don’t typically respond to stuff like this because it happens all the time,” she told Refinery29 Canada. She’s even written about the issue before. “I’m tired of it. I’m an economist. I’ve been a member of Cabinet...I have a great CV. And instead of talking about issues for my constituents, which is what I get paid to do, I’m here talking about what I thought was a banging dress.”
Misogyny is, of course, nothing new, especially for women in public office. You’ll recall how a Rebel Media reporter referred to Federal Minister Catherine McKenna as Climate Barbie. (McKenna’s also been the target of hate crimes, even as recently as this week.) Or the microaggressions and outright racism Celina Caesar-Chavannes faced when she was a Liberal MP. “I had colleagues mistake me for, and tag me in pictures as, other Black women. A male colleague once told me he wished to run his fingers through my hair,” she wrote for Refinery29.
It’s not only degrading and chips away at our morale, it also, as Rempel says, distracts from the MAJOR issues facing Canadians at the moment. Such sexist and gendered scrutiny is also one of the factors that keeps women out of politics; representation that Canada sorely needs — only 27% of our MPs are women.
Rempel, for one, says she won’t let the trolls win. She plans to wear the dress again and again. “I bought in two more colours,” she says.