The Jakarta Post
To the chagrin of feminists and average self-respecting men and women, looks and physical appearance are making a big comeback in politics today.
In recent years, more and more politicians and people in power have been unable to refrain from making politically incorrect and sexist comments about women.
While making sexist comments has been a long-standing problem in politics, there is a small subset of politicians who have joined an exclusive club of judging women based only on their appearance.
In the neighboring Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte has long earned a reputation for making off-color remarks about women, which range from talking about shooting the genitalia of female guerilla fighters to calling women at a female empowerment event “whores”.
Of all his sexist comments, what takes the biscuit could be his statement that he "cured" himself of being gay with the help of beautiful women.
Another controversial politician known for his sexist comments is populist Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro who made headlines in 2019 for endorsing a sexist Facebook post about the physical appearance of France’s First Lady Brigitte Macron.
When his supporters posted a meme mocking the appearance of Macron and comparing her unfavorably with Brazil's first lady Michelle Bolsonaro with the tagline: "Now you understand why Macron is persecuting Bolsonaro?", the far-right leader replied: "Do not humiliate the guy, ha ha," referring to France's President Emmanuel Macron.
On the other side of the Atlantic, there is another political leader who could lend credence to the suggestion that populism does have an inscrutable obsession with looks and physical appearance.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson may have found a higher purpose in life after he survived COVID-19, but he has long been known for his penchant for denigrating women.
In the 2005 general election, in a bid to win over supporters, Boris promised that "voting for the Conservative Party will cause your wife to have bigger breasts." In 2007, Boris compared then Democratic Senator Hillary Clinton to "a sadistic nurse in a mental hospital" in a column for the Daily Telegraph.
And of course, sitting at the top of the list we have misogynist-in-chief Donald Trump, who has a long history of making comments that demean women based on their looks.
A former owner of the Miss Universe Organization, Trump has gone on record attacking women based on their looks and often comparing them to animals. Trump’s vocabulary when referring to women has included "horseface" (for pornographic film actress Stormy Daniels with whom he had an affair), "dog" and "pig."
On a debate stage during the 2016 presidential primary, he attacked rival Carly Fiorina, a former chief executive of Hewlett-Packard, by saying: "Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?
Trump described television star Rosie O'Donnell, with whom he has had a long-running feud, as having "a fat, ugly face."
Once in office, President Trump has insisted that key officials in his administration, both men and women, must be telegenic and that they look great on live television.
Trump never took a liking to his national security adviser Lt. Gen. HR McMaster and berated him as looking like "a beer salesman." In 2018, soon after Trump fired his special aide Omarosa Manigault Newman, he attacked her on Twitter referring to her as a "dog."
Those who have survived the longest or have been promoted in Trump's inner circle are those who have the looks, people like Hope Hicks, Trump's former communications director, who continues to be close to the president since leaving her job in the White House.
Currently, the face of Trump's White House is a rail-thin blonde former cheerleader whose skill for obfuscation is second to none.
It is certainly unfair to prejudge the quality of work of female professionals based on their looks, but with politicians like Trump we can see a pattern that the pretty faces are mostly dispatched to mask and sugarcoat what is basically a disastrous performance.
We certainly hope that is not what happened when the National COVID-19 task force appointed television personality Reisa Broto Asmoro as its new spokesperson.
We sincerely expect that the new spokesperson, with her ravishing good looks, can draw the attention of more people to important health messages as we enter what the government has touted as the "new normal".
We can also hope that the new spokesperson will be an effective communicator, especially with her beauty pageant cadence and careful choice of words.
After all, she took part in the Puteri Indonesia beauty pageant in 2010 and has appeared in numerous commercials that have aired on local television. With her CV, making regular appearances on national television should come naturally for her.
As for those who suspect that a cabal of misogynist old men at the Health Ministry cooked up a plan to put a pretty face on what is basically a spotty record in the fight against COVID-19, they need look no further than her medical background. Soon after graduating from the School of Medicine at Pelita Harapan University, she joined the National Police Hospital in Kramat Jati.
The new task force spokesperson gained her reputation as a television doctor when she co-hosted the Indonesian version of The Dr. Oz Show on Trans TV, a stint which may turn out to be a good training ground for her current position.
More people will certainly tune in to the daily briefing now and that, surely, is a good thing.