By Robyn Doolittle
Oscar Linko pondered the numerous election posters in Kerr Hall East for several minutes.
“They all look alike,” complained the first-year industrial engineering student. “Except, this girl she, she…well you can see her breasts.”
Similar comments have been murmured throughout Ryerson’s hallways since RyeSAC presidential candidate Cristina Ribeiro revealed her campaign posters last week.
Listing off Ribeiro’s qualifications can be a mouthful. Among other leadership roles, she has been president of women in computer science and her course union, a member of the Board of Governors, a student services ambassador and head of the Ryerson chapter of IBM Women in Technology. But students such as Linko appear to be only noticing her physical attributes.
Ribeiro shows off a low-cut black and white striped tank top in a photo with her three executive running mates, who are all wearing collared dress shirts. In the group’s individual posters, Ribeiro’s photo sticks out because, unlike everyone else, her “headshot” is actually from the waist up.
“I hope this shirt wins the election,” reads one of the several vandalized campaign posters. “What I automatically looked at was that really low neckline and all that cleavage,” said Anne Sowden, president of the Toronto chapter of the association of image consultants.
“If you look at the others, she looks unprofessional,” she said. “That’s club wear, which is OK, but there’s a time and a place for everything… she comes off looking sleazy.”
Sowden said if she was trying to attract attention she succeeded, and that may not be a bad thing considering last year’s election was decided by only 33 votes.
“Anything you can do as a candidate to be remembered is probably not a bad idea,” said University of Alberta politics professor Linda Trimble.
Similarly to Ryerson, the University of Alberta student union has consistently low voter turn out in student elections.
Trimble remembers a few years ago when a student association candidate posed strategically and appeared to be nude in her campaign photo.
The candidate was disqualified because of an unrelated technicality, but the controversy sparked an interest in the election.
Ryerson had a similar situation when Dave MacLean ran for RyeSAC president two years ago.
His election poster showed him holding a “President” sign in front of his groin. He ended up losing to Ken Marciniec.
Sherry E. White, a London, Ont. city councillor, said image is something both men and women in politics need to be conscious of. Looking professional and dressing appropriately for the situation “shows that you care and that you have respect,”said White. The self-proclaimed feminist said she respects Ribeiro’s decision to dress provocatively, but she would have chosen a more professional look.
Trimble points to criticism Belinda Stronach faced when running for the Conservative leadership earlier this year as an example of the scrutiny an attractive female politician often faces. “The assumption is when (women) enter political life they need to be masculine…but who sets those rules? The rules are set by the male competitors. “You could read (Ribeiro’s poster) as a very curvaceous, beautiful woman who is proud of her body,” Trimble said.
The other women running with Ribeiro, Dorota Sobocki, said Ribeiro’s attire in her poster is merely an example of the type of clothing Ribeiro wears. “My thing is I’ve always been a person who’s transparent. Just because I’m running for president doesn’t mean I’m going to change who I am. I’m a fun person,” said Ribeiro, adding she is RyeSAC’s vice president student life and events.
“If you run on the sort of visual that suggests student government is about partying, not politics, you’re stuck with that image,” said Caroline Andrew, dean of Social Sciences and Political Science at the University of Ottawa said.
Students such as Linko agree. “Maybe she’s a nice person, very intelligent, but if you represent a student organization you need to be properly attired…if she visits (the University of Toronto) they won’t take her seriously,” he said.
Ribeiro said she understands different dress is required for different occasions. “I always have a spare professional looking outfit in my office,” she said, adding she just wanted her campaign posters to reflect who she is.
While some argue she’s revolutionizing a female role in politics by displaying her femininity, Andrew argues the opposite.
“I think she’s playing on a more old fashion view that women play roles (in politics) because of their physical attributes instead of political smarts.”
Andrew suspects the busty posters won’t win Ribeiro any extra votes. She said students who don’t think it’s important to vote won’t be swayed by large breasts.