Credibility does not hinge on wearing sleeves

Katty Kay
Presenter, BBC World News
@KattyKayBBCon Twitter

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Katty interviewing Chuck HagelImage source, US Defence department
Image caption,
Interviewing US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel in 2014 - and doing just fine without sleeves

Quick wardrobe change needed today. I'm going sleeveless on Beyond 100 Days.

I hope this does not mean my credibility is shot and my gravitas is sunk.

According to the former Canadian Prime Minister Kim Campbell, I'm taking a risk.

Ms Campbell came under fire for an approving tweet about a blog post that appeared to suggest people who wear more clothes are seen as smarter.

Which raises the question - would a burka raise my perceived IQ?

I anchor a daily news show, sometimes I wear sleeves, sometimes I wear sleeveless.

I am not aware that either my ability or my talent change according to my outfit.

I am not aware of any studies that show a woman's IQ is diminished by the length of her sleeve.

Ms Campbell's point is that bare arms are distracting.

But this is a slippery slope argument that has been used throughout history, and around the world, to keep women covered up.

When Katie Couric, the legendary anchor of NBC's hit morning programme, The Today Show, first went on set without stockings in the 1990s, she became the object of similar criticism.

Her bare legs were seen as a distraction. Now, it would be laughable to suggest a lack of stockings undermines a woman's credibility.

Media caption,

Female US leadership: A cracked ceiling, far from broken

I suspect women had the same pushback when they shed their gloves and their hats too.

It's not just that a woman's gravitas is erroneously linked to what she wears, it's more that every time women's fashion removes some article of clothing, gloves, hats, stockings, sleeves, we face criticism that we are somehow undermining our seriousness.

Men don't have this issue because they are stuck in suits; it's a bit of a red herring to argue women should do the same.

It's the difference between male and female fashion, and it's part of our culture.

It's actually quite a pain dressing for TV everyday as a woman. There's an expectation that you won't just wear the same thing every day.

I have wardrobes full of dresses and tops I only ever wear for TV and if I limited myself to only tops with sleeves, the choice would be even narrower.

I grew up in the Middle East where my mother, who also worked as a journalist, had to wear long dresses with long sleeves every time she left the house.

The argument there was that any show of her flesh was a distraction to men - the assumption being, I suppose, that they wouldn't be able to control themselves. Which always made me wonder why this wasn't their problem, not my mum's.

There are echoes of that in Ms Campbell's critique. But haven't we moved beyond that notion?

These TV anchors aren't wearing bikinis, they are wearing dresses that have no sleeves.

Really, that's it.

Put like that, this whole row sounds a bit ridiculous.