Feminist T-shirt uproar proves U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron just can’t win

Damned if he does. Damned if he doesn't.

 

Gavia Baker-Whitelaw

Tech

Published Oct 27, 2014   Updated May 30, 2021, 8:05 am CDT

British Prime Minister David Cameron is being criticized for refusing to wear a T-shirt with the slogan, “This is what a feminist looks like.”

Celebrities like Benedict Cumberbatch have been photographed by Elle magazine wearing similar shirts, as have two of the U.K.’s other political leaders, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband. Cameron, however, refused to wear the shirt, which is manufactured by gender equality campaigners the Fawcett Society. In fact, according to Elle, he refused five times.

Being photographed in a mildly pro-feminist t-shirt is pretty much the most passive and accessible way a public figure can lend their support, so it comes as something of a surprise that the PR-conscious PM turned down Elle’s offer of a photo opportunity. The fallout on Twitter has not been pretty.

Who’s missing? The PM’s still got a problem with the word feminist?https://t.co/VyM7YHHqFi @janemartinson @helenlewis pic.twitter.com/CdDLXN5fQ3

— Natasha Pearlman (@tashpELLE) October 27, 2014

Cameron usually very keen on PR shots, refused (5 times) to join Miliband and Clegg in wearing feminist tee. What’s his issue with feminism?

— David Daniels (@David_R_Daniels) October 27, 2014

I don’t mind if David Cameron won’t model a feminist T-shirt. It’s more worrying he’s somehow unable make a statement saying he’s a feminist

— iucounu (@iucounu) October 27, 2014

One of the most common responses is that it would actually be inaccurate for Cameron to wear the T-shirt in the first place. Many argue that his policies already prove that he isn’t a feminist, so really he’s just being honest.

Thrillingly, David Cameron is almost exactly what a feminist doesn’t look like, so it’s actually rather beautiful.

— Caspar Salmon (@CasparSalmon) October 27, 2014

EQUALITY: David Cameron refuses to wear ‘This is What a Feminist Looks Like’ t-shirt. Inside, we salute his honesty.

— The DM Reporter (@DMReporter) October 27, 2014

In fairness, if David Cameron had worn a t-shirt saying “this is what a feminist looks like”, I would have had to stop being a feminist

— Zoe Williams (@zoesqwilliams) October 27, 2014

Cameron has a history of discomfort with the “feminist” label, as highlighted in an interview last year in which he said, “I don’t know what I’d call myself,” before admitting that he does think men and women should be equal. However, his refusal to wear a slogan-adorned T-shirt for Elle was probably not meant to be a political statement. As political blogger Guido Fawkes pointed out on Twitter, Cameron is the prime minister, and hopefully has better things to do than pose for a fashion magazine.

Photo via UmakanthJaffna/Wikimedia, CC-BY-SA-3.0

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*First Published: Oct 27, 2014, 6:26 pm CDT