After receiving a voicemail criticizing her appearance, Wright wrote a Facebook post in response, garnering support from all corners.

By Michael Conor McCarthy

When Teresa Wright, chief political reporter for Charlottetown’s newspaper The Guardian, covered the news on March 31 that a clinic for women’s reproductive health would be constructed on P.E.I., she considered it an important moment in the island’s history. The choices women make about their bodies should be theirs alone.

An anonymous voicemail Wright received that same day, however, demonstrated that some choices—in this case, the colour of her lipstick—can elicit harsh criticism.

“I just came away from coffee with about 10 people,” said the voice on the message. “And you were the topic of our conversation. And it was your appearance as a reporter. The cleavage and the red lips don’t belong on a reporter. We don’t want you with dark-rimmed glasses and laced-up shoes, but you should have a more professional look. You’re not going to a party, you’re going out to cover a story. Thank you, bye.”

As she listened, Wright was shocked. She wanted to lash out.

“I was going to say something like, ‘is this 2016?’” she told J-Source.

But she took an hour, got a bearing on her feelings and decided to write a post on Facebook sharing her experience instead. It included the full voicemail and a note to herself to pick up a new tube of the vibrant red lipstick.

The response was immediately overwhelming, and almost completely positive, with hundreds of her friends and family chiming in with support. The Facebook post prompted a column Wright wrote for The Guardian and got the attention of CBC Maritime Noon, which led to women all over sending Wright photos of their lips wearing Siren in Scarlet, the colour of lipstick in question.

She never guessed that people would care about her Facebook post as much as they did. J-Source asked Wright to respond to some of the online responses she received to get her reaction. Both the prompts and her answers have been edited and condensed for clarity:

Teresa Wright:  That made me feel good, that somebody in her position would be able to identify with this feeling that I have and say, “You know what, we’re on the same page, and we don’t have to feel bad about this.” Maybe somebody had made a comment about [her nails]. That’s the kind of thing that I had been hoping for, that people would feel good about their choices. Whatever their choices are.

“I know myself…and I know from other female politicians from across our country and from meeting female politicians from other countries… that there is a lot of focus on what we wear, not what we say.” Paula Biggar, Minister Responsible for the Status of Women, in a letter to the editor reacting to Wright’s experience in The Guardian April 7

TW: I actually am always correcting people when I hear them make comments about the dress or shoes or hair of a female politician. Usually my comment will be, “Oh, what do you think of that guy’s tie over there? Do you have a comment about that too?” Alan McIsaac, he’s the house leader, he often wears a three-piece suit, and I appreciate that, because I think it’s old-fashioned and I like old-fashioned things. I’ve actively been engaging in the reverse of that, but not in a way to be offensive or anything, but just to kind of say, if we’re going to have this conversation, let’s talk about everybody’s clothes. I just like clothes, too.

TW: When I was in junior high I was very badly teased. To the point where my parents took me out of school and I was homeschooled from grade eight to grade 11. One of the things that girls tease each other about is clothes. My family was a low-income family with eight kids, and there isn’t a lot of opportunity to buy a whole lot of awesome new clothes. So we usually just had a lot of donated clothes. So I did get teased a lot for my clothes.

“If a male reporter wearing a muscle shirt and a far-too-tight clothes were to interview someone, his appearance would be equally distracting to the reader or viewer. The reporter should be the collector of information, not the focus of the story. It is disingenuous of you to say this is a women’s issue.” -Robert LaFrance, in The Guardian comments section for Wright’s piece Red lips and cleavage April 2

TW: It is absolutely a women’s issue. I reject the premise of his comment. Men can actually walk around without a shirt on, and women can’t even be in public breastfeeding without someone being offended. It’s a completely different issue, when you’re talking about what men can wear and what women can wear.

[[{“fid”:”5827″,”view_mode”:”default”,”fields”:{“format”:”default”,”field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]”:””,”field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]”:””},”type”:”media”,”link_text”:null,”attributes”:{“height”:659,”width”:824,”style”:”width: 100px; height: 80px; margin-left: 5px; margin-right: 5px; float: left;”,”class”:”media-element file-default”}}]]Michael Conor McCarthy is currently interning at The Guardian. He will graduate from Algonquin College’s journalism program this spring.