The British Prime Minister Theresa May was interviewed on TV this week as part of their coverage of International Women’s Day.
At the end of the interview she was asked this lighter, more personal question;
“If you could have your perfect get together with your girlfriends on International Women’s Day, away from all of the pressures of your job. What would be your perfect night with them and how would you let your hair down?”
It’s fair to say that the PM has a fairly difficult past when it comes to lighter questions.
In the run up to last years election she was asked what the naughtiest thing she had ever done was. She responded by recalling that her and some friends used to run through a field of wheat, which greatly upset a local farmer…
It all plays into the public perception that she’s a bit robotic or detached from “normal people” (whatever they are).
And so, with the question set, all she had to do to give her image a much-needed boost was say something vaguely recognisable as “away from her job” and in line with “letting her hair down.”
“Oh my goodness, what a question, and I haven’t thought of it because my International Women’s Day is heavily focussed on what we are doing on domestic abuse. So it’s not going to have the time to have the girls round and have an evening together I’m afraid.”
The interviewer wasn’t setting a trap, I think she was trying to give the PM a chance to open up and give the public a glimpse into her, dare I say, more human side. So she offered another chance;
“I’m just saying on your dream moment, how would you let your hair down with your girlfriends?”
At this point I should say, this is a dull question. And, if I’m honest, I really don’t think it’s a worthy use of airtime on International Women’s Day with a female global leader. But it’s not an offensive question, and it’s definitely not a difficult question to answer.
You don’t even have to hit a cliché. No-one expects the Prime Minister to crack open a bottle of Prosecco and binge watch a box set of Sex & The City while a butler in the buff serves chocolate covered strawberries to her and her closest friends.
In fact, faced with a dull question, there’s always a chance to offer something interesting that throws clichés out the window.
And if you can’t do that, just be super-boring with your answer;
“We’re all busy people, my friends and I, so if there was a moment to spend together we’d probably use it to catch up on what we’ve all been doing since we last met.”
It’s a boring answer but probably one that would resonate with a lot of people.
Instead, Theresa May offered this;
“Well, I don’t think that when you let your hair down there’s only one way of doing it. I think it depends on the group that you’ve got, it depends on the time. But as I say, my International Women’s Day is rather more focused not on what we can do to enjoy ourselves but actually on what we can do to help women out there, women who are suffering, women who are being abused and whose lives are being made a daily living hell.”
This week I was chatting to a young teacher who told me about an adage that’s well known in the profession. Often being taught to new teachers when they start out in a school.
“Don’t smile until Christmas.”
Apparently it’s about setting your agenda in the early days as strict and not to be messed with, and then gradually allowing yourself to soften over time once that respect is cemented.
It strikes me as horrendously bad advice.
And yet, I wonder if it comes from the same place as a Prime Minister unable to allow herself to answer a question about free time.
Fear that if we know who they really are, we’ll judge them differently.
Fear that if we see beyond the title or role, we’ll suddenly lose respect for them.
Fear that if they give us a glimpse of the real them, we won’t like what we see.
I know there are times when I put my own mask on. When I think too hard about what to say and worry too much about what not to say.
When my reputation (whatever It think that is) forces me to try and answer the smartest way or wisest way I can. Or, at the very least, not give a stupid answer.
When I hold back from opening up. Keeping a distance both literal and metaphorical from others.
I’m not surprised the PM didn’t want to have her interview about domestic violence on International Women’s Day hijacked by whatever answer she gave to an inane question (sadly it didn’t work as the lack of answer did that for her). But I do worry when those who lead seem intent on keeping themselves away from those they lead.
Whether by bureaucratic layers, administrative barriers or walls built up in masks, myths or miscommunication, the space between will always turn out to be a void.
Sometimes the best thing we can do, is let our hair down, open the door to some friends, and remind ourselves, that we’re only human after all.