Wednesday, November 28, 2012

"What's she wearing?" - women in politics

The other day as I was sitting in the Case Library cafe on campus, enjoying a grapefruit (they're surprisingly delicious this time of year) and reading the Colgate Maroon News: Special Election Edition. I leafed through the paper skimming through articles about the economy, the emphasis (or not) on education in our current political agenda, how students have engaged themselves in the election on campus etc etc. until, on the second to last page of the paper, I stumbled across something that raised one or both of my eyebrows. It was an article about Michelle Obama and Ann Romney on "Who wore it better?"; "it" being the color hot pink. I quickly went back through the rest of the paper and, sure enough, there were no articles that spoke about "Who wore it better?" - Barack Obama or Mitt Romney?

Of course, being involved in politics - or any position scrutinized by the public eye - image is of utmost importance and, unfortunately, can not be avoided. Especially in politics, millions of campaign dollars are spent on how a candidate looks to the public eye. But it does not seem that men and women are being held to the same standard. I think back on the ads I've seen about Obama and Romney; policies aside, they drew their appeal on highlighting the candidates' character, their leadership skills, their steadfastness, their integrity. I'm not sure I encountered even a single conversation about what they wore on their bodies. True, one argument for this could be that "normal" professional attire for men is generally not too varied and would not make for as interesting of conversation as that of women's attire. Ok. But why is it more "interesting" to talk about what women wear than men? Perhaps talking about the outer shifts focus away from the inner, perhaps summing Michelle and Ann by their outfits keeps them confined to the role of ornamentation to their husbands, perhaps if we think hot pink is the most interesting thing they have going for them there probably isn't much else they have to say. It is easy to write this off as a fault of the fashion industry, but this is an incomplete assessment of the power behind fashion: what we wear is important because it can provide an entryway into what we have to say - it is not meant to start and end with the outer.

My mind jumps to the snarky comments that are often made about Hillary Clinton's outfit choices and the condemnations made about her seemingly lack of femininity in outfit choice. A recent SNL skit following the election showed several images of female Senators while stating that we have more women in the Senate after this recent election than ever before... which means the pantsuit industry is probably thrilled.

I salute the women who are brave enough to be in politics - a world that is still largely compiled of men and, unfortunately, one that still adheres closely to patriarchal standards. I salute their constant negotiations of femininity and masculinity in a field that will not take them seriously if they are too feminine, and laugh at them if they are too masculine. I salute them for speaking loudly through their messages, not their attires.

- Christina Liu '13 (intern)


  1. Right on Christina! Nice work keeping an eye out for these types of things...

  2. I completely agree with you Christina! It is ridiculous that both of these highly educated women were only looked at to compare fashion, instead of comparing the substance of the speeches they were giving regularly giving throughout the campaign.From what I have observed, it seems like the media specifically wants to reduce these women's roles to that of a woman that doesn't engage in politics.
    In 2008, Mrs. Obama was bashed by countless national media sources as being unpatriotic and moreover, they labeled her an "angry black woman." Following this, Mrs. Obama's image, rhetoric and involvement in the 2008 election changed dramatically. She refrained from commenting on the political or economic issues of the country, and mostly focused on humanizing her husband as 'a regular guy' and the troops abroad. After this change, her polling with voters recovered. During her husband's first term as POTUS, her work mainly centered on the issue of child obesity. She published a gardening book and promoted it nationally. In this last election, she's been known for her hugging. Where she literally hugged people for an hour after her speech. Don't get me wrong, her cause of fighting fat kids and hugging is fantastic and great; but she is a Harvard Law graduate. Why can't the FLOTUS have a publicly active role in something other than gardening, giving comfort, or feeding children? Why must she restrict herself to these outdated 1950's stereotypes of the woman's place in society? Mrs. Obama graduated from the same exact school as Mitt Romney and her husband, so why does a significant portion react so negatively to her involvement in political discussion? Is this a case of racism, sexism or both?
    During the 2008 election, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler did the Weekend Update and explained that it was fantastic that Hillary Clinton was a b*tch. Because as they said "B*tches get stuff done." And furthermore, they asked what is the big deal with Bill Clinton being her husband because it would simply be two smart, qualified people in the White House. I couldn't agree more with these sentiments, where is the negative impact in recognizing the intelligence of women, hearing their words instead of looking at their clothes.

  3. As the father of a 6-year old, I'm a bit saddened that we live in a culture that has shows like "What not to wear" and "America's Next Top Model" and "Housewives." It is often campy, train-wreck TV, but "What not to wear" shows professional women learning what to wear. Does it show men? Can American's next top model be a man? The Real Househusbands wouldn't even be pitched – unless it is a Saturday night live skit.

    Unfortunately, my daughter lives in a culture wherein the first impression people have will not be what she says, but what she wears. The opposite will be true for my son.

    How do we change that?