politics and appearances.

July 3, 2013

So this in The Atlantic. The title’s a little misleading. It’s not so much whether or not describing women politicians’ clothes is sexist, but whether doing is harmful for their likability. The article mentions a study that when describing an identical man and woman with similarly positive/negative/neutral terms, people rated the man and woman similarly.

There’s nothing inherently sexist or wrong about describing how a woman looks. I think the concern is more that women’s appearances are judged much more harshly in our society than men. The Atlantic article ends that journalists “shouldn’t be banned from noticing the carefully managed visual signals candidates of both sexes send.” And I would say that culture has trained women to try to manage a zillion different visual cues. Should I wear a dress or a skirt or pants. How short is too short? If I wear a long skirt, is that unprofessional? Should my hair be short or long? Worn up or down? Are flats to dowdy? What’s the right heel height? Black or brown or nude or navy or something else? Nylons? Is red lipstick too much? Have I waxed my eyebrows? I feel like any choice a woman makes, it can be portrayed negatively. Even mentioning it calls it out as something of note. Then let’s look at a male counterpart. Should we discuss his dark pants and button down shirt and most likely solid or striped tie? His conservative hair being too grey? Why does no one ask male politicians who makes their suits?

But this study only applied very general adjectives – “disheveled and sloppy”, “fit and stylish”, or descriptions of color. And if somehow journalists could always apply similar adjectives to men and women – more power to them. Women’s clothes however offer so many options for descriptions. And more options means more chances to color someone’s opinion. Are you really going to pass on mentioning Hillary’s bright cobalt blue jacket? Or Michele Obama’s sleeveless designer dress?

As you can see – I’m not sold on this study.


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