Growing up, my mother and I would bond over Sex and The City and in the back of my Chemistry and Physics textbooks, I liked to doodle little dresses and shoes. If all of my aspirations to study science and law went awry, I planned to characteristically move to New York and become the “starving” journalist who would justify spending bucketloads of money on Manolos before paying my rent. Naturally, coming to live in the City for a couple months, I was excited to see how crazily (and glamorously) people put themselves together. But, these thoughts were always categorized separately, distinct from my academic interests—my guilty pleasure and thirst that would be quenched through blogs and Instagram. Never did I think that such interests would intersect with my identity as a scholar and as a feminist.
In a recent office discussion, one of my supervisors brought up the way in which female politicians are scrutinized more for their sense in fashion than in their policy decisions. I wasn’t sure about the latter half of that clause, but I remembered many politicians featured in Vogue. More accurately, in fourteen administrations, only one first lady hasn’t been featured in the pages of the magazine. Condoleeza Rice, Hillary Clinton and Nikki Haley graced the pages in haute couture. Evidently, I hadn’t thought much of it. What did it mean for Vogue editors to compliment these women for their classy choice in suits and accessories? One of my co-workers was furious—”Everytime, girls go out and really do something. What happens? Their shoes make it to the front page of the Times.”
Look for yourself. Google (or Bing) “Hillary Clinton” and within first couple pages of the search, you’ll find major news outlets covering the evolution of pantsuits. And a recent example— badass Senator Wendy Davis landed on national headlines following an 11-hour filibuster that helped defeat a controversial abortion bill aimed at severely cutting access to abortion services across Texas. The morning after the feat, my Instagram feed was filled with comments about her choice in wearing pink Mizuno Waves. I tried talking about Davis to a friend that evening and all I got out of him was, “I wonder if those kickass sneaks come in men’s sizes.” And that’s all I could churn out of him that evening. (On a side note: it must be a week of sneakers. Apparently, Roger Federer’s scandalous orange-soled Nike sneaks are sold out in stores everywhere. But, I digress…) If that’s what some got away from Davis’ courage that day, we live in a shitty place.
Writing yet again another blog entry about female politicians and their style probably does not help change the status quo. But, I hope to document this change of thought and the need to judge politicians as just that—politicians. Yes, a female politician brings to the table knowledge and experience that are rare among the male folk. And those qualities in addition to accomplishments made should be what makes it to the front page of the Washington Post. In the need to feminize those women leading the pack, both men and women depreciate the value and ability to enact positive change by confining these female leaders to their stereotypical roles. (My supervisor suggested that I write a blog targeting the uncleanliness and antiquated sense of taste prevalent in the male politicians atop Capitol Hill, but that probably won’t help solve anything. And besides, I’ll keep jeering within the confines of my own home).