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Fri Dec 14, 2018, 12:28 PM

America's sexist obsession with what women politicians wear.

Ever since women started holding political office, American men have been fixated on their clothes.

When she was in the Senate, Carol Moseley Braun got used to having her clothing scrutinized.

She remembers one incident in particular, she told Vox. “Women’s Wear Daily had me on its cover — actually a picture of my butt,” she said, “and it said, ‘this is what a Chanel sweater set should not look like.’”

The problem comes in when the media or the public focuses on clothes in ways that belittle or demean the women wearing them, or when women are held to standards of dress or appearance that don’t apply to men. Both excessive media coverage of women politicians’ clothing and restrictive rules governing it are signs of a bigger problem: American politics remains dominated by men, and women are still treated like outsiders.

Ever since women entered national politics, they’ve been judged on their clothes

The first women member of Congress, Jeannette Rankin (R-MT), took office in 1917. Right away, her clothes became a topic of conversation. A Washington Post headline proclaimed, “Congresswoman Rankin Real Girl; Likes Nice Gowns and Tidy Hair.” According to the Post, Rankin was “thoroughly feminine—from her charmingly coiffed swirl of chestnut hair to the small, high and distinctively French heels. She is given to soft and clinging gowns, and, according to her own confession, is very fond of moving pictures.”

As a blog post at the House’s History, Art & Archives website notes, the article was typical of coverage of early congresswomen, whose looks and dress often received outsized attention. Rep. Katherine Langley, who represented Kentucky in the late 1920s and early 1930s, for instance, was criticized for dressing too colorfully. “She offends the squeamish by her unstinted display of gypsy colors on the floor and the conspicuousness with which she dresses her bushy blue-black hair,” one reporter wrote.

Men have also fallen afoul of congressional dress norms. Earlier this year, Koed recalls, Sen. Richard Burr arrived for a vote in summer clothes and had to cast his vote from the Senate cloakroom.

But these instances are the exception, not the rule. The problem with the way we talk about clothing in politics is a problem of inequality; women politicians have generally faced more scrutiny over their appearance than men have, Dittmar said. And that disparity reveals a fundamental problem with the way we see women in government today.

Throughout history, clothing has been front and center in coverage of women politicians in a way it hasn’t for men — sometimes, as in the case of Caraway, threatening to obscure their ideas. In part, women’s clothing gets more attention because women’s options are more varied than men’s — “it’s not just another suit,” as Dittmar puts it. But partly it’s because women still struggle “to be taken seriously as elected officials,” she said.

Things haven’t changed that much since the days of Jeannette Rankin. “There’s a continuing lack of comfort,” as Koed put it, with “women in positions of power.” So the media and the public fall back on what they are comfortable with: critiquing women’s appearance.

Both media coverage of women’s appearance and congressional rules around women’s dress are a symptom of something bigger, Dittmar noted: the fact that women still aren’t completely welcome in the halls of government.

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Reply America's sexist obsession with what women politicians wear. (Original post)
JHan Dec 2018 OP
Staph Dec 2018 #1
JHan Dec 2018 #2
question everything Dec 2018 #3

Response to JHan (Original post)

Fri Dec 14, 2018, 05:06 PM

1. Yup!

It disturbs me that one of the primary themes of the story of Nancy Pelosi's Oval Office meeting with Trump the other day was her coat. The woman just made the President of the United States look like a fool in front of the world. She got him to admit that he will shutdown the government if the wall is not in the budget bill.

But what does the press talk about? Max Mara is going to re-release the six-year-old coat that she wore to the White House!

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Response to Staph (Reply #1)

Fri Dec 14, 2018, 06:51 PM

2. Yup. I mean for me, clothes are a powerful statement.

I respect thought and effort put into presentation. Women's fashion is deemed more interesting but with that comes what this article addresses, where the physical, and appearance, artifice is used as a weapon to trump substance.

For a man, the focus is always different. "Men act, women appear"

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Response to Staph (Reply #1)

Mon Dec 17, 2018, 10:27 PM

3. I did not realize that the emphasis was on the maker of the coat

(perhaps I am watching/reading the wrong outlets.)

I think that it was the way she was carrying herself, winning. That she did.

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