Why are female politicians STILL getting looks-shamed?

Why are female politicians STILL getting looks-shamed?
Killer pantsuit nation in full effect | Photo via Getty Images

I remember waaaay back in 2015 when Hillary Clinton decided to give the presidency a second try and I thought, man, all we're going to hear about is what she's wearing, how tired she looks, or why we should hate her haircut. And while we didn't get as much of that as I feared (I mean, we had to talk about her emails, right?), there was still a troubling amount of talk about her "stamina" and her "look." As if we all can't see the veiled code here: woman doesn't equal presidential.

More recently, we saw it once again with British Prime Minister Theresa May's near-defeat in the UK snap election. A BBC reporter, Nick Robinson, commented that she was "heavily made up, as if she's been crying." I get it. You're short on actual commentary about the state of the election so you resort to an easy target: that women are overly emotional, especially in times of stress.

Robinson wrote this non-apology after getting a huge response on Twitter: “Sorry if I offended some by talking about May's thick make up but politics is about the personal & emotional not just stats and charts,."

So what's the deal — why are we still having to dodge distraction headlines about female politician's makeup, clothes, and body? It's not that men are immune to superficial criticism (see: Trump's skin tone, suits, hand size, whatever), it's just that women in politics have a long history of being a visual representation far before their skills, resume, and voting history.

Women are coming into politics in larger numbers and with a more threatening presence

Other than the obvious answer that we're all conditioned (women very much included) to objectify women first and ask questions later, I think it has a lot to do with being threatened by what they represent. To some, women, especially those of the left politically, are coming into politics in larger numbers and with a more threatening presence to the established boy's club that is currently allowed to run roughshod over women's health rights and children and family social safety nets, while supporting the social constructs that keep white, older men in power.

While Bernie Sanders didn't exemplify a buttoned-up plutocrat, either, we didn't spend nearly as much time criticizing his hair or suits as we did thinking about Hillary's suits, Sarah Palin's costly wardrobe, or Michelle Obama's "scandalous" bare arms (which are bangin', btw). Insert "right to bare arms joke" here. In fact, his lack of style probably won him some points as one of the common people.

To say someone doesn't "look presidential" is a little laughable since we just had eight pretty good years of a president who didn't look a whole lot like the previous 43 presidents. He even wore a tan suit — #neverforget.

We may not be fighting for suffrage anymore (although certain populations are certainly being suppressed pretty handily), we still have a long way to go in re-training our brains to start thinking of our civil servants' looks as secondary to their policies.

It's up to us to quell our desires to interrupt watching a debate to comment on someone's hair, and to call-out similar lapse's in judgment on social media, news shows, and in our social circles.

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  1. I want to add that we should make sure we speak up for the women on the other side of the aisle too. I live in DC and not a day goes by that I don't over hear a "barbie trump" joke about Ivanka or jabs about Melania old modeling photos. Because somehow beauty makes you slutty and incompetent or something. We can hold them accountable for their politics/ policies/ nepotism without mocking their sexuality and beauty. If we stand up for Maxine Waters and Kamala Harris when they are disrespected then we need to make sure we stand up when Ivanka and Melania Trump are.

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    • I agree with all of this, 100% and especially the part on how the established boys-club tries to ridicule women because they are menaced. Women certainly do have to face ridiculous obstacles men don't even think of.

      But I think a small amount of moderation might be necessary. (Yes, it needs to be said. And I know some of ya'll hot feminists won't like me for it.)

      "Because somehow beauty makes you slutty and incompetent or something." This, yes, this. This is the root of the issue here. But I feel the problem transcends gender somewhat.

      I'm Canadian… You can guess where I'm going… Our pretty prime minister Justin Trudeau is consistently making front pages for his movie star hair and what not. Reporters world-wide focus on the eye candy and not substance. I don't know if this reflects on their knowledge as journalists or if they are pandering to the masses who prefer to gossip on looks. He's young, he's hot, he advocates for women and children and gay rights and diversity. Obviously he does not know what he is doing!! This is the exact same "between the lines" narrative underscoring women's efforts.

      I mean come on, his rainbow freaking socks made international headlines. Um hello? He wore rainbow socks to the pride parade? Can we read an indepth analysis of the impact of bill C-16 on LGBTQ rights?

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      • Yeah, I think this is definitely true. All genders are subject to biases based on their looks. I do think there's an unbalance to it generally, but you're definitely not wrong in your example.

  2. As a Brit who stayed up all night watching the election, and also as a massive feminist who hates the focus on appearance for any woman but particularly women in power who should be judged on their work, I just want to defend Nick Robinson's comment because I think it actually was quite pertinent. Theresa May called the election to gain more seats, and throughout the campaign the Conservative Party was absolutely not expected to lose its majority, but that is what happened. Now, May had been critcised throughout the campaign for her apparent lack of empathy, so actually I think that his point was not aimed at the make-up, so much as the fact that she must have been really quite stunned and distraught at the result, but was of course trying to disguise that with the make-up. To me, that comment has more of a political weight to it than the usual "Who's got the best shoes" crap that we tend to see when the media discusses female politicians, because this was more about May trying to conceal her distress at the catastrophic mistake she made in calling the election in the first place.

    3 agree

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