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,.”
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
— Nick Robinson (@bbcnickrobinson) June 9, 2017
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.