Thursday, November 10, 2005

'Commander in Chic'

In keeping with Theme 2 of this week - Women in Office (Theme 1 being Voting: More or Less), here's an article on the same ol' stop describing our looks idea.

The article raises some valid and some invalid points. Too often we are given stylistic details about would-be women-electeds. But we are also offered some for the men-folk. The problem isn't the type of detail offered, but for what the detail is a shorthand. Bush clears brush, wearing a snug, sweaty t-shirt. Miers bakes a means sweet potato pie. Each detail is equally irrelevant to leadership or policy vision. But typically feminine traits are seen as liabilities - so we - women - get mad when they are raised. Typically male traits are predictors of success - virility, strength, courage, sweat, etc.

So how about we start discussing this differently: I think it's great that Miers bakes great pies. Baking requires attention to detail, it implies a respect for cultural traditions and familial history. It is a relaxing activity, a luxury for many people - like John Edwards's running hobby. My reaction to "feminine" attributes being played up in the media is - go for it. I'm just going to draw different conclusions and encourage others to do the same.

The liability here is that these women are feminine and whether or not any diminuative language is used when referring to their hobbies or character, we - women - immediately overreact when a candidate's broach or hairstyle is described in an article.

John Kerry's carved-from-stone face and imposing frame got plenty of ink. John Edwards, the fresh-faced cutie pie from the South made the voters swoon with his soft accent. We talk about men's appearances too, they are just glad when they haven't screwed up an outfit enough to get called out on their mismatched socks.

The piece takes special offense at this comment:

But the top prize for misogynistic Miers mumblings goes to the San Diego Union Tribune, whose columnist (and former congressman) Lionel Van Deerlin wrote, "In judging persons for public office, there are certain routine tests... in assessing a feminine prospect, I have to wonder -- would I wish to be married to her?" It's difficult to imagine more chauvinistic and irrelevant criteria for vetting a candidate for the nation's highest court. Yet while the Beltway buzzed about Miers' political opinions and crony status, Van Deerlin labeled her unsuitable not because of her lack of judicial experience but because, as a workaholic, "she doesn't meet my exacting standard"... as a potential wife! "Can it be any wonder she's single?," he asked, "What relationship could flower with a woman who works from 4 a.m. to 10 at night?"
Of course, what kind of relationship could flower with a woman who works from 4 am to 10 pm? Probably ones as strong as those with men who work the same hours. Make no mistake, male workaholics may be sorta-lauded in the boardroom, but they end up just as lonley in the bedroom, married or not, since they effectively alienate their families to become the model salarymen we love.

The piece also takes issue with Bush's "pit bull in size 6 shoes" comment.

It's hard though, isn't it, to pinpoint exactly what angers us about these comments. Is it that we get in trouble both for being feminine and for not being feminine enough? Is it that our gender's primary attributes are dictated by stereotypes? Or is it that our gender's primary attributes aren't sufficiently valued? Would it be wrong to judge a male candidate unworthy husband material and decide if we wouldn't hand over our marital trust, perhaps he doesn't deserve the public trust either?

I'm not sure, of course, exactly who I'm defending or attacking here. But I do think some narrative descriptions of candidates - male and female - is fine. It's the conclusions drawn from those descriptions that are the problem. I guarantee I judged legislators less suitable for office for their fashion faux paus - male and female - because if you can't be bothered about your appearance, then you probably can't be bothered about a lot of other things either. No, they needed all drench themselves in Dior, but coordinated shirts and suits, or outfits that look less stock-power-suit and more this-is-my-style would be nice.

Bet you didn't think I could start the week with my H&M fashion ink, move on to the role of women in both this past election and elected office generally, and then unite the two issues on one post, didja.

Well there it is.

The way I see it - women tend to feather their nests and themselves more often than do men. If their feathers get press attention, fine. If their feathers give rise to the inference that they are flighty - that's where we get into trouble.

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