In Favor of Headbands and Dad Pants

September 07, 2012

Candidates running for political office are put under a microscope. But some are scrutinized in ways that others aren’t. In her piece for the Women’s Media Center, AAUW Director of Leadership Programs Kate Farrar wrote, “The more things change, the more they stay the same. Just look at the coverage of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wearing headbands or going ‘au naturel.’ Or skim the story on former Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann’s fingernails.”

Photo courtesy of the Clinton LibraryThese are excellent examples of the ways in which women candidates are judged differently than their male peers, and it’s ridiculous. But recently we’ve started judging men’s attire too — like Paul Ryan’s “dad pants.” Seriously?

I can’t believe we, as a nation, are talking about this stuff. It’s an issue that has always been part of the conversation, and I don’t think it should. It doesn’t matter if the candidate is a woman or a man — we shouldn’t be talking about their clothing or fashion choices. Instead, that energy should be directed toward coverage of their stances on issues that affect our daily lives. Whether Clinton wears headbands or Ryan wears dad pants is irrelevant to my day-to-day existence. What does matter are candidates’ views on women and our hard-won rights.

Unfortunately, this distraction also exists for women in other professions. The New York Times last month published a story about women technology professionals that highlighted their appearances instead of their achievements. Focusing on their clothes and comparing their opulence with the frumpy sweats and jeans worn by other tech moguls doesn’t empower them — it demeans them.

The reporter includes a quote — and a troubling message — from designer Stacey Bendet Eisner: “[Successful tech women] also want an element of sophistication to their clothes because they want to be taken seriously.” Unfortunately, in our society, women and girls are constantly bombarded with the message that the only way to be taken seriously is to look good.

I can’t believe crucial column inches and spots in the blogosphere are devoted to something so superficial when there are more substantive, life-altering issues that should be the topics of national conversation.

Rather than focus on the fashion choices people make, look at the substance. Let’s not keep using these shortcuts to judge people and label them. We know there’s going to be a next time — this issue will keep popping up again and again. History has shown that. Hopefully, though, we’ll know to look past it because intelligence, skills, and viewpoints matter. Appearance does not.

By:   |   September 07, 2012

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