There’s Hope! Columnist Promises to Stop Fashion Policing Women in Politics
Last Thursday, Janet Yellen, President Obama’s nominee for the chair of the Federal Reserve, did the unthinkable: She wore an outfit twice in one month. Warren Rojas of Roll Call and Patrick Tutwiler of Fishbowl DC both helpfully pointed out that the outfit she wore for her nomination hearing was also the same one she wore to her nomination ceremony.
Whether Janet Yellen, President Barack Obama’s latest pick to head the Federal Reserve, proves to be the financial genius our sputtering economy so desperately needs, remains to be seen. At least we know her mind won’t be preoccupied with haute couture.
Tutwiler’s take on the repeat outfit? “Yikes.”
As we posted on Facebook and Twitter and have written repeatedly on this blog, this appearance coverage is inappropriate, unnecessary and hurtful for female politicians. Journalist Erin McCann tweeted a useful flow chart for figuring out if talking about Yellen’s clothes is an OK thing to do:
In addition to Name It. Change It., outlets like Jezebel, The Atlantic and CNN also called these columnists out for the inappropriate nature of their comments. CNN pointed out that all of Yellen’s male predecessors repeated outfits without mention, yet Yellen received this high level of scrutiny. Female politicians are often on the receiving end of appearance coverage that their male counterparts never face.
When we tweeted McCann’s chart at Rojas, we even received a positive response:
The next day, he posted an apology for his previous post, writing:
Message received, America. Perhaps I should leave all the fashion policing to the Joan Rivers and Tim Gunns of the world.
We named the problem. He acknowledged the issue and promised to not do it again. We’ll keep working to get more members of the media to join him so we can eradicate sexist coverage for good. How's about it Patrick Tutwiler? Such a vow would be a great way to start off your job as the new editor of DC Fishbowl!
Ann Coulter on Women: We’re Bitchy and Hysterical
Women’s role in ending the government shutdown has been a trending story in the media. And rightly so. Women made up almost half of the bipartisan committee who worked on the deal’s framework, even though they are only 20 percent of the Senate. Highlighting women’s achievements is a fine story—and we encourage the media in this function. What is problematic, however, is relying on stereotypes to explain why women are successful. According to columnists like the Washington Post’s Kathleen Parker, it is no surprise that women played a key part in negotiating the budget: Women are just naturally better at collaborating.
“Sound stereotypical?” she writes. “Welcome to nature.”
In an earlier post, Name it. Change It. weighed in on this topic, explaining why positive stereotypes can be just as harmful, and sexist, as negative ones.
But the conversation continues. And, this time, the sexism is much more blatant.
On last Tuesday morning’s episode of “The View,” co-host Jenny McCarthy asked conservative pundit Ann Coulter: “If a woman ran the country, would there have been a government shutdown?”
Well, this probably won’t be popular with this audience. I’m not sure I agree with the premise. I think there’s a reason the words "bitchy" and "hysteria" come from females.
Such a comment should come as no surprise. Coulter is the same person who once divulged to the New York Observer that she wished women’s right to vote could be taken away so that we wouldn’t have another Democratic president. She’s a well-known provocateur who makes outlandish remarks as part of her act. What she says, though, is usually too absurd to necessitate a response.
But this time, Coulter brings up some deeply held biases against women that usually stay bubbling under the surface of our culture’s national discourse. This makes it worth discussing.
Ann Coulter is right. There is a reason why the words “bitch” and “hysteria” are associated with women. But it has nothing to do with biological determinism.
When, historically, a hierarchal structure has rewarded women for being complacent and submissive, women who are strong, angry, or outspoken are stereotyped as bitchy, irrational, or hysterical. Using these loaded phrases is a means to an end. They are tools to dismiss women’s voices and maintain the status quo.
What is interesting is that Coulter did end up backtracking when the rest of the women on “The View” objected to her unashamed sexism.
“All right, you’re right. Men are the ones that came up with those words as words for women—fine, you’ve won me over,” she said.
Admitting that these words didn’t come out of thin air to magically describe women’s inner nature is a good step for Coulter. Perhaps she is adjusting to the almost exclusively female audience of “The View,” or the fact that she is on broadcast television instead of her normal perch on conservative cable news. Either way, it was a welcome retraction.
Unfortunately, Ann Coulter is not the only one who bases her arguments and opinions on antiquated notions of gender essentialism. This has been made obvious by some of the recent media coverage of women in government. It’s great that women in the Senate were leaders in ending the shutdown. And it’s imperative to discuss what government would look like with more equal representation. But let’s just quit it with the stereotypes, positive or negative. It cheapens the discussion.
Did Gender Matter? Was It Women Who Shutdown the Shutdown?
Is it gender stereotyping to say women senators work together better?
Now that the 16-day shutdown of the federal government is finally over, the media has been seeking those who made the deal happen and they have decide it was the women of the Senate. Jonathan Weisman and Jennifer Steinhauer, writing for The New York Times, decided it was the women on the bipartisan budget committee who affected change. Their story “Senate Women Lead in Effort to Find Accord” focuses on Maine’s Senator Susan Collins and a coalition she formed with other female senators, they pointed to the collaborative leadership style of women and their ability to work together as the catalyst for agreement. They write:
In a Senate still dominated by men, women on both sides of the partisan divide proved to be the driving forces that shaped a negotiated settlement.
Other outlets took a similar angle that it was the women – possibly because they were women—who changed the tone of the discussion. Time declared that “Women Are The Only Adults Left in Washington,” while USA Today called the women “Senate Sisters.” The Huffington Post gave women full credit for “getting us out” and many others list this instance as a case for getting more women into politics.
Name It. Change It. is often critical of negative stereotypes of women, but positive stereotypes – such as the concept of collaborative work being a specific trait of women – can also be harmful. As Marc Tracy, writing for The New Republic, points out in his coverage, viewing all women as compromising and collaborative is still engaging in gender essentialism. Women can be just as stubborn, willful, or stuck in their ways as men – or as helpful, collaborative and willing to seek compromise. When generalizations are made about an entire gender, it limits what is considered acceptable behavior.
Men are often praised for sticking to their guns, standing up for their values and never compromising. If we stick to this essentialist narrative, it’s unclear if woman would be praised for those same qualities.
The media can offer praise to the women of the Senate for their work to end the shutdown. Such praise only becomes problematic when it emphasis that work in characteristics that allegedly all women possess.
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