Political Sexism

Yglesias has a rejoinder to a post about fashion in politics, and it got be thinking about various gender contradictions in politics. To wit:

There’s some real truth to that and, obviously, if John Kerry had shown up on stage in an orange suit his fashion choices would hardly have been ignored. But to observe that is to overlook the point that, of course, Kerry wouldn’t show up on stage in an orange suit or a red one or a green one or anything other than the standard conservative (in a fashion sense) male “I’m a serious and important person” uniform. A woman in politics could choose to dress consistently in the same kind of drab colors that her male colleagues choose, but that would be noteworthy in its own right. And if she chooses not to do so, then her bold colors become noteworthy. What’s sexist here isn’t noticing a bright orange suit, but the set of differing conventions and expectations about what male and female politicians should do — conventions that all-but-ensure a higher overall level of scrutiny will be given to women’s wardrobes.

Now obviously this is true, and critiquing the fashion choices of female politicians, at least from a political perspective, is extremely petty. But the flip side to all of that is that female politicians get to diversify their public wardrobe. Obviously this isn’t an Earth shattering thing, but there are certainly a handful of male politicians who wish they could mix things up and/or add a little more color to their public persona, but convention prohibits them from doing so less they be seen as not serious. Again, not an Earth shattering thing, but if you’re one of those male politicians, you obviously feel like you’re in a rougher spot than those female politicians.

Now this isn’t to dismiss the idea of sexism in politics/media, far from it in fact. It’s simply to try and point out the flip side to these gender conventions, in so much as they aren’t all working against women. For example, Jay Leno could make jokes about John Kerry’s long face in 2004. David Letterman makes jokes about John McCain being really old this cycle. How many people think they’d be making the same jokes about a female candidate? Now obviously some people, like Rush Limbaugh or stand-up comics, might “get away” with that, but the “mainstream” late night hosts couldn’t possibly, I don’t think, get away with comparing a female politician to a little old lady that lives next door to you in stereotypical fashion or make fun of her “horse face.” Which isn’t to say they should be able to, necessarily, again, it’s just to point out that there are some “protections” to both male and female candidates under these gender conventions. What you make of that, I suppose, is up to you.