In response to yet another ridiculous example of making assumptions about women in political power according to how they dress, Feministe has come up with a brilliant comparison of fashion and coin-collecting. Here’s how this works: both fashion and coin-collecting are hobbies, yet fashion is gendered in ways that coin-collecting is not. No one automatically assumes that you collect coins, but women are assumed to be into fashion because, well, that’s what ladies are into, right? Coin-collecting comes up in conversation either briefly or not at all, or if both parties are into it, while fashion is something you can apparently ask any woman about anytime. See where this is going?
The two main take-away points from the blog are:
1. Don’t assume that every woman cares about fashion. Don’t assume that just because she’s wearing fashionable clothes, she cares about fashion. Don’t judge her by fashion standards, because she might not care about them. Don’t judge her by fashion standards, because she might care about them very much but lack the resources to meet your standards. Don’t judge her by fashion standards, because she might have standards of her own and be judging you for not meeting them, or just not caring about you at all. Don’t analyze her clothing choice for messages, because she might not be sending any; sometimes a cigarette pant is just a cigarette pant.
2. Don’t waste a woman’s time talking about inconsequential things when there are consequential things that need to be discussed. And of course this is not to say that a woman, whether a politician or a CEO or anyone else, can never talk about or should never want to talk about hobbies and family and fun.
This is reminiscent of a post I wrote a while ago, about making a spectacle of women in politics by focusing on what they wear rather than what they do. It’s annoying and demeaning, to say the least.
And, people? I’m a scholar of body art, among other things. I do think that clothing choices are important and that they contain a lot of information about our personal and cultural values. But this phenomenon of focusing exclusively on women’s fashion choices while men get a free pass in this area is sexist and stupid. We should either take everyone to task equally for their clothing choices, or ignore appearances in favor of, oh, I don’t know, how political figures actually do their jobs.