Louise's Feminist Musings

Notes on feminist news & issues

Male/Female Suits

Discussing a politician’s clothing harms her success. Unfortunately often female politician’s clothing is indeed discussed. Why that is, is unclear. Here are some articles about the issue:


‘…the research used actual quotes about women candidates from media coverage of the 2012 elections and demonstrates that when the media focuses on a woman candidate’s appearance, she pays a price in the polls. This finding held true whether the coverage of a woman candidate’s appearance was framed positively, negatively or in neutral terms.’

WP: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/06/23/voters-dont-care-how-women-in-politics-look/ Notice how the headline is misleading here (this conclusion cannot be drawn from their findings) and how this is a piece skewed to lead the impression of readers in the direction of ‘gender wars’. It oozes the ‘we have to defend ourselves against feminism’ opinion of some. Instead of doing their own study out of interest for the subject, they try to discredit the Name It Change It study. Not only by the conclusions they draw from their findings, but also by misrepresenting the way the study was conducted. However, the Name It Change It uses actual quotes from media (instead of WP’s construed quotes like “looking disheveled and sloppy in an ill-fitting navy blue suit and tattered red scarf (tie).”, which I have never come across anywhere) and the study simply does not say anything about men, no good, no bad, it simply looks at the impact of how the meadia has been discussing female politician’s clothing.

I think that everyone knows from watching tv and reading the news that women’s outfits often are dicussed without reason, and men’s isn’t. The WP claims differently.

http://publications.mcgill.ca/reporter/2008/11/fashion-victims-female-political-leaders-face-different-criticism-than-men/ Here’s someone who tries to find an explanation in the fact that women do not wear uniform-like suits and that therefore they are forced to dress in a way that is aligned with the narrow category of what is fashionable.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/25/female-politicians-clothing_n_3495462.html Here’s the huffington’s post article that discusses these issues. Notice that they are not critical of the WP study, but that they nonetheless use language like:

“This new study flies in the face of previous reports, most notably Name It Change It’s findings

‘Flies in the face’…..it seems like they are out to discredit the Name It Change It study too. But what we can say is only: ‘here are two different studies, studying largely different things, conducted very differently, with different findings’. They also encourage their readers to ONLY read the WP study and then make up their minds on this issue and post their opinions. This is like an attempt to win converted souls. Very strange conduct this.

I wish some uninterested party, like a group of researchers at a university, would do a study. (Maybe they have?)

However, this is not at all what I wanted to talk about, well, it is related: I wish there would be good suits for women. Women’s suits as they are now are highly gendered (and sexist, I would say). The jackets often have rounded corners and are very small so as to make the woman’s legs seem taller and make her butt show for all to look at. They make women look somewhat serious and businesslike, but still cute and perky.

Why not make jackets that cover their butts? Like men’s jackets do. (It is really hard to find good pictures, but I have found some that come close:)

Think of male politicians wearing a cute little jacket that shows their butt. They would be ridiculed. Still, such uniforms do exist for men, but usually for working class men come to think of it, or in the army (which is interesting…lower rank men are made to show their butts, like women). Or am I wrong about this class thing? Well, perhaps I am paranoid. But why women don’t get to cover their genitals and butt by a nice warm jacket is beyond me.

Then on to the next related piece of information: I once watched a women’s TEDx event online and what made me crinch was the fact that these women looked like cute little dolls…all of them. Even though they spoke of change and fight for women’s rights etc.  (Most women also smile all the time even when they are saying that they demand change. I think it is to soften the blow…to be likable….because unfortunately women need to be likable to be heard…more on that in another blogpost some other day). Here’s the link to Jennifer Siebel Newsom’s talk, which was great (she does great work with her Miss Representation, that has nothing to do with her dress and I really don’t want to pick on her…but I do want to make a point about dressing according to your message)…but see how cute she looks.


If it were just her, fine, nothing wrong with her look. But they ALL looked cute in a similar way and it was glaringly obvious because while the event was going on the speakers were displayed next to eachother in a line-up. http://tedxwomen.org/speakers/jennifer-siebel-newsom/

When I said this on the Miss Representation facebook page, I got a lot of angry reactions from feminists saying that it doesn’t matter how women look, why was I commenting on their look and not listening to them instead. And yeah, talking about women’s looks hurts their success, as we saw above. Perhaps they were right, but I beg to differ (we were are feminist amongst ourselves). One other feminist agreed with me and said she had the same feeling when she saw the line-up of doll-like women.

I think that it should not matter how anyone dresses, but that unfortunately it is a fact of life that it does. For men this is not very problematic because they can wear a suit. The suit is like a uniform and it basically makes all men look more dashing and serious if they wear one. A student, still living with mom and dad, being a total irresponsible slob, can just go out and rent one (or borrow one from his dad, go out to a second hand shop even) and come out looking impressive (of course, there are subtle differences…there are good and bad suits…but mostly ‘insiders’ (everyday suitwearers who care) are familiar with these subtle differences). For women, however, there is no such option. Women have to shop till they drop to get some clothing that fit (men’s clothing is even far better tailored to their different sizes and bodies) and then they have to get the style right, make fashion sense etc.

This all is very unfortunate. I think it is necessary for women to dress for success, same as for men (because of course they will be judged by their appearance) and this is best done if such suits are available. I wish they were. But I am digressing again. Anyway, I think women should take care of what they wear if they are going to speak about women’s rights and demand change. They should not wear cute, red dressed with pearl necklaces and smile all the time. It just is not an impressive look.

So, I know that I am making a dangerous claim here: that it is in our biology to recognize certain looks as impressive and others as not…..and that it is not all a social construct. But even if it were a social construct, then I would say: go with it and lose the ‘cute’ if you want to address seriuos issues.

Another strand of feminism claims that we should make clear to society that also ‘cute’ women have a serious message. We should be able to look like barbie and still be thought to have a brain. I agree, but I think this is a different fight altogether and that that fight can be better fought at another place and time. I think that fight crosses gender boundaries. Men would also not be taken seriously when they would wear a cute dress while discussing some political issue. But you never see men trying it (unless as drag queens…very strange phenomenon, another subject for another post…) therefore no-one notices that these rules similarly exist for men.


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