The Sartorial Focus on Female Politicians

During the 2008 US presidential campaign, the media scrutiny over Hillary Clinton tended to focus as much on Clinton’s political discourse as much as it honed in on her wardrobe. Alas, the 21st century was in full swing, yet there was little evidence of any sort of social consciousness regarding women’s rights, much less an advancement regarding female politician’s autonomy of body and mind. The year 2008 served as a template for what not to do regarding media coverage of these politicians.

More recently, there has been a backtracking on the admissions of sexism from 2008, with some in the media stating forthrightly that discussing Clinton’s clothing is not sexist, that female politicians use fashion trendsto their advantage,” while other publications offer advice as to how “professional women” ought to dress. How far we have not come as a society, whereby these issues are still up for debate and worse, where Republican candidates – most notably Donald Trump – are given media attention for their crass debasement of female candidates?

Yet, there is a paradox in the current political climate of feminism, whereby female politicians are uniquely esteemed through both the sartorial and political, and not merely as a vague afterthought. As Melissa Haney suggests in the Bustle article, “How 4 Powerful Female Politicians Use Fashion to Their Advantage,” women are caught up in the mire of having to reduce themselves to object in order for them to liberate themselves from the mechanisms which created her as object in the first place. Just like Scheherazade recounting the tales to the king which inevitably prolong her life one day at a time, there is no endgame in sight for women who refuse thereduction of their words, ideas and work uniquely to their bodies and fashion.

Certainly, Hillary Clinton has used the jibes at her body and fashion in her favor as she turns sexist taunts into empowering jokes that she controls. But does this not indicate that our society has missed the point about women’s rights such that women attempting to make political and economic strides must accommodate institutional, cultural and media sexism by making light of sexism, even “turning lemons into lemonade?” Or the deeper question to be asked is this: Can women ever hope to run for political office or serve as the head of a multinational corporation where their appearance, bodies and fashion are not made the focus of such career choices?