I really, really, really do not want to defend Michele Bachmann, but this kind of thing makes me so weary that I feel I must. It was the same story with Sarah Palin (although to be fair the biggest story about Sarah Palin’s appearance was the misappropriation of campaign funds for her outfits, which: fair enough) -- her politics were either repugnant, uninformed, or both, so why were we talking about her clothes and hair and mothering skills? Ditto Ann Coulter (who I realize is not a politician, but indulge me) -- yes, she’s horrible, but it has nothing to do with whether she looks mannish or not. All I want is for people to criticize awful people based on their awfulness, and not on how well they do lady stuff!
Now, female candidates are not the only ones subject to absurd wardrobe scrutiny. Remember Obama and his “mom jeans”? But when the lens is turned on male politicians, it tends to be done with a sort of rib-elbowing jocularity -- “Ha ha, Barack, your jeans are terrible, see you at the debate where we will discuss the actual issues.”
Do you know that the first woman to wear pants on the floor of the House was Susan Molinari in 1990? NINE. TEEN. NINETY. You know, only about a CENTURY after women started wearing trousers in other contexts. And the furor over Molinari wearing a lower-half garment constructed of two tubes instead of one completely overshadowed the speech she made on the House floor. The tunnel vision focus on women’s clothes and appearance is just as present in politics as it is in the rest of the world, and this crap builds up.
What really gets me, though, is that female candidates get judged on things male candidates just don’t have to worry about. The fellows might fret over the message sent by their tie, but women can also get dinged on cleavage, jewelry, makeup, shoes, hose, wrinkles, lack of wrinkles, and acrylic nails. There are so many more moving parts to a woman’s appearance, so many more things that they have to keep an eye on in order to stay in compliance with the many and varied Rules for Ladies’ Looks.
There’s basically no possible way that a male candidate would be criticized for having acrylic nails, because there’s basically no context in which a male candidate would feel the need to wear acrylic nails in the first place. Ditto the shaping of those nails and the manicure color. Ditto earrings, necklace, lipstick, stockings, purse.
Candidates’ appearances get way too much air time, period -- maybe the result of a late-night "Oh god we have a 24-hour channel and we’re out of news” panic. But because they need to hit so many fiddly clothing and grooming and accessorizing marks in order to properly fulfill gender roles, women are going around peppered with little targets. Men, if they can avoid getting a $400 haircut, have like five targets at most. (I’m counting “tan level” in deference to John Boehner.)
It’s just unfair, this esoteric nitpicking (seriously, the semiotics of French tips?) about stuff that male politicians have never had to think about for one minute of their lives. I think Michele Bachmann is the most stubbornly backward, irresponsibly logic-proof reality divorcee who’s ever run for office, and I don’t want to make excuses for her.
I am certainly not saying we should stop picking on candidates for things that have nothing to do with their political positions. We should do that ALL THE TIME! It’s fun, and it gets non-wonks stirred up about politics. Let’s please go to town on Sarah Palin reading all the newspapers, or Christine O’Donnell not being a witch, or Michele Bachmann going from being two banana plants up to a thrill-seeking shark who sold pictures of different toys she wanted.
But seriously, if you are writing an article about whether Michele Bachmann’s manicure is tacky, it is time to EVALUATE YOUR LIFE. (Present company excepted.)