If I had a dollar for every time somebody used the words “sexism” or “sexist” during this election, I’d have enough money to go shopping. Not shopping at Neiman Marcus, mind you, but shopping at, say, French Connection. When it was revealed the McCain campaign had given Governor Sarah Palin a $150,000 clothing allowance so she could be made over to appear more vice presidential, everybody flipped out. Conservatives were mad because it stood in direct contrast to her small town, we’re-just-like-you” schtick — last time I checked, most small towns don’t have a Saks Fifth Avenue.Democrats were upset because we’re in the middle of an economic crisis, and it appeared Palin was flaunting her Valentino budget. Now, people on both sides are saying all the negative attention being paid to what Palin is wearing is sexist. Campbell Brown devoted an entire segment to the subject, while former Star editor Bonnie Fuller wrote:
“The problem here is that there is a GIANT double standard that any woman running for political office is subjected to. That is — she will be held to a ‘looks’ litmus test. From her choice of hairstyle to her daily decision about whether to wear pants versus a skirt, to her choice of heels, her looks will be dissected, analyzed and criticized. This is something that male candidates simply NEVER have to deal with. Observers can ridicule John McCain’s angry expressions during a Presidential debate or praise Obama’s surprisingly well-defined pecs but do we ever hear boo about their outfits?”
From Hillary Clinton to Sarah Palin, women politicians who find themselves in the public eye are destined to have their looks scrutinized. That is certainly sexist. Still, in the case of Hillary, one got the sense that the pantsuits she chose to wear were more about professionalism than fashion. With Palin, one has to wonder if those knee-high stiletto boots and body-skimming suits aren’t designed to increase her sex appeal, not her political platform. With her popularity waning and knowledge of the issues being constantly questioned, Palin’s hotness is about the only thing about her that’s held the public’s attention. Giving her a $150,000 budget to maintain her looks seems like pandering to the lowest common denominator. That’s far more sexist in my opinion, than any criticism OF that wardrobe. Says Samhita at Feministing:
“Part of Palin’s whole appeal is to make her a ‘sexy’ gal next door and the money was spent to create that image … [They] are using her look as part of her appeal and manipulating the sexist double standard to boost her popularity with voters that adhere to normative standards of feminine beauty … Hillary’s image was not used in this way because she didn’t brand her self as the ‘sexy’ mom next door, but was scrutinized nonetheless for her not being feminine enough.”
Do we hold male politicians up to the same level of scrutiny when it comes to their wardrobes? I don’t think so. That said, when it came out that John McCain hired an expensive makeup artist to attend to his face powdering needs, the media gave that some attention too, though not nearly as much as Palin’s shopping spree has garnered. And really, what’s being criticized is the amount being spent on her upkeep, not on what she’s purchased and how it looks on her. Does Joe the Plumber know that Palin’s clothing budget amounted to 60-percent of his (supposed) annual income? Are commentators criticizing Obama for not shopping at the Men’s Warehouse? If you’ve seen that old photo of Sarah Palin in a hideous pink outfit, talking to constituents at a grocery store, it’s clear the woman’s wardrobe needed updating. After all, if she ends up in the White House, she can’t attend meetings with foreign leaders in a fleece sweatshirt, a skort, and some Uggs, just like McCain or Obama couldn’t meet with them in flannel shirts and jeans. But shopping on a budget might better demonstrate how she could handle balancing the budget of the United States.