Monday, June 11, 2012

Judging by a Human Standard: Politics by Policy, Not by Prada

Last week, former New York Times editor and author Ed Klein spoke about Secretary Hillary Clinton’s 2016 prospects in a radio interview:
“At this very moment that we’re speaking right now, Brian, [the Clintons] are already thinking seriously about running in 2016,” author Ed Klein told Fox News host Brian Kilmeade. “She’ll be 69 years old. And as you know — and I don’t want to sound anti-feminist here — but she’s not looking good these days. She’s looking overweight, and she’s looking very tired.”

Klein, a former New York Times magazine editor continued to comment on her appearance.
“I think she’s going to take some time off, get back into shape. And if her health holds out– that’s a big if, of course — if her health holds out, there’s no question in my mind she and Bill — two for the price of one — will run in 2016.” 
In just a few sentences, Klein notes looks, age, weight, and health in the context of a potential future presidential run for Clinton. To be sure, Senator John McCain and President Ronald Reagan came under scrutiny for their presidential runs when they were in their late 60s and early 70s, but very rarely, if ever, does a male politician’s weight or looks become an inhibitory aspect of a potential run for office. For male politicians, experience, policy, and relatable aspects of their personal story are discussed to determine their potential as a candidate for higher office. For a female politician, those important aspects seemed to be dwarfed by her looks—whether her looks are praised or criticized. In the eyes of pundits and the media, the hairstyle on top of a female politician’s head becomes more important that the ideas inside of that woman’s head. Rarely do the media mentions if a male politician opts for a pinstriped suit rather than a solid colored suit, but if a female politician decides to wear glasses rather than contacts or decides to wear her bangs differently, it becomes a point of media discussion.

Male and female politicians are going to present policies using different rhetoric and perspectives, but it becomes a detriment to the electorate when those policies aren’t adequately reported upon simply because a female politician decided to wear her hair up the day she gives a wonkish speech. Our culture—whether it be politics, business, technology, sports, entertainment, or any other aspect—should be discerned by a human standard. There shouldn’t a feminine standard where female politicians are judged by their appearance and their experience and ideas are eschewed, and a masculine standard where male politicians’ appearances are ignored and only their ideas and experience are considered. There should be a human standard where all are judged solely by what is important for a given political or professional position. A female politician should be discussed in terms embracing Keynesian or Austrian economics , not in terms of going au natural or wearing Maybelline or Prada vs. Kenneth Cole.

 Klein’s comments prove yet another reason why more women are needed in politics and every other aspect of professional life and culture. Sexism is still a part of our culture, although things have begun to improve in some respects. However, this goes beyond explicit sexism. Perception is often dictated by reality, and the reality is that only about 17% of all Congressional seats, 12% of Governor’s seats, and 24% of state legislative positions are held by women. The media and the electorate both are relatively unaccustomed to seeing women in roles of political leadership. Such a disparity prevents the media and the electorate from being accustomed to how a female politician presents herself in the context of her experience and policy—her appearance, her voice, her rhetoric, her mannerisms. Thus, how women portray themselves is pushed into the foreground while their experiences and ideas become pushed into the background. Only when our society is more accustomed to seeing female politicians will this perception be overcome. Is this a proverbial Catch 22? No, instead it provides yet another opportunity for women to continue to turn hurdles into springboards. As former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher said, “you may have to fight a battle more than once to win it.” The more women continue to pursue public office, the more our culture will judge by a human standard of experience and policy.

Crossposted from The New Agenda.

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