Hair, Hemlines and Husbands

As a college educated woman who has been in the work force for over seventeen years, I’m still amazed by the harsh judgment of women based on the superficial.

If you were bothered by the treatment of women candidates during the presidential election of 2008, I highly recommend you read Anne Hornblut’s Notes from the Cracked Ceiling: Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, and What It Will Take For A Woman to Win (Crown, 2009). 

Though I’m registered as a Republican, I often cross party lines.  (I can think for myself, thank you.)  I was offended by the harsh treatment Hillary Clinton received during the 2008 Democratic primaries.  Mocked for her perceived manliness, she was criticized for her choice of clothes – square cut pant suits. And why wouldn’t she prefer pant suits?  When she showed some leg, everyone made fun of her “cankles.”  Her laugh was even likened to a witch’s cackle.

The Republican ticket tried to attract the much garnered women’s vote by adding Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as the Vice-Presidential nominee.  But Palin, it seems, was too pretty.  And as we all know, pretty = dumb, right?  How often did we hear about her expensive designer clothes?  How many times did we see video footage of Palin parading around in a bathing suit at a beauty pageant?

This is all part of the phenomena known as “hair, hemlines and husbands.”  The White House Project, a 501(c)(3) that aims to advance women’s leadership, conducted ground-breaking research in 2000 that concluded that not only were male candidates covered more by the media, but the coverage focused on the issues.  On the flip side, the coverage the women candidates received focused more on their hair, their hemlines and their husbands.

Speaking of the husbands – we all knew about Bill and his wandering eye.  Then there was the “first dude,” Todd Palin, who worked on the North Slope oil fields in Alaska and raced snowmobiles.  These guys got almost as much coverage as their wives.

How about some substance, please?

Women’s activist Gloria Steinem wrote an op-ed that appeared in the New York Times (Jan 8, 2008) asking if a woman who had been a community organizer and served less than one term in the U.S. Senate would be a viable candidate for President of the United States.  Her answer?  No.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

Probably the most disheartening to me is that women are oftentimes the perpetrators of this attitude.  When telling a female colleague about a presentation I had recently given, her questions were, “How did you look?“ and “What did you wear?”  Really?  What about the content of my presentation?  What about how it was received?

Sure, we’ve come a long way baby, but we’re not there yet.

Jill Prouty

Jill is a reader, writer, and professional librarian who enjoys spending her free time with her husband of twelve years and their two sons. She has an MSLS from Clarion University of Pennsylvania and a BA from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

June 6, 2010
June 8, 2010