As the Democratic primary winds down, I’ve been noticing a crop of dismaying Hillary Clinton memes popping up on my Facebook feed that are focusing on her choice of clothing at some event:
Sure, there are plenty of things to question or critique Hillary Clinton on: her foreign policy record, her and her husband’s handling of welfare reform, her acceptance of big checks from big donors, etc.
But her jacket? Come on.
I am surprised to find that even people on the left are taking these misogynistic pot-shots at Hillary Clinton. Anyone who considers themselves a feminist (which I do, and strive to uphold feminist values) must recognize that Hillary Clinton’s nomination is a milestone in the feminist movement, making this kind of immature critique of her wardrobe all the more offensive and embarrassing.
Salon.com published an excellent piece about how you don’t need to like Hillary Clinton, but you should still celebrate her candidacy. Their article, Don’t call it a win for women: Hillary’s victory is a triumph for the women’s movement, and there’s a difference goes through the reasons why Clinton is a bad candidate, and the policies she has supported in the past probably weren’t good for American women in general (welfare reform in particular). But no matter how much you dislike her policies, she is no less of a victory in the women’s movement (just like, it might pain some to say, Sarah Palin’s nomination to Vice Presidency and Margaret Thatcher’s ascension to Prime Minister).
And so it should be little surprise to anyone, but most of all those on the left, that feminists are sensitive to criticisms of Clinton’s choice of clothing. A response I’ve heard defending such ad hominem attacks goes like, “Bernie Sanders gets criticized for his disheveled appearance all the time, so what’s the big deal?”
The big deal is that Bernie Sanders isn’t a milestone in the feminist movement, and that matters.
We Need More Female Politicians
Furthermore, this demeaning of female politicians’ appearances just reinforces the reluctance many women feel about pursuing public office. Making women feel unwelcome in these positions of power is problematic for a lot of reasons, but fundamentally I think it undermines the premise of our electoral system.
A representative republic, which we live in, demands having elected leaders who represent – and are representative of – those who elected them. A classic way in which this notion is undermined is through gerrymandering, or combining districts so as to reduce the impact of a particular group of people.
Women comprise roughly half of the population no matter where you are, but tend to represent nowhere near that number of elected officials. Looking just at the Pioneer Valley, I came up with the following maps (green is male, red is female; click to scroll through the maps):
The number of female electeds in the Pioneer Valley is anemic, particularly outside of Hampshire County. One city, Chicopee, didn’t even have a single female city councilor! Given that women are about half of the electorate, our representatives don’t seem very representative.
We can argue about whether women make better leaders, or whether they are able to work more cooperatively, or whether they are less partisan. For me, though, what it really comes down to is whether our politicians should actually represent the people. I don’t think we need to adhere strictly to identity politics where demographics decide everything. We should of course be primarily concerned with electing responsible, effective leaders. But when such a large segment of the Pioneer Valley (and country) is so drastically underrepresented in our elected leadership, that strikes me as a problem.
And that’s why mocking pictures about Hillary Clinton’s jacket are so offensive. They imply that the candidate doesn’t need to be taken seriously, that the candidate has failed as a woman (since fashion sense is such an essential feminine quality), and that we need not consider her any further.
Criticize Clinton, and any other politician, as much as you want on the issues. But leave her style choices out of it. We’re better than that.