When Women Are In the Spotlight, We Can't Help But Dissect Their Clothing Choices...

November 22nd 2014

Lindsay Haskell

Australian TV host Karl Stefanovic made a powerful statement about sexism when he decided to conduct an experiment wearing the same suit every day for a year on Australia's Today program. And did anyone notice? No.

As Stefanovic explained, "No one gives a (expletive) ... But women, they wear the wrong color and they get pulled up." Watch the video here:


An American case in point? Secretary Hillary Clinton. She has gotten flack over the years for wearing pantsuits; just look at the title of this article in the National Journal: "Hillary Clinton and Her Sisterhood of the Traveling Pantsuit." The story focuses on the impact of having a potential female President of the United States, and even highlights the "over-scrutiny" female leaders face from the media. 

It seems that when women are in the spotlight, we can't help but dissect their clothing choices. A study released by Name It. Change It. set up an experiment involving a fictional male and a fictional female candidate. In the control group, they didn't mention anything about the female candidate's appearance; however, in the other groups, they focused on the female candidate's appearance in a positive, neutral and negative light, respectively. It turned out that no matter the connotations of these comments, the female candidate suffered detrimental effects to her candidacy. As the study notes, "Importantly, the adverse reactions are not isolated to critiques of a woman's appearance; even appearance coverage that purports to be neutral or complimentary damages the woman."

This finding is distressing, considering how often we feel the need to note a public female figure's appearance and even, her sexuality. For instance, Jenny McCarthy apologized for the comment on The View in which she implied that Hillary Clinton was a lesbian; similarly, the media continually speculated about Condoleezza Rice's sexual orientation because she wasn't married.

This persistent view we have - that a woman's appearance and sexuality make up important aspects of who they are and are open to public critique - is hurting us all. After all, in the 2008 Presidential campaign, 65% of women believed Hillary Clinton was subjected to sexist media coverage, and 84% of women believed gender bias played a role for voters for Hillary Clinton. We are losing valuable female leaders because of our own prejudice; we should praise or critique women based on their policy positions and track-record instead of their latest haircut or dress choice.