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The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The politics of fashion

Exploring the scrutinized images of women in power  

According to the Pew Research Center, there are currently at least a dozen female heads of government around the world, and at least 63 nations have had a female head of government or state at one time.

The United States is not among these nations, as there has not yet been a female president. However, the U.S. is currently in the midst of a presidential election between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, the first female major party nominee for president.

As the first female candidate for a major party, Clinton’s style has been under scrutiny by the media throughout her campaign.

The emphasis on and attention to what a female politician wears is an issue that does not only take place in national elections, but it is also a very relevant issue here in Pennsylvania.

Katie McGinty, ’85, is running to become the first female senator from Pennsylvania. She too has noticed and been affected by the media’s unequal coverage of men and women.

“Presentation and image are critical, but it’s just as important to be able to back up your words with actions and results,” McGinty said. “I think women sometimes have a harder time proving their experience and qualifications, but as women, we can’t let that deter us. Female candidates need to put aside their hesitations and be more confident about what we bring to the table because we are as qualified and as ready to compete as anyone.”

William K. Greenlee, Philadelphia City Councilman At-Large and Majority Deputy Whip, has also noted the disparity between the coverage of men and women in politics throughout his time as a politician.

“I think women are judged differently,” Greenlee said. “There is too much emphasis on a woman’s looks and not her positions and policies. So many times we’ve heard about Hillary Clinton’s pantsuits and hair, which are not things that should matter.”

Greenlee noted that as a public figure, image always comes into play to a certain extent. However, he believes it is a more significant concern for female politicians.

“It’s easier for men; you put on a suit and get a haircut and you’re alright. I think you do have to put on a certain image,” Greenlee said. “You should judge everyone depending on positions and things that matter rather than what they wear and how they look.”

Public attention to the clothing choices of women in politics is not a new phenomenon. In fact, according to Christine Baeza, assistant teaching professor in the Design and Merchandising Program at Drexel University, fashion has always played a larger role for women in the public eye than for men.

“There is a long and complicated history of women’s dress codes, especially in the corporate and political world,” Baeza said. “Women are judged far more than men for what they wear. A look back in history shows evidence of the seemingly impossible balance a woman needs to have with looking too feminine and looking too masculine.”

Baeza said that women have often used fashion to make political statements. For instance, suffragettes removed their corsets and marched in white dresses to symbolize the need for political change.

Clinton’s famed pantsuit can also be considered a fashion statement, one that started in the 1980s. The problem is that female politicians’ fashion statements are sometimes misconstrued.

“In the ’80s, the powersuit had most women dressing like men, since more women were entering the workforce,” Baeza said. “Fashion is about personal expression, and women in the public eye walk a fine line when it comes to their attire: What is the unspoken message they want to convey and how can that message not be misperceived.”

Could it be that the scrutiny of women in politics could deter many women from pursuing office?

The statistics say “maybe.” According to a study done by Rutgers University’s Center for American Women and Politics, women make up well below half of U.S. Congress, Senate, and House of Representatives.

Ethan Flanagan, ’18, a political science major at St. Joe’s, has noticed the scrutiny of female politicians in the media, especially Hillary Clinton. However, he believes while Clinton’s image has been scrutinized, the coverage of her appearance and policies have been fairly balanced.

“I definitely think there’s a double standard in the media when it comes to covering men and women politicians, especially with Hillary Clinton because she is so visible,” Flanagan said. “It seems to me that mainstream media is so very quick to analyze what she is wearing, whereas with Trump, there’s no real analysis of what he’s wearing.”

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