The New York Times has devoted two pages today to the age-old topic of the dress code for female political candidates. They discuss in detail the wardrobes of current candidates, comparing them to how women "should" be dressing. Unsurprisingly, the article is peppered with the usual disparaging jabs at Hillary Clinton's campaign attire.
I love clothes and grew up with a beautiful southern working class mother who was able to make even the most economical clothing purchase look chic and elegant. However, this is an important election year, women are running in higher numbers than ever before, but researchers are saying that we may be facing a decline in the number of women in congress for the first time in three decades. When the newspaper, whose motto is "All the news that's fit to print", discusses how Palin's jacket fits instead of how few of her policies benefit women -- it's unfitting.
The year we first launched our research on "hair, hemlines and husbands" was the year Elizabeth Dole ran for president. We challenged a reporter for her tendency to cover Dole's wardrobe; she responded by saying that if we expected her not to lead with clothes when the candidate wore a "lime green suit" -- we were nuts. What's nuts about asking a journalist to report the news? In my opinion, the presence a lime green suit shouldn't trump the presence of intelligent ideas and opinions.
Only a critical mass of women in politics will change this focus on "hair, hemlines and husbands" -- unfortunately, these three words too often encapsulate the ways in which female politicians make it in the headlines. That is when the news with switch from gender to agenda.
This week we trained 150 women from across the United States to take leadership on issues of nuclear security. This training was planned conjunction with the release of Fair Game, a film about Valerie Plane's betrayal by the Bush administration. We heard from the women who negotiated the new START treaty with Russia -- a treaty that is languishing in Congress even though it deals with the very serious issue of nuclear proliferation. When women from around the country are taking this kind of initiative, I think that a giant like The New York Times owes them more than a "serious" discussion on skirt suits, windowpane shawls, and frameless eyeglasses.
Get with the times, old gray lady -- your slips are showing.