In our post-election world, where Hillary Clinton still remains a second-place finisher, it has almost become a matter of course to ridicule women within the Trump administration. Melania Trump, Ivanka Trump, Kellyanne Conway and Sarah Huckabee Sanders have all been attacked for things outside the realm of policy.
Now imagine that the Oval Office was inhabited by Trump’s election opponent. Would we see similar criticism? Absolutely not. It would be all glowing op-eds about powerful female Democrats, their strong voices and history-making turns.
However, if you place a woman in a position of prominence in the Trump administration, she’s fair game for sexism from the same crowd still claiming sexism as a reason for Hillary’s political demise. Convenient, is it not?
The most recent example of this hypocrisy in action is a piece in the New York Times entitled “Sarah Huckabee Sanders and the Optics of Relatable Style.” Don’t you get too excited about the terms “relatable” or “notable,” which are sprinkled throughout the column, though. The author, Vanessa Friedman, uses them to ridicule both Sanders and any frumpy, uninspired, Middle American women who might look up to her.
Even the picture caption accompanying the article drips with disdain for Sanders’ personal style, as if that alone were reversing all the progress women have made over the years and sending us back to slave away in the kitchen. Here’s a sample: “Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, has preferred dresses and a string of pearls to suits and jackets.”
Oh no! Not pearls!
Here’s more of what haughty Friedman has to say about Sanders:
This is true especially in a visual age, and for an administration schooled in the crucible of reality television, where what you wear and how you look play a leading role. Especially when Ms. Sanders is only the third woman to ever hold the post of press secretary and, as she often mentions in her briefings, the first mother.
So while Ms. Sanders’s new job has not meant a new look, exactly, it has introduced a more TV-ready version of her old one, which has been characterized as “field hockey coach” and “substitute teacher” (by Slate) and “a real-world figure, dressing on a budget” (by The Hollywood Reporter).
It means stack-heel beige pumps and a ubiquitous single strand of pearls. […] It meant, during her Tuesday briefing, prom-queen-like shoulder ruffles. It has not meant, thus far, suits or jackets.
The net effect is femininity that hasn’t been stiletto-weaponized or armored up as much as turned into an access point: No matter her words, they are framed by a style steeped in cheerful Hallmark history. That is bound to inform how they are received. If much of the administration still channels Wall Street (the Oliver Stone version), Ms. Sanders offers visual reference points of Main Street (the Fox version).
To clarify, Sanders doesn’t wear suits, prefers mom-like heels and pearls and isn’t making any sort of style statement as she stands behind the podium in the press briefing room.
My reaction: Who cares?!
If the author of this piece or anyone else has a problem with Sanders’ defense of an administration that they clearly despise, they should focus on that substance. Instead, Friedman (and others) ridicule the normal – even matronly – attire that is Sanders’ norm and deem it a negative. It isn’t expensive or flashy enough for them. In fact, it’s most representative of Main Street, that place they would prefer to forget about. You see, Main Street is a land far away from either coast where the majority of Americans – and many Trump voters – reside. Deride the place and its representative, Sanders, and you’ll feel as if you’ve accomplished something for the cause. Except you haven’t.
On Election Day, I chose neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump. Now, as someone who’s hardly sympathetic to the current administration, I watch and listen to the press briefings with only a focus on the substance and react accordingly. Last time I checked, that’s what we’re supposed to do. Allowing Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ style to influence how I feel about her statements would be nothing short of sexism.
In an era so concerned with the supposed scourge of misogyny, this is a strange direction to take.