By Lucinda Marshall
08 December, 2006
about fashion is not my style. Recently however, I felt moved to write
a critique of Marie Clare’s November issue which took on the unique
task of looking at the impact of militarism on women’s lives from
the point of view of fashion (lost an arm and a leg but can still wear
2 inch heels…). I had devoutly hoped that would be the end of
my career in fashion commentary, but those hopes were dashed by two
recent articles about noteworthy women.
The first is an in-depth
look at women to watch for in the House and Senate by Allison Stevens
of Women’s ENews. Refreshingly, the article contains not one itsy
bitsy bit of information about what these powerful women wear or what
they look like. In a no nonsense, just the facts and nothing but the
facts approach, Stevens delineates the roles of women like Barbara Lee
and Lynn Woolsey, co-chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus
and Lois Capps, a possible co-chair for both the Democratic Women’s
Working Group and the Congressional Caucus of Women’s Issues.
We also learn that Rep. Louise Slaughter and Sen. Diane Feinstein will
chair the House and Senate Rules committees, and what the implications
of these posts are for issues such as the right to obtain an abortion.
Stevens does a fine job of demonstrating that in fact you can talk about
the importance of women’s lives without trivializing them by assuming
you must mention their hairstyle or what they are wearing.
Not so the December issue
of Esquire, which contains an article that takes a lengthy look at “five
exceptional American women.” who have done significant work that
has received little attention. But hold the applause. This after all
is a magazine with a long history of preferring to present women in
a scantily clad light. So it is not surprising that the author of “The
Women of America”, John H. Richardson, is scrupulous in making
sure that his readers really get the picture. The very first sentence
of the article reads,
“Naomi Halas is wearing
a clingy green blouse with tight black pants and two-inch black pumps,
looking as if she stepped off the set of a Pedro Almodovar movie.”
This in what way relates
to the fact that she invented nanoshells?
And then there is Doris Voitier,
the school superintendent in St. Bernard Parish in Louisiana, who has
done extraordinary work getting her schools back in business since Katrina,
no thanks to FEMA. Richardson makes sure that we know that she is “a
round woman in a lime-colored suit.” How very illuminating.
But on to Rose Ann DeMoro,
a California nurse who led the fight to lower nurse:patient ratios in
California hospitals. Aren’t you dying to know what she looks
like? No problem, we get a description right in the first paragraph—“A
woman in black pants and a yellow sweater…”
When it comes to Patricia
Mulroy, the general manager of the Las Vegas Valley Water District,
we get the description before we even know her name, “a stylish
older woman with short hair and discreet gold jewelry. That would be
Patricia Mulroy.” Richardson repeats the clothes first, name second
structure with the last woman featured in the article, “a young
woman in white slacks and a jean jacket” named Stephanie Herseth.
Only then do we find out that she is a member of the United States Congress.
Not once does Richardson refer to her as Congresswoman Herseth, she’s
just a young woman wearing white slacks and a denim jacket.
While the media occasionally
offers us a description of how men of power appear, it is much more
prevalent in the descriptions of women. If you doubt this, consider
that within a week of the election, it was common knowledge that Nancy
Pelosi digs Armani, but quick—who is Harry Reid’s favorite
designer? Who knows and who cares.
It is unfortunate when the
media continues, with all its damaging and misogynist implications,
to insist by inclusion that what women wear or how they look is related
to their capability. As Allison Stevens demonstrates, it is in fact
possible to write about women and what they have accomplished without
trivializing their empowerment by asserting such spurious connection
. This is the standard to which journalism should be held in regard
Lucinda Marshall is a feminist artist, writer and activist.
She is the Founder of the Feminist Peace Network, www.feministpeacenetwork.org.
Her work has been published in numerous publications in the U.S. and
abroad including, Counterpunch, In These Times, Dissident Voice, Off
Our Backs, The Progressive, Countercurrents, Z Magazine , Common Dreams
and Information Clearinghouse. She blogs at WIMN Online and at Sheroes.
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