New Wave tennis shoes
Unless what women wear is relevant to the news at hand, reporting on it creates a detrimental double standard for female politicians.
There’s a difference between liking Wendy Davis’s shoes and liking Wendy Davis because of her shoes. What is that difference? I know, let’s call it sexism.
When The Washington Post, “If Ruemmler didn’t want The Washington Post to talk about her shoes while she’s in the midst of White House ‘scandals, ’ why did she wear them?” In the photo of Ruemmler featured in the Post, the other seven people in the Oval Office are all men. Notably, many seem to be wearing ties that border on neon colored. Where is the expose on that?
No, this is a phenomenon unique to women in leadership positions—that media stories about our intellects and accomplishments are often literally dressed down with descriptions about our clothing. In groundbreaking research, the Women’s Media Center and Celinda Lake showed that media commentary about what women candidates are wearing has a detrimental impact on their candidacy. In other words, the media simply noting what women are wearing—let alone critiquing or judging it—hurts the prospects of women in leadership.
And then I found myself and all my feminist friends ogling Texas State Sen. Wendy Davis’s shoes. When Davis accomplished a marathon 11-hour filibuster to block a ridiculously restrictive bill that would severely curtail women’s rights in the state, suddenly her shoes became iconic. Feminists and allies flocked to the Amazon website for Davis’s bright pink Mizuno “Wave Rider” sneakers and posted glowing review after review tied to Davis’s triumph. One :
“The next time you have to spend 13 hours on your feet without food, water, or bathroom breaks, this is the shoe for you. Guaranteed to outrun patriarchy on race day.”
Before buying a pair myself, I couldn’t help but wonder: is commenting on a woman leader’s footwear in media coverage the same thing as coveting a woman leader’s iconic sneakers? No.
In the sense that Wendy Davis is a hero, her shoes are a symbol—a talisman of feminism and political voice and literally standing up for what’s right. Her shoes are legitimately part of the story of filibustering for 11 hours, especially because they stood out. But pointing out what women leaders are wearing when it has absolutely nothing to do with the story is exactly the opposite—it undercuts the leadership of women and quashes their voice.