So you have the U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sitting next to you, and you have a microphone, and she’s speaking to the young people of Kyrgyzstan, and you can ask her questions, and you go with It’s Oscar de la Renta, right? I can tell. It’s totally de la Renta.
MODERATOR 1. Okay. Which designers do you prefer?
SECRETARY CLINTON: What designers of clothes?
MODERATOR 1: Yes.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Would you ever ask a man that question?
MODERATOR 1. Probably not. Probably not. (Applause.)
Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also received a lot of attention for her wardrobe, particularly a full-length wool coat and knee boots that “speak of sex and power” in a way that, one assumes, predecessor Colin Powell’s suits never did. “Fashion icon” Nancy Pelosi once famously side-eyed Washington Post reporter Robin Givhan at a state dinner when she asked who designed the House speaker’s gown. (President Obama chose a Hart Schaffner Marx tux in classic black.)
In local news, a recent article in the Birmingham, Alabama, newspaper profiled UAB’s dean in the School of Education. We’re not told about her extensive research and numerous publications in the field of urban education, her international teaching experience, or her own experience as an elementary school teacher in Birmingham’s public schools. We do learn that she’s 4’11”, likes pantsuits (like the blue silk one she wore to the interview), and stays thin by not eating a lot (which accomplishment is framed as one of her “personal successes”). Curiously, profiles of male deans haven’t mentioned sartorial preferences or diets–even the very thin deans.
The special irony of Clinton’s designer question, NYMag points out, is the advice that Clinton had just given to a young female lawyer.
“It requires, for a woman, usually in today’s world still, an extra amount of effort because I think it’s – the fact that women are still sometimes judged more critically. If you are in the courtroom or you are presenting a case, it still is a fact – and this is not just in Kyrgyzstan, this is everywhere – that when a man walks into a courtroom it’s rare for someone to say, “Oh, look what he is wearing.” (Laughter.) But if you walk into a courtroom, or any young woman walks into a courtroom, people are going to notice. And that will be an additional requirement that you have to meet.”
If you’re asking yourself what a woman’s clothing choices and workout routines have to do with her ability to perform her job alongside men performing identical jobs, why her power and authority are evident only as inferred from her footwear, why husband and kids are always shoehorned into interviews that don’t otherwise concern her husband and kids, why a man can be a senator but a woman has to be a woman senator, you’re looking at it wrong–we’ve actually been shortchanged all this time by reporters who don’t ask these crucial, pertinent questions of our male representatives. Who is Mitt Romney wearing? Does Harry Reid work out? How does John Boehner balance work and home life? Why are we not being told these things? Inquiring minds, it would appear, want to know.