Dear Pantsuits and Politics,
First off, congratulations to our new secretary of state. (Hi, Hillary!) Secondly, this letter is about women (and men) in politics, it’s about the things they wear and the things they (and we) say. I should be honest and admit I’ve essentially stopped watching political coverage since the election is over—hey, all the sexy stuff is done. I mean, I mean, hard work! Onward! As G told me, when I asked what he’ll obsess over now, “there’s the transition and the first 100 days and then it’s practically midterms…” Wonderful. We’re in a perma-election cycle.
But aside from that, let’s take a look back at some of my favorite observations (that’s what you do at the holidays, right? Reflect? Me too).
Reflection OnePointOh—I went to a canvassing rally at some point and spent most of my time observing the candidates’ attire. They were all saying the same thing, so I checked out what they were wearing. Keep in mind I’m in Washington state, with an all female lineup currently at the helm. Patty Murray is our resident Senator in Sneakers, or Senator-Mom in Tennis Shoes, or some other catchy clothing-related slogan. She was decked out in a sweater, khaki pants, and…sneakers. Maria Cantwell, younger, taller (by about a foot), was wearing a pantsuit. And Chris Gregoire was in black slacks and an orange jacket. She really loves that orange jacket. You know the one I’m talking about? And then there was Jay Inslee. Broad-shouldered, respectably gray. Aging despicably well.
And then there were the state house candidates.
Now, there is a difference between state and federal politicians. Some of the state politicians looked okay. Their clothes fit, for the most part, they chose dark colors, they were wearing pretty non-descript stuff…but the federal politicians—their clothes fit no matter what they chose to wear. And the price jump in haircuts was visible (shout-out to John Edwards).
Reflection TwoPointOh…—Maria Cantwell looks like Maggie Gyllenhall and even has some of her same mannerisms. It’s disconcerting. Especially until I realized who she was invoking.
Reflection TwoPointOh!—Patty Murray, Maria Cantwell, and Jay Inslee all looked professional. They all looked well dressed and coiffed. But it was easier to look at Jay Inslee, to listen to his voice, and think, now that’s a politician. That’s how ingrained my image is of an aging yet still strong (and oh-so-male) Representative is. Somewhere in my zeitgeist, probably in the same place that thinks I would like to ride horses (damn those 1950’s novels), I still think my Representative, my elected voice, is somebody’s grandfather. Not mine, obviously. But that kid down the block, who everyone was jealous of, because their grandfather was young-ish and played tackle football and told really cool war stories and let the kids taste his beer. Oh, and is a powerful man in Washington, DC during the week.
Really? That’s who I want speaking for me? What? Where does this come from? Oh yeah. The zeitgeist.
Reflection Three—I have the feeling my counting system is not super consistent. Also, I’m going to ignore any references I could make to Sarah Palin’s wardrobe budget here. (People! We judge our female politicians by how they look! No wonder! Plus she was shopping with Cindy McCain = Beer Money! No wonder!) All right, moving on.
Let’s just have a quick chat about Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone. Who said that Hillary had flabby arms and then was surprised or annoyed or something that made him feel the need to bring it up again in another article and add in the fact that Erika Jong had said something about him and his mother and Freud on the Interwebs. Let’s recap:
Matt Taibbi: yada yada Hillary has flabby arms yada yada yada.
Erika Jong: Matt Taibbi wants to have sex with his mother.
Matt Taibbi: yada thing other thing “ancient plastic surgery survivor/sex-novelist Erika Jong” got mad and said this thing when I said Hillary has flabby arms other thing yada
I’m paraphrasing. Except for the part in quotes. Which I have to respond to really quickly with the words of Steve Martin. Actually, this is kind of my response to all of it: Excuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuse me?
Why were you commenting on Hillary’s arms? Why describe them as flabby? First of all, in her orange pantsuit, you cannot even see her arms. Secondly, if you (Matt Taibbi) are going to try to tell me that it’s the same thing as saying (President-Elect) Obama has big ears, back up and hold it right there. It is not the same thing. I’m not going to explain all the reasons why. This is not, actually, Sexism or Feminism or even Political Correctness 101. Saying Hillary’s arms are flabby is a blatant example of the kind of misogynistic pinching that went on under the table throughout this entire election.
So, G tells me, yeah, but Matt Taibbi knows he’s being sexist—he just does it anyway. Okay… but does he know why it’s a problem?
Erika Jong is known in other places (like The New York Times, most literary circles, and English departments across the country) as a groundbreaking novelist, poet, and essayist. Does he know why calling her an ancient plastic surgery survivor/sex novelist is a problem?
Here’s a list of real questions:
From Geraldine Ferraro to Hillary Clinton to Sarah Palin….what’s it mean? I like to partner this question with the following: What has John McCain done to women in politics in this country? What about women in general, with the way his VP pick validated and normalized all the misogyny people had, apparently, just been waiting to pick up and throw? (It’s sort of like with Hillary they were disguising the pitches as sliders. Sarah Palin just made it okay to go ahead and aim for the batter.)
How far do inflammatory comments on the part of either side get you? And how much do they just make you seem like an asshat?
And how well does it serve you to join in the media pigpile by having more of a developed style than a cohesive worldview? (See Scarlett Johansson in Dear Woody Allen Movies. Unless you have her lips, I don’t recommend it as a long-term strategy.)
Also: how did feminism get assigned the same ending as racism and sexism?
Pantsuits. Carry on.
PS– I really can’t tell you if this is fan mail, a thinking of you, or a disciplinary memo. Maybe it’s a customer complaint. Stop trying to categorize everything. Just let the zeitgeist sing.