Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Womanomics, Electoral Edition

Standard Disclaimer: I despise Sarah Palin's politics, but that doesn't mean I can't point out sexist double-standards where they exist.

Sarah Palin is apparently in trouble for spending shitloads on clothes during the campaign. My question is, why the hell apart from the fact that the candidate has ovaries is this newsworthy?

As Cactus Kate has noted it costs shitloads to be a well-dressed woman and right now Sarah Palin needs to be well-dressed at all times because every time she is in public she needs to look her best because the world wide media is on her ass 24/7. It will be noted by a newspaper if she wears the same outfit and if her make-up runs we are all going to know about it within a few minutes because like it or not her personal appearance is fair-game in this election. Of course she is not alone. There have been merciless attacks on other woman candidates' appearances over the years because a woman's appearance, whether she be a VPILF or an ugly troll, is seen as campaign fodder in a way that no man's ever is.

Nobody stops to ask McCain how much his Suits are. We don't ask Obama where he goes shopping or which hairdresser puts in Joe Biden's hair plugs. I can guarantee that in all three cases they weren't cheap and the only reason that the male candidates' clothes bills are cheaper is because men can get away with changing only their shirt and tie between outfits whereas women's wardrobes require far more variety hence cost.

Of course if Palin was wearing her 'regular clothes' she'd have been labeled dowdy and frumpy but that is a moot point. In the end when it comes to personal appearance for women politicians there is always someone who thinks you look like shit because they don't agree with you. So perhaps instead of blaming women candidates for playing the beauty game, whether it be spending money on expensive clothes, makeovers or photoshopped pictures, we need to be pulling up those who use a candidate's apperance as a form of political attack.


Hugh said...

Palin didn't buy the clothes herself. They were bought by the campaign.

The issue is not her personal spending. The issue is that the clothes were bought with money donated to the campaign but appeared (until a clarification was made) to have become Palin's personal property; that is, that the donations were effectively a personal gift to her by the campaign donors, which is questionably legal and certainly immoral, particularly for a campaign that claims to be all about cleaning up Washington.

Placebogirl said...

Hugh, I think you're missing the point. That almost certainly happens with the men's wardrobes too, but no-one is asking about it.

Hugh said...

It's possible that Palin's male contemporaries do the same thing, but if so, they've all gone on record as lying about it, which is extraordinarily ballsy given the profile of the issue.

But reading expat's post, it seems she actually thinks Palin paid for the clothes herself, which is incorrect. She's asked why it's newsworthy - I would argue that the corruption angle has as much to do with it as the female angle.

In fact, perhaps my antennae are just desensitised to this kind of thing, but I haven't seen many people saying that $150K is an unrealistic sum to spend on clothes for a Vice Presidential candidate.

Oh and there was some fuss about McCain wearing $500 shoes a while ago, for the record.

stargazer said...

one of the things that bothers me about this is that the clothes were not just for ms palin herself. they were apparently for her entire family (including the son-in-law-to-be?). i don't see that the republican campaign should be paying for that...

Emma said...

Oh and there was some fuss about McCain wearing $500 shoes a while ago, for the record.

And Edwards' haircuts.

Alison said...

I'm with Hugh - it is a worthy story given who is paying for the wardrobe, and though I see sexism at work, it's not in the reporting of the cost (it being Republican money) as much as the standards imposed on Palin in the first place.

The fashion industry is exceptionally good at ripping women off with the lie that we can't look good or "appropriately attired" without spending a fortune to conform to a wasteful, unrealistic, constantly changing standard. It's been taken to an extreme in Palin's case, with an absolutely vast amount of money being spent to "bring her up to standard". The same standards aren't imposed on men, and I can almost guarantee they didn't spend anything like that amount on McCain, since it doesn't seem to matter if he wears the same suit all day, whereas one report noted that Palin has been wearing up to eight outfits in a day (and most of McCain's suits and clothes look rather ill-fitting, which seems to suggest the campaign hasn't expended nearly as much effort on creating a polished image for him).

The vast majority of people can't tell the difference between a $200 item of clothing and a $5000 item, since most of the supposed value in high fashion items lies in the snobbery of owning exclusive brands, not in the manufacture or even design of the items themselves. It's basically a case of "takes one to know one" - Palin has been turned into a clothes horse, her clothes a "code" for the wealthy Americans who can recognise them.

What's sexist is the assumption that she needs that much spent on her clothing in order to look the part - that is elitism. The Republicans are pandering to a tiny percentage of people who can recognise the items and the amount paid for them. The only thing I can say in their favour on the subject is at least if they're going to hold her to such ridiculous standards, they're not forcing her to pay the price. Sadly, that doesn't apply for most women, and many of us end up spending more than we want or can afford in order to meet the fashion standards that exist in the fashion industry, and the working world. It's not Palin's fault, I'm certain, but there's plenty of sexism at work in spending that much money to make her look "good".

glosoli said...

Yeah, I'm not sure if this is sexism as such or just about corruption. Interestingly, the republican comeback has been, "Ooh, those Democrats are just jealous" (politics of envy, anyone??).

To confirm this has been a standard line of atack, this blogger refers back to Al Gore:

"Remember when the rightwing media made a big deal of Gore's choice of clothing? Color of his suits? Number of buttons, etc.?

They're at it again; this time with Barack Obama. There is no place so low our rightwing media will not stoop in an attempt to trivialize or smear a good Democrat."

On Obama's suit: http://www.vogue.co.uk/news/daily/2008-04/080403-the-ford-vote.aspx

And as someone mentioned, Edwards haircut was big news when he was running:

Is this creepy??

"He [Obama] is like a woman: slim, good looking, with long elegant fingers, appealingly dressed -- all terms more typically ascribed to female candidates." http://mediamatters.org/items/200801080002

ms poinsettia said...

I don't really understand is why buying clothes for candidates on the campaign trail is seen as immoral or unethical. Millions and millions have been spent on both partie's campaigns that are all focused on presenting the candidates in the best possible light and yet a couple of hundred thousand on appearance is being exclaimed over. It doesn't surprise me that campaigns would pay for a candidates wardrobe because one's appearance has a huge impact on how others see you. I'm thinking about that photo of Obama with his feet on the desk so you can see the worn-out soles on his shoes, or people always going on about Clinton and her pantsuits.

Hugh said...

I don't really understand is why buying clothes for candidates on the campaign trail is seen as immoral or unethical.

It's not. What's seen as unethical is the fact that Palin and her family seemed to intend to keep the clothes after the campaign was over. They've said that they won't, so as far as I'm concerned the issue is moot (there are much better things to hit Palin with, policy-wise). But in my opinion the media interest was legitimate and not based on sexism.

Heine said...

So monies, raised by the GOP for campaigning for their own private use was used to buy some clothes to a woman who may have needed them to fulfil the image that voters required from a female candidate and some people have a problem with that?

I'm comfortable with it.

NZ's Labour Party did similar things with Ms Clark many years ago to protray her to the NZ public as soft. New clothes, voice training - the works. At the time I thought it was pretty sad that she had to do it, but I didn't hear any criticism about it from Labour supporters.

Anna said...

Yes, Clint, there are two issues here - one, the rightful use of the money, and two, whether it's fair that women should have to do this sort of thing.

Was the money used exclusively GOP money, though? I haven't looked into US electoral funding, but didn't the GOP opt to accept some federal funding for it's campaign?