Go ahead and enjoy fashion a little
Some fluffy Friday night Obamamania. I’m with the women at Broadsheet; I have mixed feelings about the focus on Michelle Obama as a style icon. On one hand, the whole thing smacks of the same old sexism that reduces women—even brilliant, ambitious, multi-faceted women like Michelle Obama—to decorative objects. But on the other hand, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with fashion per se, and Obama is a lovely dresser. (Though the victory dress didn’t really work as well as most of her clothes.) More importantly, I think her beauty and stylishness will be a bulwark against the inevitable right wing smear campaign that will try to paint her as a scary ballbuster, as they did to Hillary Clinton, except for Michelle Obama it will be worse because the right wing smears will (as they have already) incorporated racist ideas about the Angry Black Woman. The Jackie Kennedy vibe will do a lot to alleviate that, and all the tensions it will bring. And frankly, as a political geek myself, I appreciate the Obamas for showing the world that political geeks are not all shabbily dressed, weirdly undersexed goobers. It’s a sign of the times that nerds don’t feel so much anymore that they have to be shabby or badly pulled together to be taken as intellectual.
I’m a little hostile to the automatic dismissal that fashion gets as shamefully lightweight, because it seems to me that it’s more demonizing of the feminine. No one is wondering if it sends the wrong message to be interested in a male politician’s interest in sports. We’re not worried that seeming too masculine will make politicians seem like lightweights, even though it totally did in Bush’s case, because it was so obviously a series of costumes for him. We mourn that women feel they have to dress up all the time, and it’s true that it’s a giant bummer for women who are disinterested in that. But I also feel bad for those who would like to experiment with fashion, roll themselves out as sharply dressed, but can’t because it seems unserious or emasculated. As I’ve said before, I think that the more feminism penetrates the public consciousness, we’re going to see women give up a lot of habits that are just time-consuming and/or uncomfortable, but we’ll see men pick up more.
In fact, you can already see changes. Women wear less make-up than they did when I was younger, and painting your nails is increasingly being seen as an affectation for the few, instead of standard for the many. And wearing underwear that doubles as scaffolding is out of style. Honestly, Michelle Obama’s style reflects certain changes—as good as she looks, she also dresses very simply. At the same time, I’m seeing that men are more interested in being well-shaven and wearing nicer clothes. Maybe in my lifetime we’ll actually see the standards for the sexes meet somewhere in the middle, with a lot more flexibility for personal preference.