Hey, sexy shirt defenders: Where are you when women’s appearance is criticized?
Over the weekend, we saw a dramatic ramping up of the anti-feminist meltdown of overwhelming anger because some women dared—dared!—suggest that a tacky shirt that implies its owner cannot go a minute of his day without looking at pornography. That not being the message that Matt Taylor of the Rosetta Project wanted to send, he’s already apologized. But for those men who think that female mouths should stay shut except to accept penises or offer flattery, the furor has only just begun. David Futrelle collected some of the over-the-top self-mythologizing going on. Over a fucking shirt.
— GodWotan (@godwotan) November 16, 2014
Typical self-aggrandizing anti-feminist beating a straw man. The argument was, of course, not anti-science, but pro-science. Feminists said scientists should try not to signal to women that their presence is unwelcome, because it’s bad for science to eliminate half the talent pool right off the top.
— Thermoman (@DarkStieg93) November 16, 2014
Did you know you’ aren’t a man anymore if you can’t wear pornographic shirts at all points in time, including when you visit your grandmother? The more you know! Anyway, David has more at the link. It’s all very silly and hyper-dramatic.
I summarized all this, uh, debate at Slate, but I didn’t mention one thing that has been bugging the shit out of me about all this, which is the extreme double standard in play here. Here’s a long list of things about Taylor’s appearance no one gave two shits about:
- His tattoos
- How loud his taste is generally
- His haircut
- His beard
- His glasses
- Anything about his body at all
I mention these things, because 100% of these topics would be considered within bounds for tearing to bits in social media if it had been a woman being interviewed instead of a man. Particularly if said woman had facial hair. People who criticized Taylor’s appearance were very circumspect, only mentioning the sexy women on the shirt, but generally treating his overall appearance like it’s none of their business. Raychelle Burks at Skepchick even blessed the choice to dress as weird as you want to when going on TV. I agree with her. Talking heads on TV get so boring after awhile that I’ve even started to grow fond of the way that sportscasters often prefer loud, ugly ties. Give me something, people! This isn’t about anything but the very simple question of sexualized imagery in question.
In contrast, however, if you’re a woman, everything is going to be talked about, and it’s so normalized that even hardcore feminists barely notice how intrusive it is. I go on TV periodically and I can tell you that half or more of the comments that are made about any random video of me online are about how I look. Some are good, some are bad. (To be clear, the bad ones never hurt my feelings, as they are so obviously a bunch of insecure men trying really hard to feel good about themselves by making shit up to put me down about that is clearly made up. Not fishing for compliments or reassurance here.) My hair, my tattoos, etc. I don’t really feel bad about it, because TV is a visual medium and so it’s understandable people have visual reactions to it. But women in particular get this kind of scrutiny and men don’t.
But for women, a lot of the attention shades over from simply having parts of your appearance noticed to the public feeling like they get to weigh in on everything about the way you look, and I mean everything. Not just if you wear a shirt that’s clearly over the line, but every teeny bit of your appearance. Huffington Post had a couple of pieces where female anchors on TV talk about the kind of relentless “advice” and criticism they get for the way they dress and look. Former CNN anchor Kiran Chetry listed some of the unsolicited advice she’s gotten about how to look:
— not wear bare arms
— not wear taupe
— dye her hair blond
— wear shorter skirts
— wear longer skirts
— get Botox
Unlike with the criticisms aimed at Taylor, which were very specific and addressing inadvertent sexism, all these comments aren’t about big, important issues like making STEM welcoming to women. These are strictly about pleasing the aesthetic desires of the audience. As a woman in the public eye, I can also assure you that men frequently feel like they can offer feedback and advice on how your are performing at the job you didn’t even want of pleasing their boners. It’s very weird.
It’s so bad that one male anchor in Australia decided to prove a point about the scrutiny women endure vs. the scrutiny men endure.
Angered by the sexism he saw being heaped upon his female colleagues – and attempts to downplay it – Karl Stefanovic decided to conduct an experiment.
He wore the same blue suit on air, two days in a row. Then three. A month ticked by without a ripple.
Now, a full year has passed – and he is still wearing the same cheap Burberry knock-off, every morning, on Channel Nine’s Today program.
Yet co-host Lisa Wilkinson still receives regular and unsolicited fashion appraisals, as she revealed in her well-received Andrew Olle lecture last year. (“Who the heck is Lisa’s stylist?” one emailer demanded to know. “Today’s outfit is particularly jarring and awful. Get some style.”) These same viewers, however, have failed to observe – or simply don’t care – that the man beside her happily slips on the same outfit, day after day.
“No one has noticed; no one gives a shit,” Stefanovic tells Fairfax Media. “But women, they wear the wrong colour and they get pulled up. They say the wrong thing and there’s thousands of tweets written about them.
“Women are judged much more harshly and keenly for what they do, what they say and what they wear.”
My question: Where are all the dramatic wailers on Twitter when it comes to this issue? All these guys are in complete meltdown mode, saying the world is ending because some man got his shirt very narrowly criticized, but when it comes to the way women’s appearance is constantly scrutinized, we get crickets. One man’s shirt vs. what happens to every woman every day who goes on TV? Seems the latter is a much larger, more serious problem. If having someone criticize you on social media is censorship of the most evil sort, then these guys should be exponentially more concerned about every time someone bitches about what women are wearing or how they style their hair, especially since those sartorial choices aren’t politically loaded in the way that a sexualized shirt is.
Since that is not happening and never will—zero percent of these men will ever stand up for women who get told to get plastic surgery, I’m guessing—one is forced to conclude that the only reason for the meltdown over this is not a sincere desire to open up the doors to diversity in personal presentation on TV. No, the reason for this is a belief that telling other people what you think of them is a right to be reserved for men speaking to women, not the other way around. And that privilege is one these assholes clearly take very, very seriously.