June 11, 2012 / Leadership, Politics

Judging by a Human Standard: Politics by Policy, Not by Prada


Last week, former New York Times editor and author Ed Klein spoke about Secretary Hillary Clinton’s 2016 prospects in a radio interview:

“At this very moment that we’re speaking right now, Brian, [the Clintons] are already thinking seriously about running in 2016,” author Ed Klein told Fox News host Brian Kilmeade. “She’ll be 69 years old. And as you know — and I don’t want to sound anti-feminist here — but she’s not looking good these days. She’s looking overweight, and she’s looking very tired.”

Klein, a former New York Times magazine editor continued to comment on her appearance.

“I think she’s going to take some time off, get back into shape. And if her health holds out– that’s a big if, of course — if her health holds out, there’s no question in my mind she and Bill — two for the price of one — will run in 2016.”

In just a few sentences, Klein notes looks, age, weight, and health in the context of a potential future presidential run for Clinton. To be sure, Senator John McCain and President Ronald Reagan came under scrutiny for their presidential runs when they were in their late 60s and early 70s, but very rarely, if ever, does a male politician’s weight or looks become an inhibitory aspect of a potential run for office.  For male politicians, experience, policy, and relatable aspects of their personal story are discussed to determine their potential as a candidate for higher office. For a female politician, those important aspects seemed to be dwarfed by her looks—whether her looks are praised or criticized. In the eyes of pundits and the media, the hairstyle on top of a female politician’s head becomes more important that the ideas inside of that woman’s head. Rarely do the media mentions if a male politician opts for a pinstriped suit rather than a solid colored suit, but if a female politician decides to wear glasses rather than contacts or decides to wear her bangs differently, it becomes a point of media discussion.

Male and female politicians are going to present policies using different rhetoric and perspectives, but it becomes a detriment to the electorate when those policies aren’t adequately reported upon simply because a female politician decided to wear her hair up the day she gives a wonkish speech.  Our culture—whether it be politics, business, technology, sports, entertainment, or any other aspect—should be discerned by a human standard.  There shouldn’t a feminine standard where female politicians are judged by their appearance and their experience and ideas are eschewed, and a masculine standard where male politicians’ appearances are ignored and only their ideas and experience are considered.  There should be a human standard where all are judged solely by what is important for a given political or professional position.  A female politician should be discussed in terms embracing Keynesian or Austrian economics , not in terms of going  au natural or wearing Maybelline or Prada vs. Kenneth Cole.

Klein’s comments prove yet another reason why more women are needed in politics and every other aspect of professional life and culture. Sexism is still a part of our culture, although things have begun to improve in some respects. However,  this goes beyond explicit sexism. Perception is often dictated by reality, and the reality is that only about 17% of all Congressional seats, 12% of Governor’s seats, and 24% of state legislative positions are held by women. The media and the electorate both are relatively unaccustomed to seeing women in roles of political leadership. Such a disparity prevents the media and the electorate from being accustomed to how a female politician presents herself in the context of her experience and policy—her appearance, her voice, her rhetoric, her mannerisms.  Thus, how women portray themselves is pushed into the foreground while their experiences and ideas become pushed into the background.  Only when our society is more accustomed to seeing female politicians will this perception be overcome. Is this a proverbial Catch 22? No, instead it provides yet another opportunity for women to continue to turn hurdles into springboards. As former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher said, “you may have to fight a battle more than once to win it.” The more women continue to pursue public office, the more our culture will judge by a human standard of experience and policy.

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  • Bes

    The New York Times is really backward and reflects east coast culture but not American culture. I don’t see this sort of thing in the newspapers I read, if I did I would stop reading them. Newspapers are losing subscribers, the fact that they don’t reflect American culture is likely why.

  • Kathleen Wynne

    Klein’s comments just goes to show how difficult it’s going to be to get men to stop viewing women primarily on their looks as a way to qualify them for political office, or anything else, for that matter.

    With all the push back and the outcry by TNA and other women’s groups against this kind of treatment, the men in positions of power and who have a platform from which to help create “perception” are, in my opinion, unwilling to allow women to define ourselves, as men are allowed to do for themselves. Klein depicts the male attitude that women will not be given the same considertion and recognition for their achievements and abilities as they so easily offer to other men, such as Reagan and McCain.

    Women must stop letting men define them and women, in general, and start standing up for women and voting for women. The ONLY way we shall ever achieve parity with men is for us to unite and use our formidable numbers as a power surge into all facets of society, particularly in political office. If women can get any where near equal representation, which the men demand for themselves, we will finally see change. Otherwise, it’s just a fleeting idea which will never land.

  • JeanLouise

    If Ed Klein doesn’t want to sound anti-feminist, he shouldn’t make anti-feminist statements. Additionally, who the hell does he think he is to claim to be able to read Hillary Clinton’s mind? Furthermore, I’m really sick of this idea that anyone who votes for Hillary will be voting for Bill, too.

    Bes, I live in a capital city in the midwest and I was banned from commenting in the local newspaper (the only daily) when I twice challenged the editorial page editor on the fact that fewer than 10% of the op-eds that he prints are written by women. I don’t see the midwest being any different from the coasts when it comes to discriminating against women.

  • Bes

    I live in Washington, we have two women Senators and a woman Governor. If our news papers wrote such idiotic blather about women who were running for office their windows would likely be shot out and they would go out of business. I am absolutely stunned to read the sexist crap that seems standard issue in in New York. Newspapers always blame their decline on the internet but reality is they make themselves irrelevant with their bigoted sexist blather. Seriously they graduate thousands of English and journalism students yearly, can’t the NYT find someone more qualified?

  • ryan

    I live in Oregon; right below you Bes. I agree on that; we do have a much healthier view of women and other people out here. We are truly blessed in the northwest.

  • ryan

    though we are rock solid democrat territory out here.

  • Bes

    I wouldn’t count on Washington being rock solid Democrat country. There are mostly Independents many of whom voted mostly Democrat. I was one of them. After seeing the treatment of women candidates (including Hillary) by Democrats in 2008 and seeing that Obama encouraged the misogyny rather than standing against it I am sure a lot of them are turned off by Dems. I am. Also the whole state isn’t Democrat, only the Seattle area. And let’s not forget it was the Democrat party who took Washington to court to force us to give up our well established open primary system and also the Democrats refused to let us have a Presidential primary election and simply ignored the results of the primary we held and instead held corrupt Obama caucuses (I was there, I know what I saw and I haven’t forgotten) Time will tell.

  • ryan

    Apologies Bes but Washington is NOT going republican anytime soon. There is no poll or study that points that way. given the current political makeup of the state, like oregon, it’s a mathamatical impossibility. Your right about seattle and surrounding areas leading the state; that also is a fact that wont change anytime soon and though some are angry about 2008, there are not near enough of them to swing washington.