July 29, 2005

Against anti-lookism.

Here's a piece -- via Memeorandum -- saying we shouldn't make witty observations about the way public figures look. It's too mean, like some Mean Girl seventh graders who would deserve a scolding.
While healthy civic discourse involves disagreement on issues of policy, too often people are prone to bully and harass their opponents with attacks on physical appearances when they are unable to articulate a valid and logical opposing argument....

The fact that women fought for many years to be taken seriously in the arenas of government and public policy makes the "lookism" attacks on successful women reveal a deep double standard -- not of men against women, but of women against their own gender.

Where are the feminists? Their silence speaks volumes about their convictions and partisan leanings. After all, it is mainly conservative women who have been the victims of this sort of media slashing. Sad to say, with few exceptions, the circling vultures are left-leaning women.

Has our culture become so shallow, and our sensibilities so numb, that we will accept from adults the sort of vicious behavior that we would never accept from our children?
Where are the feminists? Well, this feminist says women will do better when they value humor and free expression and when they show they can take the same shots men take. We make fun of the way male public figures look all the time. Bush looks like a chimp, Kerry like a horse. If a woman wants to be a powerful political figure, she needs to be up to the full package of ridicule that comes with the territory. I don't see how it helps the cause of women to be known as oversensitive prigs who want to spoil the fun and enforce a smothering, boring niceness on everyone.

Bonus opinion: Making fun of a woman's makeup is not the same as making fun of the size of her nose or the texture of her hair. It's making fun of her judgment. And that's actually relevant to the question whether she should be trusted with political power.

26 comments:

Oscar Madison said...

(Freudian?) grammatical slip alert: "...women will do better ... when they show they can the same shots men take"

The missing verb is no doubt "take" but is the ambiguity (give or receive?) intended?

Goesh said...

There is a primitive satisfaction in making fun of the way public figures look. Bush DOES look like a smug chimp and Kerry does look like a sad mule. Fair is fair - some of these public figures regards us a robots, children, ignorant, undeserving, etc. The more the mob can yammer at them the better.

Menlo Bob said...

I can see where you're going with this and I don't like it. Helen Thomas has done nothing to deserve that kind of treatment.

knoxgirl said...

"Making fun of a woman's makeup is ... making fun of her judgment. And that's actually relevant to the question whether she should be trusted with political power."

I think applying makeup is a skill that's not easy to get right! The same goes for hair. Condi's hair, for example, is pretty unflattering. But I don't think it reflects anything significant about her judgment. I think--unfortunately--it's very hard for people to see their own looks objectively and make good decisions accordingly.

Taking petty criticism is part of being a public figure, but I can't help but feel bad for people like Janet Reno and Linda Tripp who received relentless bashing for their looks. It's hard for me to say "suck it up" because I'd feel like crap too if people did that to me. And I do feel like women get it a lot worse than men.

However, if anyone wants to dish about how trashy Tara Reid looks, I'm in...

Sean said...

It's not clear whether the author (either Ms. Althouse or the author of the original piece) is addressing a moral issue (is it wrong to mock other people's clothes and appearance) or a political one (is it unpersuasive and does it make the speaker, not the person criticized, look small and silly). As to the first, I guess it's not wrong to mock public figures, but what about their children? I thought it was hateful when Rush Limbaugh referred to Chelsea Clinton as "the White House dog." Then again, my TV has an off button.

As to the second, I think such criticism is petty and makes the speaker look stupid. In fact, Mrs. Roberts dresses like most upper middle class professional's wives, and the children dress as upper middle class professional's children do on such occasions. Obviously, this is a different world from the one most journalists inhabit.

Meade said...

Sounds good! Can we start with "Mean Jean" Schmidt? Makeup... Hairstyle... Dress -- surely they all scream EVIL.

Freeman Hunt said...

I think it's one thing for my husband and I to turn to each other and say, "Wow, so and so looks like ______," and another thing for one of us to publish the same in an editorial. I also think it's one thing to mention some interesting/humorous aspect of a person's physical appearance in print and another to hatefully eviscerate someone's physical appearance in print.

I agree with knoxgirl that this is used more often against women. Considering the way in which many women talk about each other, I don't find this surprising.

Elizabeth said...

I don't buy the article's assertion that this is a partisan thing, where poor conservative women are the victims of those mean leftist girls. And of course, they offer no examples. I can think of plenty on both sides of the aisle, and I see no reason why criticizing the appearance of female or male public figures would somehow be endemic to a particular political leaning.

Sloanasaurus said...

Criticising someones make-up or looks in these instances is just another way to criticise someone you don't like for other reasons. What makes such attacks degrading is that attacking someone personally is usually evidence that the person doing the attacking is not intelligent enough to intellectually to criticise the person's policies.

On that note....Hillary is a fat hog (I don't like her health care plan either).

Dirty Harry said...

"Making fun of a woman's makeup is ... making fun of her judgment."

And without a note from a doctor explaining how a thyroid disorder is effecting metabolism, could the same be said for weight?

Without a note from a clinical psychologist explaining how a childhood experience ruined their fashion sense, could the same be said for clothes?

Ann Althouse said...

Oscar: Thanks for the catch. Somehow there's always another typo!

Let me make one thing clear: I'm not saying anyone can say anything. Physical descriptions, both humorous and serious, ought to be well done. This writing is also subject to the criticism that any writing is subject too. I'm being critical of the generality that describing how people look should be off limits. And I'm saying it isn't good for the success of women for people to think women must be coddled. Less fussy disapproval and more free speech -- that's my advice.

Ann Althouse said...

Dirty Harry: That's right. Inferences can be made based on the evidence. The aspects of how a person looks that he or she has power over are fair game. Fashion criticism is entirely legitimate and important.

Freeman Hunt said...

I would disagree with the idea of makeup being an indication of judgement.

Choosing and applying makeup requires a certain skill and artistry like interior design or drawing. I don't see much of a correlation between the ability to pick out sofa patterns and political judgement.

Then again, if you walk into a house and there is a cheetah print sofa, I think that really says something.

Hmmmm. . I think I talked myself out of my own post. . .

Ann Althouse said...

Well, my sofa has a zebra print, so you can see why you wouldn't want to trust me.

Freeman Hunt said...

Future NY/LA Times article if you were nominated to SCOTUS:

"Althouse Admits Having Zebra Print Sofa, Reflects Conservative Tendency to See in Black and White"

downtownlad said...

Well I always enjoy making fun of Maggie Gallagher's looks....

Ampersand said...

I agree with Ann; by choosing to become a high public official, public officials are volunteering for cruel jabs. I kind of like the leveling effect created; since these people have the gall, the stunning arrogance, to think that they can rule over the rest of us, it seems fair that we at least get to make fun of their ugly mugs. (I always enjoy it when a politician gets a pie in the face, for much the same reason.)

At the same time, it does seem that women get mocked for their looks more than men do - Janet Reno is a pretty clear example. We should be able to expect women to be able to take it as well as the men, without giving up the ability to question why in practice they often seem to have to take a good deal more guff about their looks than their male counterparts.

Personally, I make a point of never attacking the looks of conservative women (or men, for that matter) - and I think most lefty feminists do as well. Saying "Rush is fat" seems more stupid than wounding, and making fun of Katherine Harris' appearance just feels distastefully misogynist to me.

Am I the only one who thinks Condy looks great, by the way? Her whole look says "don't screw with me, I'm an important person." Seems pretty kick-ass to me.

Ann Althouse said...

Ampersand: Well put. Except that I don't like the pie-throwing. I prefer to hurl invective. And I think Katherine Harris was wearing so much makeup that it just HAD to be talked about. She should have a sense of humor about her makeup if she's going to go wild with the mascara wand. (Tammy Faye is a good role model for those who want to wear a ridiculous amount of makeup. She does it. She owns up to it. And she laughs at herself.) Do women get it worse than men? Not really. They get it different. Women can win a lot of positive attention for their looks, and they can do a lot of things to make up that look that men can't, like wear makeup and chose from a wide variety of hair and clothing styles. When we do it well -- as, I agree, Rice does -- we can make a powerful impact with our looks. We should seize THAT opportunity.

leeontheroad said...

Making fun of a woman's makeup is not the same as making fun of the size of her nose or the texture of her hair.

agreed,a nd not being prigs is important, too.

But do you really think that wearing blue eye shadow, for example, is "actually relevant to the question whether she should be trusted with political power?"

Ann Althouse said...

Lee: If she's made herself look clownish with it, it's some evidence of poor perception and judgment.

If someone dresses like an idiot, is he an idiot? Not necessarily, but it counts as some evidence of idiocy.

We're allowed to look at all parts of the picture.

Jack said...

There are whole websites devoted to the Condi Looks Great theme. And I don't agree, as mentioned above, that her hair is unflattering. It looks to me like she is going for an intentionally severe style: it doesn't inspire thoughts of the bedroom but the boardroom, which is exactly the right strategy. She can be quite sexy when she finds it advantageous.

With regard to the women get it more than men idea: surely that doesn't take into account the proliferation of political cartoons which more or less exist to caricature the looks of political leaders. (The idiom that has developed in European cartoons of GWB makes him almost unrecognizable unless you are familiar with its development.) That is perhaps a tangential concern because even an attractive person can be made to look silly in a cartoon, but it still speaks to the issue of ridiculing the appearance of an opponent rather than rebutting his ideas.

leeontheroad said...

If she's made herself look clownish with it, it's some evidence of poor perception and judgment.

Ok, I admit that is what I would think to myself.

I think, too, i's possible to over-emphasize appearance. At one extreme, too much fussiness -- going for a faddish, usually, ideal of perfection-- makes me wonder either or both how much time someone spends thinking only about themselves and how many staff memebers are devoted to propping up the individual's physical image.

Bruce Hayden said...

I used to think that makeup was a good thing to criticize. After all, to me globbing it on showed a serious lack of self confidence.

And then I saw my female peers start getting a bit older, over 50 now. I read one woman recently who recounted turning something like 60 and all of sudden becoming invisible. All of a sudden, she no longer has doors opened for her, etc. after 40+ years of deferenece to her sex. This loss of female power seems to scare a lot of women.

My erstwhile girlfriend routinely criticizes the makeup of most women. She is proud that she doesn't need it, and that she claims to have been professionally taught when she was modelling 25-30 years ago. But the reality is that in the 6 years I have known her, her skin has aged, and it is noticable in sunlight. And when we go out, she puts it on much heavier than she used to. And she is only 48.

My ex never ever used makeup, except one time - our wedding. Now at 45, she uses a lot of it. With her, it isn't female power, but something else, and I am not quite sure.

With Katherine Harris, I suspect that she was a very beautiful woman in her 20s and 30s, and all the entails. I see her overuse of make up as almost a natural consequence of someone who spent a lot of years using her beauty for her benefit, as many beautiful women do. (I never really realized the power of this, until I ended up with a woman like that - who has gotten big breaks all through her life for her looks).

But really, what is so different from a woman using makeup and a guy, for example, getting a hair transplant or using a toupee. Or for that matter, coloring his hair? Except, of course, that looks are more valuable for women than men, and, not surprisingly, many react accordingly.

Susan said...

"Has our culture become so shallow..?"

This is nothing new. Poor Eleanor Roosevelt was the butt of plenty of jokes. Even after she was gone, there was a "grafitti" joke from the 60's: "Eleanor Roosevelt was just another pretty face".

jvg1249 said...

So, Ann, how do you compensate for the various opinions of what constitutes fashion dependent on what part of the country you are in? In 1992, Hilary Clinton looked more like (what I imagine) a Little Rock woman would look like (remember the hair band?) than how a woman in Washington or NYC would have appeared. So, too, with Katherine Harris - Southern Florida vs. DC. They may have both been in conformity with their community, but not yours. Does that make their "fashion" or make-up subjects to be criticized? Both adapted well once they were exposed to their new environment -- doesn't that suggest more about their abilities than when they were "simple country folk."

Williamethan said...
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