It is precisely Sanders’s au-naturel-ness that endears him to his young fans: his unkempt hair, his ill-fitting suits, his unpolished Brooklyn accent, his propensity to yell and wave his hands maniacally. Sanders, it appears, woke up like this.I have 10 problems with this:
These qualities are what make him seem “authentic,” “sincere” even — especially when contrasted with Clinton’s hyper-scriptedness. Sanders, unlike Clinton, doesn’t give a damn if he’s camera-ready.
This is, of course, a form of authenticity that is off-limits to any female politician, not just one with Clinton’s baggage. Female politicians — at least if they want to be taken seriously on a national stage — cannot be unkempt and unfiltered, hair mussed and voice raised. They have to be carefully coifed and scripted at all times, because they have to hew as closely as possible to the bounds of propriety available to both their sex and their occupation. They can’t be too quiet or too loud, too emotional or too cold, too meek or too aggressive, and so on.
But they also can’t appear to be trying too hard, either. At least if they want the kind of enthusiastic millennial support that Sanders enjoys.
1. Bernie's hair is actually not unkempt. It's neatly trimmed. It may look misshapen in the balding areas, but it's thick around the bottom and looks very carefully cut. It's also very clean and combed in place. He doesn't rub it with his hands or muss it up. He's not Doc from "Back to the Future." He's not Einstein.
2. Bernie doesn't wave his hands maniacally. He makes rather large hand gestures, but they are slow and deliberately coordinated with his speech, as if he's placing the words in the air in front of him. That's why it worked so well in "Bad Lip Reading" when they had Bernie reciting a poem.
3. Bernie is able to put himself out there in a form that seems to be something close to what he really is — a politician of many decades, repeating his old lines like "The American economy is rigged." It's an old habit, and it's not that hard. I don't think he's even been trying to win, so it's a pretty simple task. It's straightforward expression, and people do indeed respond to that, especially while it remains in the expressive category and they're not (yet) squarely facing up to the reality of this man as President.
4. So compare him to a woman who's in the same position, someone entering the race to say the things that are not being said and not carrying the burden of all the expectations — that she's supposed to win and that everyone else has gotten out of her way and that now she'd better be able to make good on what she led them all to think she could do. I could imagine such a woman. Elizabeth Warren could have played that role, and I think people would have loved it. Why didn't she jump in? Maybe because she would have wanted to win, and that's a much more complex task.
5. Bernie's clothes are indeed very ordinary. Just a generic man's suit. An everyman's uniform. Could a woman come up with something equivalent? Hillary hasn't tried to do that, so show me a woman who says that's what I'm going to do and see what they say. Only then would you get a fair reading of whether there's a double standard. Have a woman candidate wear a plain white blouse under a dark gray blazer and a dark gray straight mid-knee-length skirt — wear the same thing every day — and see if there is criticism or celebration. My bet is that people would love it.
6. As for the woman's hair, maybe it can't be dirty or badly cut, but it doesn't need to be an ultra-controlled helmet. I think people would be quite happy to see the hair fall naturally and move like real hair, and a well-cut feminine hairstyle is supposed to be mussable. Talk to a good hair dresser. I'll bet he or she would be horrified to be asked to fix a woman's hair like Hillary's and would much rather cut something short and choppy that you're supposed to muss to get the right look. Think: Helen Mirren. Don't tell me that won't work. Hillary's helmet hair does not prove that Hillary's helmet hair is required because she's a woman. Sometimes it's hard to be a woman... the old Tammy Wynette song begins. But it's not that hard.
7. Do men have more freedom in the tone of their voice? Maybe. I'm inclined to think that volume and stress in a woman's voice is offputting to many people. There's a trigger point where they'll use words like "strident," "nagging," and "sounds like my ex-wife." But I'm not willing to believe people would reject a woman who came out and talked something like Bernie Sanders. Listen to Bella Abzug (from 1977):
I think we'd love to embrace a presidential candidate who looked and talked like that. (By the way, the hat is another answer to what to do about your hair.)
8. I don't believe that a female candidate has "to hew as closely as possible to the bounds of propriety available to both their sex and their occupation." How do we know? Where is the woman in the race who is challenging this idea and getting rejected because of it? Looking excessively bound to "propriety" isn't much of a recommendation, but in fact, all the candidates are expected to behave. Trump transgresses. We'll see how that works out for him in the end. It is hard to imagine a female Trump. I'll grant you that. Perhaps liberals would celebrate such a woman (assuming her politics were liberal).
9. "They can’t be too quiet or too loud, too emotional or too cold, too meek or too aggressive, and so on." Maybe so, but what's the midrange that's permissible? How narrow is it? I think a lot depends on the individual, and if you are trying too hard to calibrate it, you're going to seem phony and unnatural. That "can't be too" list doesn't include "they can't be too phony or too natural." Be natural! Let us see who you really are. If we don't like you, we don't like you. When we see fake, we're on guard that you are putting something over on us. We're right to be sensitive to that.
10. "But they also can’t appear to be trying too hard...." That sounds like it means poor Hillary has to try hard not to look as though she's trying too hard. That's a hell of a lot of trying. An alternative is to let your natural self shine through. If you've got one.