Sexy Politics: Do Miniskirts Have a Place in the White House?
For women in politics, how hot is too hot? In terms of political attire, women politicians must walk the line between sexpot and dowdy, with most settling on the latter option. It’s been proved numerous times that attractiveness in male politicians is usually viewed as a positive attribute and often even seen as a factor that could benefit their campaigns. However, the fact still stands that attractive women politicians are often viewed as less serious, or face sexual commentary and jokes about their appearances (cough, Sarah Palin, cough). Sure, many women politicians tend to be of an older age, and thus dressing conservatively makes sense, but that shouldn’t mean that being a serious, powerful woman requires dressing like a nun. (See: Hillary Clinton’s “cleavage” scandal).
This weekend I found myself thinking a lot about this topic, as I attended a debate conference in Boston where I witnessed many female participants confuse “Western Business Attire” with “Western Clubbing Attire.” Although the conference had a strict dress code outlined in the information packet given to participants at the beginning of the weekend, no one seemed to pay much attention to it, and thus a parade of ultra-high-heeled, short-skirted teenage girls descended on the tournament.
As one of the few more modestly dressed participants, I found myself looking critically at these girls and feeling as though they must not be serious participants. I also found myself feeling a little Amish in comparison, but that’s beside the point.
After standing with the rest of my debate team for a while and watching as girl after girl teetered by in 8-inch heels, I came to a realization. Who was I to laugh at or judge these girls for what they were wearing? Sure, they could use a lesson in not wearing sequined pumps before 8 pm or white mini-dresses after Labor Day, but that didn’t mean they weren’t serious debaters. In fact, many of them ended up being serious competition.
While I was in Boston, Silvio Berlusconi, Italian prime minister and weirdo-philanderer extraordinaire, stepped down from office in light of recent economic struggles within Italy, but not before leaving a legacy of Bunga Bunga parties, and more importantly, “pumpkins turned parliamentarians,” to quote Berlusconi, himself. I’m talking, of course, about the mistresses Berlusconi appointed to positions within the Italian parliament during his terms as Prime Minister. These women, in addition to being examples of Berlusconi’s general ridiculousness, stick out like sore thumbs in the parliament because they tend to be, and dress, well, hot.
As long as men continue to dominate politics within this country and abroad, women will forever be forced to censor their attire. With powerful men exploiting attractive women every day, women in politics cannot afford to flaunt their figures, for fear of seeming to exploit them, themselves or appear to be a Berlusconi-esque Parliamentarian. Society sends the contradictory messages that young women should both dress sexy as a way of gaining attention and drop that sexy if they want to be taken seriously.
And so, hundreds of teenage girls debate in mini-skirts, yet women in politics are severely under-represented. Where do these tight clothed debaters go? My guess is that they are, however shallow it may be, in part dissuaded from certain fields by the “dowdy” role models they see within those careers. Don’t me wrong, I’m not telling Hillary to put on a tube-top, I’m just hoping the next, young batch of female politicians won’t be afraid to show a little skin.
Fiona Lowenstein is a high school senior, weekly guest blogger and Girls Leadership Institute alumna. Read more of her work here.