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Do clothes make the (wo)man? Let’s choose substance over style.

I recently came across a post on Facebook that I thought was interesting. A male newscaster wore a particular blue suit for a whole year to see if viewers would notice. Apparently, his female counterparts received fashion “advice” on a regular basis and he wanted to conduct an experiment on sexism and see whether it would register with viewers that he was wearing the same suit every day. Nobody noticed. I shared this on my wall and it caught the eye of my daughter Lucky, an outspoken feminist, as well as another friend who enjoys controversial debates. His comment, “A statement of equality. No men or women noticed.”

hey-girl-feminismI laughed at Mike’s smart-ass reply, but he raised a good point. It’s true that viewers routinely critiqued the women newscasters’ clothing, hair and make-up. But guess who was dishing out the criticism? Only the women viewers.

Why do we do this to each other? I’ve confessed to being a bit of a clothes horse myself and Lord knows I’m not perfect. I’ll admit that catty judgments on newscasters’ fashion choices have crossed my lips. But to be fair, I make equal-opportunity criticisms (“He needs a haircut.” “Look at that tie!”) and I’ve never been under the delusion that my opinion on their personal style reflects their ability to report the news in any way, and it would never enter my mind to send in a letter “correcting” their choices.

One woman who has received more than her fair share of fashion critiques is also one of the most accomplished women in our country: Hillary Clinton. A couple of years back, she created a small media firestorm over the fact that she appeared in public with glasses on and minimal make-up. Really? Why do we call this news? Hillary’s response to this was right on-target:

THIS is news?

THIS is news?

“I feel so relieved to be at the stage I’m at in my life right now,” the secretary of state told CNN Foreign Affairs Correspondent Jill Dougherty in an interview. “Because you know if I want to wear my glasses I’m wearing my glasses. If I want to wear my hair back I’m pulling my hair back. You know at some point it’s just not something that deserves a lot of time and attention.”

Since Hillary will likely be a much talked about (and much criticized) figure in the upcoming US presidential race—by men and women alike—I’d like to ask something of our readers. It’s not to vote for a particular candidate… I really don’t care if you vote for Hillary or not. Politically, I sit in the middle of the spectrum, and although I consider myself a feminist, I don’t think anyone should vote for a woman for president merely because she’s a woman. What I’m asking is this: As we move forward with the 2016 campaign, whether you vote for Hillary or not, please make your choices and your criticisms based on her experience, values and politics—not her hair, clothing or make-up. Ultimately, when you reduce another woman to nothing but her fashion choices, you minimize all of us and sometimes “it takes a village” to change societal perceptions.