Outrage after bloggers criticize Janet Yellen's clothesNovember 15, 2013: 12:51 PM ET
It happened to Hillary, and now it's happening to Janet. We're still not at the point where a woman can rise to the top of her profession without having her pantsuits critiqued as soon as she gets there.
Yesterday, two bloggers (Warren Rojas at Roll Call) and (Patrick Tutwiler at FishbowlDC), thought it was all in good fun to chide Janet Yellen, the nominee to serve as Federal Reserve Chair, for wearing the same black suit twice: Once when President Obama announced her nomination, and then again at her confirmation hearing. The two events were (gasp!) a full month apart.
"Good thing Fed Chairman is only the most powerful position in the world, and not a walk down the red carpet. Otherwise we'd be worried!" noted Tutwiler.
"Whether Janet Yellen, President Barack Obama's latest pick to head the Federal Reserve, proves to be the financial genius our sputtering economy so desperately needs, remains to be seen. At least we know her mind won't be preoccupied with haute couture," read the Roll Call post.
Surprise, surprise: powerful men (and pretty much every normal person everywhere) also use clothing more than once. Take a look at Yellen's three predecessors:
References to powerful men's clothing are far less common than those for powerful women, but when they do happen, they tend to be used as emblems of modesty. In a 1989 article in the New York Times magazine for example, the writer noted "Volcker was a model of frugality," in his rumpled suits. Next, he notes "Greenspan's suits are also off-the-rack."
And when Time magazine named Bernanke person of the year in 2009, they included this detail: he buys his suits at Jos. A Bank (like a normal person!)
In a post for the National Journal, Lucia Graves also points out similar treatment for President Obama, Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs.
Yellen, however, is held to a different standard. In her case, dressing like a normal person isn't a virtue -- it's a downfall. This distinction brings us to the gendered double standards that have been plaguing women for years. Forget your intellect -- don't wear the same dress twice!
The bloggers probably did not intend to launch a malicious attack. Roll Call has since tried to justify the decision by arguing -- Look, we also criticize men! But Janet wasn't chastised for wearing gym shorts on the House floor or a multi-colored, patchwork sport coat. She was wearing a perfectly appropriate black suit.
And is that really the solution we should be aiming for after a long cultural history that values a woman for her body over her brains? Let's do the same to men too?
Roll Call readers were not happy:
Yellen is a highly accomplished economist, and the fact that we're even talking about her gender and her clothes is a sad and frustrating reality for accomplished women everywhere.
Over the summer, CNNMoney surveyed other top women economists about the gender debate they were hearing play out in the media. Here's what they told us:
On one hand, they wanted to celebrate that one of their peers made it to the top of a male-dominated profession. Only 17 of 177 central bank heads around the world are women, and many said they hoped that simply by having another role model in the field, more young women would be encouraged to rise to the highest levels in economics. Talking about gender from that point of view, could be constructive.
But on the other hand, they told us that they wished we (the media) would just stop talking about women's firsts. Hands down, Yellen's career makes her qualified to do the job, and her gender should have nothing to do with it.
Almost everyone would like to get to a point where so many women are at the top in government and business, that we no longer have to celebrate any more "first woman [fill in the blank]" milestones. But the fact that tone-deaf articles like these exist is exactly why the gender discussion needs to keep happening. Some people, like Mr. Rojas and Mr. Tutwiler, still just don't get it.
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