Bare Shoulders: The Best Qualification of All?


The Washington Post heard that Napolitano was resigning, and they were on it, you guys. Juliet Eilperin and Aaron Blake wrote an article for The Fix, the Post’s political section, speculating as to who might take over her position. The trouble isn’t that they did it; the trouble is how they did it.

The article offers twelve potential candidates for Napolitano’s job. Before we get into those candidates, take a second to recall that of 23 Cabinet and Cabinet-level appointed positions in the U.S., only seven are currently held by women – and that includes our old pal Janet. With that little nugget of information in mind, let’s look at the pool Washington Post offered us. Oh, look! Ten men and two women. (UPDATE 7/15/13: The article seems to have been updated with additional names. It now features 16 individuals: 12 men and 4 women.) How utterly shocking. Offering only two female candidates in this context makes it feel like an afterthought, because not including women would have been conspicuous. Throw in a lady or two and women won’t complain, right? And maybe we wouldn’t have…but then they included pictures.

Not everyone has a picture next to their name, admittedly. But in each of the men’s accompanying photographs, they’re featured wearing what’s more or less their “uniform” – Navy generals in their dress blues, Senators in suits, and a FEMA official in a logo-laden polo – and all appear to be giving speeches of some kind. The only woman pictured in the piece, former Congresswoman Jane Harman of California, is discussed next to a picture of herself at an evening event, wearing a strapless gown.

Women in the political arena are constantly scrutinized for their looks. It’s not what you say; it’s what you wear when you’re saying it. When only one woman’s picture is shown in a pile of dudes in suits, and she’s not also wearing a suit, she stands out twice over – and not in ways that consider her an equal. Research has made it clear that images like this make it hard to see past Harman’s shoulders to her qualifications. It’s much more likely that this picture will make her look unqualified. A quick Google Image search of Harman’s name leads you to tons of pictures where she’s doing exactly what all her male colleagues are up to in this article; seeking out the picture where she’s strapless and looks to me like a deliberately sexist move that needs to be undone.


Published by Katie Hegarty on 07/12/2013

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