Over the weekend, Husband I were catching up on our backlog of Daily Show episodes. (Husband remains a steadfast devotee of Jon Stewart, while I fantasize about becoming the first lady of Colbert Nation. BLW, are you reading? Smart is sexy. But I digress.) One episode covered President Obama's decision to send an additional 30,000 American troops to Afghanistan. In typical montage style, clips featured the skeptical reactions of a number of Republican and Democratic Congressmen. I wasn't paying much attention until I heard a female voice (that of a California Congresswoman whose name I can't remember), at which point I looked up, smirked, and snidely noted to Husband: "She looks like she just stuck her finger in an electric socket." I didn't think at all about my remark until Jon Stewart ended the segment by commenting that this same woman - an elected representative discussing a, literally, life-or-death issue - must have gone to her hairdresser and asked for the "Statue of Liberty."
And then it hit me: I am sexist. And, in this instance, so is Jon Stewart.
The topic of the segment was the troop surge; the spin was that representatives from both sides of the aisle greeted Obama's announcement with cynicism. I didn't really pay attention to any of that. But I did take the time to comment on a woman's - the only woman's - hairdo. I could not tell you what any of the Congressmen looked like, but I could pick that Congresswoman out of a line-up in a heartbeat. Me. A sexist eyewitness.
Judith Warner wrote last week about her initial surprise that NOW has come out against the so-called Bo-Tax, a provision of the Senate health care bill that calls for a 5% tax on elective cosmetic procedures. She goes on to consider the ways in which our society values and devalues women, especially aging women, based on their appearance. She then introduces the idea, borrowed from Beauty Junkies author Alex Kuczynski, of "an activism of aesthetics”:
At first glance, this seems ridiculous. And yet it says something true enough about the way many younger women understand feminism at a time when organized, real-world activism has hit wall after wall of political impossibility. Sneaker ads teach that feminism is all about taking control — of your figure...Women’s empowerment becomes a matter of a tight face and a flat belly. You control what you can control. And so many middle-aged women feel particularly out of control now, as indeed they are, in these life plan-wrecking economic times.Certainly I have heard for years the laments of Hollywood actresses who see their roles dry up after they reach a certain age. But, until reading Warner's column last week, I hadn't realized the universality of the professional pressure on women to maintain their youthful looks. And, apparently, even when women attain a high level of career advancement - like my pal, the Congresswoman from California - they are still subject to ridicule based not on their words, but on the holding power of their styling gel. Are professional men subjected to these same standards, these same sexist drive-bys? I doubt it.
And I am part of the problem. A woman whose attention is piqued, then tweaked, by a cosmetic decision. A woman who undermines the wisdom of another woman's words by failing to look beyond her hair. And if I am part of the problem, who isn't?
Do you judge women by their looks? Do you judge men and women differently?