CEO DailyCFO DailyBroadsheetData SheetTerm Sheet

What’s the right—and wrong—way for the media to cover what female politicians wear?

January 7, 2022, 1:56 PM UTC

Good morning, Broadsheet readers! 23andMe has its first drug in trials, Pakistan is set to confirm its first female Supreme Court justice, and it’s time to think about how female politicians’ fashion choices are covered. Have a relaxing weekend.

– Dress for (electoral) success? At first glance, this story from journalism pub Nieman Lab about how reporters write about female politicians’ fashion choices feels a little inside baseball. But as we look ahead to the U.S. midterm elections, I think it’s worthy reading for non-media folks too. That past few years have certainly illustrated the importance about being an informed news consumer, and that includes bringing a critical eye to the way powerful women are covered.

Let’s be clear—there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with writing about politician’s clothing or accessories. As the story notes, image and presentation are part of politics, and many pols skillfully deploy their wardrobes to send a message about who they are or what they stand for. The problem comes when discussion of clothing is a coded way of discussing a woman’s attractiveness, or when it comes without the context required to explain why it matters. There’s a stark difference between the coverage of Sarah Palin’s “sexy” outfits or Hillary Clinton’s “frumpy” ones, and the media focus on, say, Kamala Harris’s pearls, which the VP wears to symbolize her connection to her sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha.

There’s also the question of whether this type of sartorial analysis is being applied to men as well. While male politicians don’t completely escape fashion scrutiny (let us not forget the outcry over President Obama’s tan suit), I think it’s fair to say that women bear the brunt of it. Part of the reason for that dichotomy may be that we have far more varied and interesting clothing options than men—thank goodness!—but I suspect it’s also that our culture is far more accustomed to judging women based on their appearance, and that includes their wardrobe.

So, as political media shifts into election mode, I will certainly be keeping an eye on whose fashion is being covered and why. And if you see any particularly interesting examples—for good or ill—please send them my way!

Kristen Bellstrom
kristen.bellstrom@fortune.com
@kayelbee

The Broadsheet, Fortune’s newsletter for and about the world’s most powerful women, is coauthored by Kristen Bellstrom, Emma Hinchliffe, and Claire Zillman. Today’s edition was curated by Emma Hinchliffe

ALSO IN THE HEADLINES

- Exchange of leadership. Lynn Martin took over as president of the New York Stock Exchange this month, making her the second woman in a row to lead the exchange, following Stacey Cunningham. Fortune's Declan Harty dives into Martin's nontraditional career path and how she ended up in the top job in a new story. Fortune

- Drug discovery. 23andMe, led by founder and CEO Anne Wojcicki, is beginning trials for the first drug the genetics company developed on its own—part of its strategy to move beyond DNA tests into drug development. The immuno-oncology drug aims to treat tumors. Bloomberg

- Progress for justice. Justice Ayesha A. Malik is nominated for Pakistan's Supreme Court, making her the first woman to hold such a role in the country. Malik has been a justice on Lahore's High Court. Her nomination has faced opposition, including from lawyers who threatened to go on strike if she were confirmed, but she is now expected to be confirmed. New York Times

MOVERS AND SHAKERS: Dentons promoted Sonia Martin to CEO of Dentons U.S. Grid 202 Partners president Kamila Elliott is the new chair of the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards board of directors. Marketing firm Tinuiti hired Hitachi Vantara CFO Lori Varlas in the same role. Upwork hired Instagram global VP of marketing Melissa Waters as CMO. 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

- Taking a shot. Becky Hammon took a head coaching job in the WNBA last week, a move that prompted both congratulations and disappointment. The longtime assistant coach for the NBA's San Antonio Spurs was seen as a likely candidate to be the first female head coach in the NBA, but she opted to head to the women's league rather than wait for the NBA to break its glass ceiling. Washington Post

- Left behind. Who are the lost girls of COVID? In developing countries around the world, the pandemic is "erasing decades of progress" in girls' health, education, and independence as schools and organizations aiming to support young women shut down. Bloomberg

- Firefighter fertility. Female firefighters may face consequences to their health and fertility, a new study suggests. Miscarriage was 2.3 times more common among firefighters than among nurses, who face similar exposure to chemicals and stressors at work. And outcomes are worse for volunteer firefights—which is how most women work the job—rather than career firefighters. Grist

ON MY RADAR

The religious case for abortion rights Slate

Sarah Wynter suffered postpartum psychosis. She survived to make a movie about it Vanity Fair

A teen pilot flies around the world and into the record books Financial Times

PARTING WORDS

"It always upsets me, because I don’t think that’s something that should be romanticized. And here was a script that really focused in on the family and on the people and the communities that are affected."

-Outlander star Caitriona Balfe on her new film Belfast and its unusual approach to depicting the Troubles

This is the web version of The Broadsheet, a daily newsletter for and about the world’s most powerful women. Sign up to get it delivered free to your inbox.