Washington Post: Women Wear Clothes. No! Really?
I think this is going to have to be a regular feature here: Tracking the number of times the Washington Post reporters feel fit to describe what a female politician is wearing but not anyone else. Especially when such descriptions add nothing to the story.
Today’s example, Dana Milbank in his Washington Sketch column. He’s describing the debate in the House about citing Alberto Gonzales with contempt of Congress.
Alternatively, history may choose to focus on the words of Conyers himself, who suspected foul play when Rep. Loretta Sanchez (Calif.), the Democrats' point woman on the contempt matter, discovered that her microphone wasn't working. "We'll have to have that investigated to see if it's pure accident," Conyers proposed to Sanchez, who, resplendent in a black outfit with silver sparkles, shifted to her neighbor's microphone.Maybe this little nugget seems harmless. But Milbank doesn’t describe any other politician’s dress in the article. He doesn’t write “Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.), looking fully Texan in a black suit and wingtips.” Nor does knowing Loretta Sanchez wore black with silver sparkles add anything to “scene” he was setting.
So why did he add that little detail. Other readers can interpret it differently but I think Milbank is demeaning Sanchez. I think some corner of his mind thought her outfit ostentatious and wanted to call attention to it. In doing so he’s attempting, in a small way, to disparage Sanchez. “Look she’s wearing silver sparkles!”
It’s a small thing, but it grates. I doubt Milbank even notices how he treated Sanchez differently from Gohmert or Chairman John Conyers in his column.
UPDATE: I e-mailed the Washington Post Ombudsman Deborah Howell a slightly modified version of this post. (I didn't tell her I was a blogger. She doesn't like bloggers and would probably discount my point if she had known.)
Unexpectedly she wrote me back.
I wrote her back saying:
I'll send this to him. He probably did it because her clothing stood out and others did not. -- Deborah
I'm sure that *is* what he is going to say. But the concept of "male clothing" being unremarkable but female clothing being always a point of interest is a HUGE issue when covering female politicians and tricky onewithout having a double-standard for men and women. Of course men like Milbank probably thinks Conyers clothing is unremarkable. Maybe though another person (say a woman) would have thought Sanchez' clothing wasn't any less unremarkable. Milbank is sort of defining 'normality' of dress inhis mind through his writing. He need to watch it though. Otherwise he willbe putting a double-standard to his subjects by defining what he perceivesis "correct" fashion worth noting.To which she responded:
I've seen male dress noted in his column on a number of occasions. I watch for that sort of thing.