My Feminism in the Workplace course in college first introduced me to Kirsten Gillibrand, New York State Senator. She, of course, was part of the section entitled, “Women In Politics.” I was excited to read the article about Gillibrand because I remain in awe of the powerful, brave, and intelligent female leaders in politics. However, this article reminded me of my many viewings of Miss Representation. I thought back to a high school student named Ariella. In the documentary, she states, “there is no appreciation for women intellectuals. It’s all about the body. Not about the brain.” This rang true for the article about Kirsten Gillibrand.
In this article, and in many others, Gillibrand is described as “petite and blonde.” Her personality is described as “perky,” and her voice is analyzed and labeled as “girlie.” She is even referred to as “the hottest member” in the United States Senate. And, some of these comments about Gillibrand’s physical appearance are said directly to her. For example, when she was pregnant with her first son, a Congressman told her she was “… even pretty when [she was] fat.” Gillibrand was also present when she was called “the hottest member” in the U.S. Senate. During this time, Gillibrand was reported to be uncomfortable and embarrassed, and her cheeks turned red.
There’s an evident issue here. The physical appearance issue. For women in politics, there are many comments about their physical appearance and not enough comments or reporting (if any) about their intelligence, their ideologies, their achievements, their desires for the country, and how they vow to assist citizens of the United States– just to name a few. I was naive to believe that I would gain knowledge of Gillibrand, what she does, her achievements, and how she helped New York. That didn’t matter. That wasn’t important. Her physical appearance and attractiveness were imperative. So, I was educated on her beauty. Over and over again. In countless articles. The blonde beauty.
Gillibrand isn’t the only female Senator whose physical appearance is praised and/or scrutinized. Elizabeth Warren, Massachusetts State Senator, is described as having “big, blue eyes.” In addition, Warren’s wardrobe has caused others to label her as a “professor.” Kamala Harris, California State Senator, is labeled “a hottie.” And, lastly, Tulsi Gabbard, U.S. Representative for Hawaii’s 2nd congressional district, is described as “hip and beautiful.” How do we describe men in politics? By eye color? By wardrobe? By physical attractiveness?
Many women are 2020 candidates for president of The United States. And, with that, I ask, are women in politics changing? Are we learning more about why female politicians are running? Are we learning about what they can do for our country? Are we learning about the issues they are passionate about? And, most importantly, do we appreciate them as women intellectuals?
For now, I do not have solid answers. Although, I wish I did. We have been learning more about the women running for president. We have been given the opportunity to listen to their point of view on issues, their passions, and what they’re fighting for. We will continue to learn. But, unfortunately, the physical appearance issue could always rear its ugly head. So, we have to wait. We have to see. Hopefully, there is a shift- a change. Hopefully, it’s major. Hopefully, it shakes things up. Hopefully, we begin to describe women in politics by their intelligence, experience, and capabilities- not their bodies. And, the physical appearance issue becomes a thing of the past. But, one thing is for certain- Kirsten Gillibrand isn’t the “girlie” Senator from New York; she isn’t “the hottest member” in the Senate. This is not how to describe her. Instead, she is brave. She is intelligent. She is passionate about various important issues. And, she could be the next president of the United States.