Depressing Double Standards

What Women Really Think
May 24 2010 3:59 PM

Depressing Double Standards

/blogs/xx_factor/2010/05/24/the_depressing_double_standards_behind_the_posts_elena_kagan_fashion_piece/jcr:content/body/slate_image

Hanna and Jessica , I have been at war with several Facebook friends all day today over the Givhan piece. Like you both, I found it sexist and insulting. But some of my friends thought Givhan was actually praising Kagan for subverting sexist stereotypes and marching to the tune of her own frumpy, style-free band. Maybe. Maybe the real problem is that much as I admire Givhan’s work, the task of close-reading Washington’s fashion choices will always privilege more stereotypes and double standards than it debunks. Women are always skewered someplace along the Madonna-Whore axis, and men are gently teased for wearing a parka.

Advertisement

Here was Givhan on Harriet Miers ’ twitchy, adolescent eyeliner-hand and famously, on Hillary Clinton’s cleavage . Is her glancing reference to Sam Alito’s forgettable wardrobe in the Kagan piece enough to innoculate the column against charges of sexism? Not really. It’s not just the repeated references to Kagan’s open legs that offend. It’s the fact that such a column would never, ever be written about a man , and we all know it. Kagan is faulted for both conforming and not conforming, for caring about her looks and for not caring, for being willfully unsexy and therefore (tah dah!) obviously very smart. Givhan didn’t create the double-standard that allows women about a millimeter of sartorial space in which to operate in public life, and I suppose you can’t fault her for playing to it-that’s her job. But it doesn’t make the column any less depressing to read, or Post readers any less depressed by having to read it.

Photograph of Elena Kagan by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

Dahlia Lithwick writes about the courts and the law for Slate. Follow her on Twitter.

TODAY IN SLATE

Frame Game

Hard Knocks

I was hit by a teacher in an East Texas public school. It taught me nothing.

There Are New Abuse Allegations Against Adrian Peterson

After This Merger, One Company Could Control One-Third of the Planet's Beer Sales

John Oliver Pleads for Scotland to Stay With the U.K.

If You’re Outraged by the NFL, Follow This Satirical Blowhard on Twitter

Jurisprudence

Don’t Expect Adrian Peterson to Go to Prison

In much of America, beating your kids is perfectly legal. 

The Juice

Ford’s Big Gamble

It’s completely transforming America’s best-selling vehicle.

I Tried to Write an Honest Profile of One of Bollywood’s Biggest Stars. It Didn’t Go Well.

Here’s Why College Women Don’t Take Rape Allegations to the Police

The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 1:51 PM Here’s Why College Women Don’t Take Rape Allegations to the Police
  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 15 2014 8:56 PM The Benghazi Whistleblower Who Might Have Revealed a Massive Scandal on his Poetry Blog
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 15 2014 7:27 PM Could IUDs Be the Next Great Weapon in the Battle Against Poverty?
  Life
Outward
Sept. 15 2014 4:38 PM What Is Straight Ice Cream?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Sept. 15 2014 11:38 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 4  A spoiler-filled discussion of "Listen."
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 15 2014 8:58 PM Lorde Does an Excellent Cover of Kanye West’s “Flashing Lights”
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 15 2014 4:49 PM Cheetah Robot Is Now Wireless and Gallivanting on MIT’s Campus
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 15 2014 11:00 AM The Comet and the Cosmic Beehive
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.