Depressing Double Standards

What Women Really Think
May 24 2010 3:59 PM

Depressing Double Standards


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.


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.



The Democrats’ War at Home

How can the president’s party defend itself from the president’s foreign policy blunders?

An Iranian Woman Was Sentenced to Death for Killing Her Alleged Rapist. Can Activists Save Her?

Piper Kerman on Why She Dressed Like a Hitchcock Heroine for Her Prison Sentencing

Windows 8 Was So Bad That Microsoft Will Skip Straight to Windows 10

Homeland Is Good Again! For Now.


Cringing. Ducking. Mumbling.

How GOP candidates react whenever someone brings up reproductive rights or gay marriage.


How Even an Old Hipster Can Age Gracefully

On their new albums, Leonard Cohen, Robert Plant, and Loudon Wainwright III show three ways.

The U.S. Has a New Problem in Syria: The Moderate Rebels Feel Like We’ve Betrayed Them

We Need to Talk: A Terrible Name for a Good Sports Show by and About Women

Trending News Channel
Oct. 1 2014 1:25 PM Japanese Cheerleader Robots Balance and Roll Around on Balls
  News & Politics
The World
Oct. 1 2014 12:20 PM Don’t Expect Hong Kong’s Protests to Spread to the Mainland
Oct. 1 2014 2:16 PM Wall Street Tackles Chat Services, Shies Away From Diversity Issues 
The Eye
Oct. 1 2014 1:04 PM An Architectural Crusade Against the Tyranny of Straight Lines
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 2:08 PM We Need to Talk: Terrible Name, Good Show
  Slate Plus
Political Gabfest
Oct. 1 2014 1:53 PM Slate Superfest East How to get your tickets before anyone else.
Brow Beat
Oct. 1 2014 3:02 PM The Best Show of the Summer Is Getting a Second Season
Future Tense
Oct. 1 2014 3:01 PM Netizen Report: Hong Kong Protests Trigger Surveillance and Social Media Censorship
  Health & Science
Oct. 1 2014 2:36 PM Climate Science Is Settled Enough The Wall Street Journal’s fresh face of climate inaction.
Sports Nut
Sept. 30 2014 5:54 PM Goodbye, Tough Guy It’s time for Michigan to fire its toughness-obsessed coach, Brady Hoke.