Friday, October 2, 2009

Judged for her appearance: a feminist "click" moment

by Kelsey Zimmerman

The women’s rights movement has made great strides in the last century. However, traces of sexism still linger in everyday life. This was shown most clearly to me during my junior year of high school. My history class would regularly hold debates, pitting two presidents against each other in some imagined competition to get the students to try to remember the specifics of their terms better. One chilly March morning, we happened to be discussing Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan, the legendary Democrat against an iconic Republican. I have no recollections as to the specifics of the debate, except for comment a guy in my class used in his closing argument. He finished his rebuttal against FDR’s politics with a comment something to the like of “and that would be as appealing as Eleanor Roosevelt in a wet t-shirt contest!” The whole class burst into raucous laughter while the guy received numerous high fives from his friends, hooting and hollering.

I remember sitting there for a moment, generally amused by the whole debacle, until a curious realization struck me. Eleanor Roosevelt is regarded as a monumental historical figure who did a great deal of charitable work while supporting her crippled husband during his presidencies. Suddenly, I was insulted that her physical appearance came into the matter at all. Her achievements and her work towards helping society were trivialized in that moment in a blasé comparison because she was not perceived as attractive. Many men in history who have done notable deeds would never be judged in that way.

Why? Because it doesn’t matter: why would anyone care if this guy was fat or had a crowbar mustache? He helped the world and that’s the bottom line. Sadly, important women from the past are not given the same courtesy. The fact that it is socially acceptable to make a joke about a woman’s appearance when the woman in question did so much for society, to me, is similar to the Ku Klux Klan members cracking racist jokes about Martin Luther King, Jr. during his public speeches. The people in my class didn’t see what was wrong with the joke, and I didn’t at first either.

But looking back, it shows how in our country, women are still judged on their appearance while men are scrutiny-free. Consider the recent presidential election, when the more personal and vicious media attacks were directed towards Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton. Hillary Clinton, in particular, was often mocked of for her looks. None of the other male candidates received anywhere near the same amount of media scrutiny because of their appearance.

In the last century, we have made a lot of progress in women’s rights. But we have much further to go.


At October 2, 2009 at 11:11 PM , Blogger Redwoodhippie said...

I understand your concern and agree that their is still sexism and it was evident in the election, however I also believe many people vote based on looks and not on ideas and offered programs. My father had a Section 8 tenant whom told him she was voting for Bush. My dad asked, "Why? Bush does not support social programs." and the answer was she thought he looked better. So while I agree with most of your analysis I also see a problem in people not looking beyond appearance for either gender.


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