Getting the best of you.

Missing the Point: A Mini-Rant on Feminism & Female Attire

So I keep seeing this post floating around on Tumblr, where many fine folks seem to think that this is a fantastic and highly effective commentary on the way women in media are often criticized for their attire.

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The gist of it is this: Karl Stefanovic, a male cohost of Australia's "Today," got tired of the way his female cohosts were often criticized for their attire and appearance rather than for the quality of their work. So he decided to create his own little social experiment— he wore the same suit every single day for a full year to if anyone noticed.

Well, of course, no one noticed. Here's what Stefanovic had to say about that:

No one has noticed; no one gives a shit. But women, they wear the wrong colour and they get pulled up. They say the wrong thing and there's thousands of tweets written about them. Women are judged much more harshly and keenly for what they do, what they say and what they wear… I've worn the same suit on air for a year - except for a couple of times because of circumstance - to make a point. I'm judged on my interviews, my appalling sense of humour - on how I do my job, basically. Whereas women are quite often judged on what they're wearing on how their hair is.

First and foremost, let's give credit where credit is due. Stefanovic noticed a real and actual problem in his industry and tried to make a statement about it. And, of course, he has a point. Women are criticized significantly more often than men are because of what they wear or how their hair looks. These are good and admirable things to notice and want to talk about, so good for him! A+ for effort, friend!

However, his experiment is inherently flawed. Yes, there is a problem in media where female presenters are criticized for their appearances. That said, this usually only happens when the ladies in question are having bad hair days, or have done something weird with their makeup, or for whatever reason look "off" or "different" from how they normally present. I don't think any of us are immune to days where we watch something and say to ourselves, "What on earth compelled her to go on television wearing that?" (If you're anything like me, you say almost identical things for gentlemen on TV—ask any of the poor dudes who watch sports with me about my opinions on halftime presenters for any major sport.)

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So now let's talk about why his experiment was flawed. I'm not going to claim that there isn't a sexist element here; there's almost always a sexist element if you look hard enough for one. But he failed on two basic fashion levels. First, he chose to wear a basic, "staple" suit every day. Second, he changed his accessories.

By wearing a standard navy blue suit every day, Stefanovic basically guaranteed that no one (male or female) would comment on his appearance. Staple pieces are called staples for a reason—they can be worn multiple times in multiple ways, and generally are so standard that they don't warrant positive or negative comment. You buy staple pieces specifically to be worn multiple times, and you change your accessories to create "new" outfits.

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This is exactly what Stefanovic did! If you look up at the pictures above, you'll notice that each day he has a different (hopefully clean) shirt and tie on. In the pictures above, the shirt is white, but sometimes it's blue, so one can assume that he's worn different colored shirts throughout the course of the year. White shirts usually fall into that "neutral staple" category, so we're not going to talk about them—the only way they merit notice of any kind is if they're dirty, which, ew.

Since he's not wearing a pocket square (which is sad), all that's left is the tie. Because his suit is neutral, the eye is drawn instead to his tie. Because his tie is often patterned, the brain remembers it. Because the tie is what the brain remembers, and the tie is different each day, the brain remembers the ensemble as a whole as a "different" outfit each day.

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Women do the same thing. I, at least, wore the same pair of jeans every day for two whole weeks (with a different oatmeal-colored sweater) before they became an unfortunate casualty of an unexpectedly early period.

All of this is to say that while I can admire Stefanovic's intentions, his effort falls flat. If he was really trying to see if he'd have his appearance criticized the way his female coworkers do, he should have worn a different wacky suit every day, or made some other noticeable change to his appearance on a regular enough basis that his viewers wouldn't have time to get used to seeing it.

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As it stands, though? He's just another white dude in a generic suit—they all look the same to me anyway.

Note: I understand that women in media are criticized generally on their appearance instead of (or in the absence of) valid criticism about their performance at work. However, that's not what Stefanovic seemed to be trying to address, nor is it what he addressed in practice, so that's not what I'm addressing here. I do, however, have a really great rant about the criticism of women in male-dominated fields, so hmu up if you want to hear it.

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