Taylor Fussman: Debate over Whitmer’s wardrobe illustrates continuing double standard

Priorities: Bridge repairs or blue dress

When I first left the ideological safe zone that is a liberal arts college to enter the professional world just over a year ago, it was easy to tell myself that I — a young woman at the cusp of a new

Taylor Fussman

career and adventure — would not face the same double standards as the women before me.

It was easy to throw on my slacks and blazer and rose-colored glasses and convince myself I would command the same amount of respect as any man.

That my appearance, or the appearance of any woman, does not dictate our lives.

I was proven incorrect when I attended events with camera and notepad in tow and men commented on my looks instead of answering my first question.

I was proven incorrect when I found myself feeling occasionally self-conscious when deciding what to wear for the day ahead.

And I was proven incorrect when I started to read the reactions and stories about Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s State of the State Address.

It has been nearly a week since our governor stood before us and reiterated her dedication to our state and her plan for improving Michigan, but many of us can’t describe a single part of the plan.

While you may not know some of her top concerns are with fixing the state’s infrastructure — starting with repairing the damage to our roads, continuing to improve the quality of our water and closing the skills gap of Michigan workers so we can compete on a national and global scale — you probably know all about the royal blue boat neck dress she was wearing.

The headlines following Whitmer’s address did not discuss politics or funding or infrastructure. They instead were littered with words like “sexism,” “appearance,” and “critics.”

Anyone doubting the double standards against professional women really need to look no further than these responses.

Some may argue the comments cluttering social media about Whitmer’s wardrobe choice and how she looked in the dress aren’t demeaning. But my question is, why do we have to talk about it at all? Aren’t some things simply better left unsaid so we can instead discuss what is truly important?

Instead of responding to questions or concerns about the topics brought up in her address, Whitmer was forced to respond to critiques about her appearance, taking to Twitter to defend herself and other women.

“In my speech I was encouraging people to see the humanity in one another in this cruel political environment. In an era when so many women are stepping up to lead, I’m hoping people will focus on our ideas and accomplishments instead of our appearance,” she wrote. “Until then, I’ve got a message for all of the women and girls like mine who have to deal with garbage like this every day: I’ve got your back.”

Don’t get me wrong, most people offer women, myself included, the same respect as men, but every time we talk about the way a woman looks instead of what she is trying to say, we are perpetuating the problem.

It’s time we stop writing stories and tweets about a woman’s curves or makeup or hairstyle, and time we start paying attention to her ideas and merit.

Society has come a long way in recent years in terms of not degrading professional women, but it’s time to take off the rose-colored glasses and make a change in how we treat our peers.

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Posted by Taylor Fussman

Taylor is the city/county reporter for the Pioneer and Herald Review newspapers. She can be reached at (231) 592-8362 or by email at tfussman@pioneergroup.com.

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