On Monday, the front and center picture on Drudge Report was Hillary Clinton's bespectacled face without makeup, because apparently we've talked about every other possible topic in the world. The picture of Clinton's face, which Matt Drudge helpfully tagged "Au Naturel," features the smiling Secretary of State's countenance naked but for black framed glasses and red lipstick. I guess we're all supposed to gasp and feel faint, to acknowledge that yes, Hillary Clinton is a real live human with monstrous, terrible flaws, and this is the pictorial proof of that. And now she should hang her head in shame and Matt Drudge wins, and he's automatically King of America forever.
Fox echoed Matt Drudge's triumphant smugness, asking in their headline if Hillary "forgot" her makeup, as though she'd been caught peeing her pants onstage or flashing her crotch at paparazzi as she got out of a limo.
A woman didn't wear makeup and this is news? I guess I thought the news cycle's kill screen would involve more animated fireworks, or decks of cards cascading in arcs rather than just a picture of the Secretary of State's face looking like it's ready for some slumber party ghost stories.
With Drudge's attempted shaming came a reciprocal backlash from fans of Hillary and what Fox News viewers might call "the liberal media." The Washington Post defended the makeup-free look: "It's refreshing to see Hillary fresh-faced. She looked like a schoolgirl in the picture –- the Hillary from her granola college days at Wellesley." And the Atlantic Wire proclaimed that Clinton looked "good, okay!?" And of course, as a member of Team Hillary, my reflexive first reaction to the photo was to leap to the defense of her looks. She looks great! Cute glasses! There is nothing wrong with Hillary Clinton's neck, okay?! That's how a neck is supposed to look! She's totally pretty!
For a society that produces ads and photospreads so airbrushed that they're technically cartoons, we're oddly obsessed with seeing women without airbrushing for various reasons: to satisfy our own curiosities (and insecurities), or so that we can mock them for being human, or to praise them for bucking tradition, especially if they're women in power, and double extra especially if they're polarizing women in power. But even entering the conversation is unnecessary and dangerous.
For men who believe that a woman is only as valuable as she is interesting to their dicks, exposing a woman for being imperfect or or somehow sloppy — think STARS WITHOUT MAKEUP! photospreads or accidental boob flashes — means that they've once again denigrated a woman in the way that most matters to her. It reiterates a damaging message, that women must see their looks as their most important category, since men do. And supporters of partisan ladies will feel compelled to defend women against these charges of ugliness, as if we're defending their honor. See what's happening here? Honor is connected to a female politician's looks, and not her work or ideology or politics.
It's not just men who go right for the fugular, either. You can tell a lot about what a person values in other people by what they insult, and women whose first line of attack is "Oh yeah? Well, you're fat/ugly, so I win" are often the sort of women who value their looks above every other trait, women who believe that the highest function of a lady is a decorative one. But when we leap to Clinton's — or any woman's — defense, are we buying into the flawed notion that a woman's aesthetic appearance is something worthy of defense? Are we granting it more legitimacy than it deserves?
I thought about this principle — the "If you're smart and I disagree with you, you're ugly! And if you're pretty, you're dumb!" Rule of How We View Female Politicians — earlier today as I came across a link to this piece posted by Dana Loesch, a conservative pundit I follow on Twitter. At issue in the Twitchy piece is a tweet by Kathy Griffin that implied that Bristol Palin should appear on The Client List (that Jennifer Love Hewitt show about hand jobs) rather than her upcoming Lifetime reality series Life's a Tripp!. The author of the post took Griffin's Tweet as evidence that liberal women are totally sexist against conservative women, as Griffin's joke about Bristol was prompted by Griffin's position on Bristol's mother: "See, it's totally cool to demonize and demean ‘the wrong kind' of woman," they wrote. "It's even no big whoop at all to make fun of her children, who are evidently no longer 'off limits,' as long as you think their mom has cooties and is just a girl. The wrong kind of girl, to boot. She doesn't hyphenate her name, doesn't limit herself to caring about topics the left has assigned as ‘woman' topics and she doesn't allow herself to be subjugated by The State."
The comments that followed were almost exclusively attacks on Kathy Griffin's looks from conservatives who supported Bristol in all of her flailing attempts at fame. How dare this woman call a woman I like ugly and flawed! Isn't SHE ugly and flawed?
Similar liberal grumbles about the apparent stupidity of the blonde brigade that occupies the Fox News anchor desk have rubbed me the wrong way, too. Yes, Megyn Kelly probably wouldn't be an anchor on Team Ailes if she were not conventionally attractive, but she's not bad at her job. And the other week when Fox personality Monica Crowley made a really dumb Sandra Fluke lesbian joke, a disturbing amount of the Twitter backlash against her was liberal dudes calling her a talking pair of tits, or telling her she was a bimbo. What does her physical appearance have to do with her stupid sense of humor? Nothing, folks. Nothing at all.
Hillary Clinton, for her part, is unruffled. She told CNN, "I feel so relieved to be at the stage I'm at in my life right now. Because you know if I want to wear my glasses I'm wearing my glasses. If I want to wear my hair back I'm pulling my hair back. You know at some point it's just not something that deserves a lot of time and attention. And if others want to worry about it, I let them do the worrying for a change."
Once again, we'd be well-served to emulate Hillary's "give zero fucks" example.
The bullshit is coming from both sides of the political divide, and the fact that we're still talking about the overemphasis on looks means that too many people still believe that they can pull the "you're ugly" trump card when they don't agree with a woman. You may not agree with a woman, but to criticize her appearance — as opposed to her ideas or actions — isn't doing anyone any favors, least of all you. Insulting a woman's looks when they have nothing to do with the issue at hand implies a lack of comprehension on your part, an inability to engage in high-level thinking. You may think she's ugly, but everyone else thinks you're an idiot.