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The world watches women differently than it watches men


There were many amazing, powerful women at the Biden-Harris inauguration. Vice President Kamala Harris, First Lady Dr. Jill Biden, Hillary Clinton, Michele Obama, Jennifer Lopez, Lady Gaga, Amy Klobuchar, and the WOW young poet Amanda Gorman. So many inspiring women whom it was a pleasure to see and hear from.


One of the things that struck me about the women was how COLORFUL they were. There is something beautifully striking not only in the hues and fabrics but also in the way the women used clothes to highlight their awesomeness. I mean, that red headband! That was power! The colors suggested creativity, strength, joy, energy, and life. The clothes also had other signifiers -- purple, for example, has a lot of connections to royalty and unity; white is the color of women's suffrage; and the choice of particular designers was a nod to youth and diversity The women used their clothes to make an indisputable statement: We Are Here.


At the same time, I always have certain mixed feelings when it comes from looking at women's clothes. I mean, we don't do it to men. Nobody is talking about Biden's suit or tie. They are talking about his words and actions. I don't even think anyone noticed his tie. I am looking for the day when I can be judged exclusively for my actions and not my appearance, just the way men are.


I mean, men can literally wear terrible clothes, have their hair unbrushed, and be shlumpy and grumpy and still be adored. (See: Bernie Sanders.) Can you imagine one of those top women showing up in a khakhi parka, unmade-up, unbrushed, and unsmiling? Her career would be over.


It's more than just unfair. It's part of women's erasure. As much as I may love nice clothes, when we are watching women and thinking about how they look, which may at times highlight their personalities, but at other times may obscure them. Our society spends so much time discussing and analyzing women's appearances that it can become the whole story of who women are. I'm frankly concerned that our society and especially the media will be more concerned about the Vice President's outfits than her hair. That worries me.


What's worse is how much we conflate women's appearance and their persona. I have so many memories of my father doing this to me -- that is, making entire assessments about my life based exclusively on his evaluation of my appearance. When he visited me in college and I was wearing leggins, a crumpled t-shirt, and wild hair, he assumed I was doing terribly and was, like, doing drugs or something. Actually, I was having the time of my life. Or like, he got upset with me a few days after I gave birth to my son for not wearing lipstick. "You look tired," he would say to me as he sat on my couch while I juggled a baby and a toddler, as if looking tired was my great sin. (For the record, there is nothing wrong with looking tired if you have good reason to be tired, but there is something wrong with sitting on the couch while you're daughter is struggling and not only refusing to help but also judging her and making her feel worse than she already did. I wish I could go back to my 25-year-old self and tell her that.)


This is the thing that really bothers me. American culture, and perhaps all Western culture, equates how a woman looks with how she is. And then we judge her to no end about it. I find it infuriating to hear people look at a woman's weight and make assumptions about her "choices" or her "health" or whether she is hard-working or lazy. I hate that so much. Some of the most amazing, hard-working women I know have imperfect-looking bodies. You know why? Because they are so busy doing a zillion things for a gazillion people that maybe spending hours at the gym or in the kitchen every day just isn't on their todo list.


The hardest part for me is the knowledge that the world is watching us -- women -- all the time in ways that it doesn't watch men. No matter what I do, the world judges me based on my appearance before it judges me based on my ideas, creations, and actions. That is hard.


So the inauguration was a beautiful, inspiring, colorful display of awesome women. But I'm ready for the day when women can be valued and judged for who we are, no matter what we are wearing or what our bodies look like.



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