It’s Gender Issues Confusion Monday! PART 1: Observations On “Sweatergate”…You Know, One Of Those Stupid Social Media Controversies That Has Some Genuine Issues Buried Inside


The 8 a.m. Saturday broadcast on KLTA in Los Angeles area featured  Liberté Chan in a black, shimmery, shoulder-baring  cocktail dress, giving her report on the day’s weather. Suddenly, weekend anchor Chris Burrous’s arm appeared on the side of the screen, holding a gray cardigan sweater.

“What’s going on?” she said. “You want me to put this on? Why? Cause it’s cold in here?”

“We’re getting a lot of emails,” came the offstage voice of her male colleague. Then his hands placed the cardigan on Chan.

“There you go,” he said. “That’s nice.”

“OK. I look like … a librarian,” she says.

Whereupon social media “erupted,” as the current cliche goes, with many on Facebook, Twitter and whatever else there is out there in the social media jungle condemning the station for sexism. Others insisted that Chan’s cocktail dress was inappropriate attire, sending a message that “The Weather Girl is just eye candy, like the women in bikinis at boxing matches.”

Chan, in a post on her own blog, had this to offer…

I …didn’t think there was anything that inappropriate (the beads/sequins were probably a little much for the morning, but what girl doesn’t like something that sparkles?!), so I played along and put on the sweater.

That prompted a barrage of tweets and more emails from viewers, some of which I included below.

To be perfectly honest, the black beaded dress was a backup.  The pattern on my original black and white dress didn’t work on the weather wall (for some reason, it turned semi-transparent), so after my first weather hit at 6am, I changed.

For the record, I was not ordered by KTLA to put on the sweater.  I was simply playing along with my co-anchor’s joke, and if you’ve ever watched the morning show, you know we poke fun at each other all the time.

And, also for the record, there is no controversy at KTLA. My bosses did not order me to put on the cardigan, it was a spontaneous moment..  I truly love my job, I like my bosses and enjoy working with my coworkers.  Since talking to my team, I want our viewers to know it was never our intention to offend anyone. We are friends on and off the air and if you watch our newscast, you know that. More importantly, I hope my viewers were able to plan their Saturday once they heard my forecast and enjoyed the sunny weather after the clouds cleared.


1. I was just watching MLB’s Heidi Watney on “Quick Pitch,” where she reviews the highlights of all the baseball games of the previous day, standing up in the middle of a studio. She was wearing a shoulders-baring cocktail dress much flashier than Chan’s,  my wife, not for the first time with Heidi, went nuts, complaining how the outfit was unprofessional and demeaning to women. She has similar reactions to the outfits of the Fox Blondes, and my favorite of the breed, Robin Meade, who frequently looks like she just returned from a wild night after a Vegas party. Is this kind of attire unprofessional? Well, it depends, doesn’t it? It depends if the job being done is seen as informational or  performance. If  it’s performance, then a costume is appropriate. If it is a professional conveyance of information to an audience only, a sound argument can be made that professional attire enhances trustworthiness.

Here’s a typical Heidi outfit:


And I can’t leave out Robin in a typical morning ensemble…

Robin Meade2


2. How odd it is that female weather conveyors (and female baseball clip-show hostesses) tend to be objectively gorgeous from the male perspective—that is, males who are so crass and shallow as to appreciate outward physical beauty of a conventional nature. I’m sure it’s just a coincidence.

3. If the gesture of the proffered sweater were not obviously a gag, tweaking the complainers rather than constituting an actual rebuke of Chan, it would be hypocritical. It is stipulated that Chan is a knockout, and is on the air explaining the weather in part because of it. The station put her in that slot in the not unreasonable assumption that more viewers would like their weather forecasts coming from a beautiful woman than someone who looks like Willard Scott, but she can’t wear garb that maximizes the very appearance responsible for her being there at all? That makes no sense at all.

4. Even as a gag, interrupting an on-air segment with a joke of this variety is unprofessional by itself. What’s next, dumping water on Chan, like they used to do on “Laugh-In”?

5. If Chan sued the station for workplace sexual harassment, she would win.

6. However, Chan’s choice of dress (and her model-like appearance) does undermine women, because it undermines her. I just assumed that she was a weather reader (many TV weathermen and weatherwomen are…like Scott) and hired as eye candy. Nope. Chan is well-credentialed for her job in all respects. She was a competitive figure skater and was nationally ranked in both singles and pairs. She then earned a certificate in meteorology from Mississippi State University to go with her master’s degree in Public Health from USC’s Keck School of Medicine, her certification in broadcast journalism from UCLA, and her bachelor’s degree in Journalism from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Chan spent  her last semester studying abroad at the Sorbonne in Paris, France.

7. To which my wife might respond, “Then why does she feel she has to go on the air looking like she was recruited from Hooters?”

8. If Chan is a performer, then her chosen attire is a costume, and a bare shoulders cocktail dress is not per se inappropriate. If she is a professional, whose job it is to maximize trust, then the choice is unprofessional. If it is both—and it is—those roles are contradictory, and there are no standards but taste and the responsible consideration of how it affects the culture.

9.  “What girl doesn’t like something that sparkles?!” Discuss. How would such a statement be received if said by, say, Donald Trump? It’s a degrading gender stereotype. Or is it true? If it is true, shouldn’t men be able to make the same observation without opprobrium?

10. Or is this like African Americans being allowed to say “nigga”? Women can say, in essence, “we’re all empty-headed bimbos” and it’s OK. All we men want is to know what the rules are…

11. I will accept the decision that meteorology credentials or not, announcing the weather on TV is a performing gig, in which case any functional costume that attracts audiences, right up to bikinis and thongs, goes. I will be more willing to accept that when the male meteorologists wear something other than jackets and ties. The current system suggests that the men are professionals and the women are performers, cast for their secondary sex characteristics. That is demeaning to women, and undermines concepts of gender equality.

12. The rules and standards regarding feminism and the workplace are completely incoherent right now. This trivial incident is just one symptom of the problem.

23 thoughts on “It’s Gender Issues Confusion Monday! PART 1: Observations On “Sweatergate”…You Know, One Of Those Stupid Social Media Controversies That Has Some Genuine Issues Buried Inside

  1. “What girl doesn’t like something that sparkles?!”
    This statement does not make her an empty-headed bimbo.
    No, not every girl likes something that sparkles. However, some of us have an inner child/princess/fairy/elf-maiden/starchild/etc that sometimes likes something that sparkles. Where’s My Little Pony?

    As you have often said, in show business — and the media is now part of that business — looks make a difference.

  2. Item 12 really says it all. One of the existing double standards is that women have a much larger set of socially acceptable clothing options than men in most settings. To that extent, the cocktail dress might be accepted in professional settings even when the position has nothing to do with entertainment. Feminists of different sub-types will complain about codes on either end of the spectrum, regardless of who sets the code. Cocktail dress allowed = men just want to leer, Cocktail dress banned = men just want to control women.

  3. “What girl doesn’t like something that sparkles?!”

    In communication, the speaker and the listener matter for interpreting message.

    If a man says it, the perception is, “How could he know, he’s not a girl, he’s making a generalization (even if it’s true) and why would he generalize something? A: To put us down as a group and be condescending.”

    If a woman says it, the perception is, “Obvious generalization is obvious. She’s really projecting, so really she’s just showing us that inside she’s an innocent little girl who likes whimsical oddities and is fun.”

  4. My undergrad had a ton of communications and journalism majors, and they all looked like a variation of this girl. In fact, young girls are discouraged to go into journalism unless they fit this stereotype. That might be mean, but I think it would be meaner to let a plain or overweight girl think she has a chance in an already competitive field if there is little chance that she is going to be hired. I personally feel that they should dress more professionally, but it is up to them to make that change. They can look beautiful AND smart. And while it is a double standard, I think we can all agree that no one wants to see Matt Lauer or Bill O’Reilly in sequins.

    P.S. Sequins are never appropriate before 7 pm — but Chan may be confused about that rule given her prior figure skating experience.

  5. On number 11 I’m not completely sure it’s a double standard. My wife and a number of other women find men much more attractive when elegantly dressed rather than showing off in a swimsuit; see Daniel Craig or Tom Selleck for example. Men are almost certainly going to favor the woman in a skin showing attire. If both choices are going for the more aesthetically pleasing option for the target market (i.e. opposite sex) they’re just different ways to achieve that goal.

    Whether this is cultural indoctrination or an innate preference makes for a completely different conversation that I’ll leave for another day.

    • “My wife and a number of other women find men much more attractive when elegantly dressed rather than showing off in a swimsuit”

      Experience tells me (and polls could probably back me up) that women are still more conservative than men when it comes to visuals … and way more sensitive to any opportunities for bimbo-ization, that which is seen to reflect negatively on all females. The times they are a-doin’ that Dylan thing though, and those bare-chest calendars are expanding their anatomical borders every day. Ever since the twin-bed rule in TV sit-coms went out, women have learned to appreciate male attributes more and I hear women crowd the strip clubs these days. Men’s backs, preferably well muscled, and similarly firm posteriors seem to be gaining in popularity. (A photographer friend, female, suggested that was because it was least threatening — as a psychological motive, I’m inclined to go with that.) For the “Magic Mike” movies women made up a whopping 96% of the audience . . . a staggering figure that the Hollywood Reporter said is “unheard of”. “It marks a substantial increase from the the first film, which attracted a 73% female audience over its opening weekend.” Hmmm. I wonder where the DVDs have gone — no way to track that.

      That being said, men’s tailoring can be as provocative as women’s un-dress so maybe Alex’s wife knows best.

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