Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer wore a “form fitting dress” or a “distractingly badly-fitting dress” during her state of the State address. After some pundits and a lot of social media users leveled harsh criticism of her attire, the matter quickly entered the battlefield of the gender wars. She said in a statement,
“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. 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.”
Anne Doyle, an Oakland County leadership coach for women, said,
“If she had been wearing something big and baggy, she would have been criticized for wearing that. We’re going to see a significant amount of this type of criticism as more and more women are in these type of powerful, leadership roles. It’s gender bias. But we have to power our way through it and ignore it.”
No question about it, female public figures are often subjected to higher standards of appearance than males. However, does this mean that no criticism of public comportment and appearance by public officials in the official discharge of their duties is legitimate? Here’s Ann Althouse on the controversy, writing that the Governor…
…wore a dress to her State of the State Address that was just way too tight. As many of the commenters (at The Daily Mail) observe, you can see the outline of her bellybutton. It’s not really fair to accuse everyone of body shaming when you wear something that fits so poorly. People talk about Trump’s tie being too long….
And his hair, AND his skin color, AND his hands, AND his weight. Meanwhile, Michelle Obama’s every fashion choice received barrels of ink-worth of automatic praise. The issue is, or should be, whether a public figures should be held accountable for decisions regarding they present themselves to the world. Cousin Vinny kept finding himself in contempt of court for inappropriately casual attire, which was deemed disrespectful to the court. Are supporters of the governor really arguing that all criticism of a female elected official’s attire or appearance is sexist? Seriously?
Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz Of The Day is…
Was criticism of the Governor’s dress unethical?
I’m not 100% certain of the right answer (if I was, there wouldn’t be a quiz), but I’m 80% sure, and what I’m 80% sure of is this…
- Criticizing or ridiculing people’s appearance when the target is their bodies is per se unfair, a golden rule breach, and an ad hominem attack.
- Criticizing hair style choices, make-up and weight is borderline unethical. The individual should get the benefit of the doubt.
- As long as a public figure’s appearance is professional, meaning that it does not encourage a lack of respect or trust in the individual by a typical, reasonable citizen, or embarrass the constituency, organization or office the individual represents, then criticism of that appearance is unfair, cruel, and wrong.
I think the Governor’s dress was unprofessional, and that any civil criticism was justified. Mocking Trump for wearing a tie like a codpiece is fair, and the governor’s dress was a lot more distracting than a long tie.