Ethics Quiz: The Governor’s Dress

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.

35 thoughts on “Ethics Quiz: The Governor’s Dress

  1. Such a petty issue: Yes it is a bit too form fitting but she’s not a 20 year old girl anymore. Clothes don’t make the man or woman and she could have chosen a dowdy pantsuit.

  2. I find the focus on anyone’s look a waste of valuable time. She was dressed appropriately even if her dress was a bit tight. She was not wearing a halter top and daisy dukes or even jeans.

    Not everyone can look great in their wardrode everyday.

    I would suggest we focus on her governing decisions which give ample opportunity to criticise.

  3. Jack isn’t this a variant of the second niggardly principle? It isn’t wrong, but they must have known it would have created a distraction (if not she needs better PR people)?

  4. To frame the question and to draw such public attention is what is ‘unethical’. In fairness, having focused on her ‘dress’, please now say something about her ‘address’ (‘State of the State’).

  5. Hat tip to JP for the Niggardly Principles notation. I shall opine thusly:

    1) Bad work on Whitmer’s part. In fairness, Hillary regularly got ripped for wearing the sartorial equivalent of pup tents, but she had good reason to do so and the churlish bastards who called her out on it would have been pouring bleach in their eyes if she’d worn THIS dress.

    2) Sloppy work on the part of Whitmer’s handlers. Or Whitmer, if they’d told her.

    3) Horrible work on the part of all the people – media and social media myrmidons alike – who make crap like this an issue. The greatest experiment in self-governance is at risk, and THIS is the shit you worry about?

    Conclusion: The criticism is unethical.

    • I can’t get there. If she looks bad, the state looks bad. She’s not unattractive, she’s middle aged. We all have to dress appropriately. If I did my seminars in that badly a fitting suit, it would undermine my effectiveness. Would a client be justified in saying, “Jesus, get some clothes that fit!”?

      Of course.

      • Nail on the head, Jack. Anyone who dresses in a manner that causes their appearance to become a distraction from their work or purpose is, as you put it, undermining their effectiveness. I consider this an unethical practice. During my law enforcement career (when I wasn’t wearing a uniform), my employers always emphasized avoiding extremes (fashion, fit, color, etc.) in choosing work attire. I occasionally had the unenviable task of pointing out unacceptable wardrobe choices. I guess that’s why I now shake my head at fashion trends like the ridiculously tight-fitting shirts and suits that threaten to put out someone’s eye when a button pops off. Of course, I’ve never been accused of being a slave to fashion, but I prefer that people remember what I did or said over what I wore..

  6. While some may feel the look was unattractive, there may be others who think she looked just wonderful. It showed the outline of her belly button, it is only a belly button and we all have one. Ethical or unethical, we have better things to be concerned with than whether or not we know she has a belly button.

    • … am I wrong that other things are also visible? Was it cold in the room?

      In other words, if those aren’t nipples, then she wore a bra that looks like nipples.

      As the father of a 16 year old girl, I have come to pay attention to such things, so that I can tell my daughter that THIS is unacceptable. Men are swine and will take the salacious route every time at her age.

      • As the father of a 16 year old girl, I have come to pay attention to such things, so that I can tell my daughter that THIS is unacceptable. Men are swine and will take the salacious route every time at her age.

        In the era of the majority of females of all ages now wearing yoga pants as normal attire, what’s on top has become the lesser distraction.
        I don’t know how a 15 y/o boy as any focus at school anymore.

    • Laura Russell, I think you missed the point. The whole look was distracting because it was, to be plain, sloppy from head to toe. As far as navels go, the only place they are commonly seen (particularly not where political speeches are supposed to be listened to) is in beachwear or belly-dancing. We all have genitals, too. You may like seeing them or showing them … but not in public – and most certainly not when you want people to listen to what you are saying. Try flashing your bellybutton next time you’re having a conversation in public. If I had been a constituent of hers, I would have been concerned.

  7. Its “What was she thinking?” moment. The Little Missus would ask if that woman owned a mirror. I do have to admit that one of our favorite pastimes is to critique the apparel of the ladies doing the weather and/or traffic on the local TV news. Only once did it get to the point of sending an email to a station. I have no idea if the items of clothing are those of the wearer or if they are “Provided for promotional consideration”

    This seems to be in the same category, but something beyond a “bless her heart” comment is uncalled for. Thumper’s mother’s advice comes to mind.

  8. Was criticism of the Governor’s dress unethical?

    No.

    Part of being in a position like that requires a certain deference to decorum (Yes, Trump blah blah. Whatever, loser, pay attention to the instant case and place the whataboutism firmly in your nether regions) and I think she failed to show that deference.

    Male and female gender roles may be under constant revision, but one thing that never changes is that people in public positions are expected to “dress for success.” Such an ill-fitting dress is synonymous with a serviceman showing up for inspection in an unkempt uniform — that’s guaranteed to get “criticism” regardless of their gender, and I think that’s roughly the standard that should be applied here.

    The criticism of her dress, not her figure, was warranted and ethical.

    • Umm…

      After I reread this, I thought maybe some would think this…

      (Yes, Trump blah blah. Whatever, loser, pay attention to the instant case and place the whataboutism firmly in your nether regions)

      … was directed at Jack. It was not.

      It was intended for Trump haters who use “But what about Trump…” to excuse almost any conduct

  9. 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…

    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.

    Googling ‘images’ of her, she dresses pretty much the same. The photograph taken was taken in a certain raking light, that is why he belly-button indentation showed as it did. In a less angled light, it would not show. She is a nice looking woman in fact. If she lost 20 pounds she’d look much better . . .

    It is more unethical than ethical to focus on this. Probably, there is negative and underhanded animus behind it (who desires to discredit her and why?)

    Oh wait, hold on! Obama endorsed her, that changes everything. Now that I think about it she really shows bad judgment parading around in her fattiness and I think this reflects on her character as a governor. Woman! go on a diet for Heaven’s sake!

    • I think, for her age and experience (two kids of her own) she looks great, physically. The dress was a poor choice.

      But I do take your satirical comment, and found it amusing. Nothing enables people to criticize quite like guilt by association!

  10. Governor Whitmer remains “an attractive woman of mystery” to me. That concavity in her dress, in the vicinity of where most of us have a bellybutton, aggravates the mystery about her rather than solves it, because it still does not answer the crucial question: Does she have an “innie” or an “outie?”

    Even with that dress, and with that concavity, for all any of us know, Whitmer has an outie that is just not quite outie enough to show. Y’all go on, and worry about fake news. I’ll be focused on worrying about fake innies (and all female politicians’ bellybuttons).

    Woe, woe is me! I just can’t stand not knowing!

    If only we lived in, instead of a “rape culture,” a nudist culture! But then, there would not be enough mystery for some people. But in a nudist culture, at least we would know which people scrimp when using toilet paper. Well, we would know about most of such people. State governors would not count, and would thus remain mysterious, since they would always be enjoying having so many noses up their asses.

  11. The fact is there is no right answer, if a woman in her post wear to large or too small she is wrong, it is why stylists are hired as people under these scrutinizes need guidance as they often can not see how the look. From the. Distance or on camera. It is like an actress (or actor) that thinks the look wrong or right from the mirror not realizing that stage view is different! Which is why you get a costumer!

  12. That dress is the new style — and in my opinion is a bit too casual for the workplace. Cheap fabric. The Governor has curves, as do I. Also, sometimes a dress like that looks a bit better if it is tighter rather than looser — so actually a size up probably would have been worse. I don’t find it distracting that I can see her belly or her chest, but she can do better and could benefit from a personal stylist — as could our President. I also think it’s ridiculous that this is the subject of conversation. BTW — Michelle Obama was criticized for her clothing choices every day. I did think she usually looked great (there were exceptions) — but many people were scandalized by her sleeveless look.

    • Trump would be wise to have a stylist, but Trump isn’t wise, whatever he may be. Reagan helped himself immensely by always looking Presidential. Jimmy Carter, with his sweaters and farm boy outfits, undermined his authority. Obama: always Presidential.

      It’s part of the job.

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