Is the Pantsuit Driving Women…Red?

In response to recent polls showing that female voters may favor Republicans in today’s election, the New York Times features a discussion about why women’s allegiance might be shifting. Most of the discussion is so hair-splittingly safe that the “why” is wholly unaddressed, but one brave commenter actually ventures a guess: There are simply more Republican women on the ballot.

This is a perfectly reasonable explanation (though it suggests that women care more about anatomy than ability). This year, the Republicans have nominated a record number of female candidates and Sarah Palin’s motley crew has gained enormous national attention.

But I’m not sure that sheer numbers could really change our stripes.

I think this actually goes much deeper, to a cultural shift that the Republicans have picked up on while the Democrats refuse to get on board.

So what is this shift all about?

Recently, I’ve seen something in conservative female candidates that I’ve never seen in politics before: femininity.

Two weeks ago, the New York Times featured an article on conservative fashion, including a slide show that highlights the stark difference between the political parties’ styles. Republican women are stepping out in hip-hugging skirts, ruffly blouses, and stylish jackets, while Democratic women are still rocking the boxy pantsuit.

You might think that style choices shouldn’t matter. But whatever your politics, they matter. And this time, I think they should.

I’m reminded of Anna Wintour’s famously scathing letter when Hillary Clinton refused to appear in Vogue during the 2008 election for fear of appearing “too feminine.” Ms. Wintour, never one to mess with, wrote:

“The notion that a contemporary woman must look mannish in order to be taken seriously as a seeker of power is frankly dismaying…I do think Americans have moved on from the power-suit mentality, which served as a bridge for a generation of women to reach boardrooms filled with men. Political campaigns that do not recognize this are making a serious misjudgment.”

That misjudgment goes beyond our style choices and touches on a larger issue that those noxious pantsuits have come to represent.

Femininity, as a whole, has long suffered our collective disrespect. Feminine women are dismissed. Feminine men are scorned. Despite all our strides toward equality, femininity is still distinctly lesser. As a culture, we seem to be under the disturbingly mistaken impression that femininity cannot coexist with intelligence, strength, and power.

It’s time for that to change.

Thankfully, I think it is changing. Slowly, I see my generation starting to respect traditionally feminine traits, and to embody (or hope for) a world where girlie girls can debate economics and heroic hunks can cry when they read Jane Eyre.

So come on, Dems. Shred those pastel pantsuits. This train is leaving, with or without you. It’s time to get on board.


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