There’s an annoying subtext of sexism when journalists start writing about female policy makers’ clothes.
The Wall Street Journal recently published a minor color piece (in more ways than one) about Janet Yellen, the new Chair of the Federal Reserve, testifying before Congress about monetary policy. But instead of writing about the very important things that Yellen did in fact say, one Elizabeth Williamson decided to talk about Yellen’s shoes instead:
She took her seat at 10:01 a.m., clad in a monochrome suit and sensible shoes, carrying a black vinyl binder with rainbow-colored tabs. Once chided by an uncharitable commentator for wearing the same black dress twice in a row, Ms. Yellen hadn’t bought a new suit for the occasion, her spokeswoman, Michelle Smith, confided to a reporter. “I’ll try to come up with some color for you,” she whispered.
That’s from the second paragraph no less.
To be fair, this piece is from a blog not the print edition of the Journal and Williamson is trying, in a round about way, to make the point that Yellen is not going to be flashy but instead will be a sober leader at the Fed, or something like that. The whole point does kind of get lost what with all the parts about rainbow tabs, sensible shoes, and the horror or wearing the same dress to two different meetings. (I have to wonder though, did Ben Bernanke ever wear the same suit coat to different hearings? This vital question awaits further study.)
Allow me to be blunt: deciding to focus on one of our nation’s more important policy maker’s choice of shoes during testimony before Congress like she’s a celebrity wearing a swan dress at the Oscars is pretty bad journalism. Sexist even. After all the organization she is in charge of helps to manage the nation’s economy and it’s not an overstatement to say the decisions she makes will have an impact to some degree on every American’s life. To make matters worse this is hardly the first time Yellen has been subject to this kind of unfair treatment. Before she was nominated a number of her critics mounted a pretty ugly whisper campaign against her.
I get that writing about complex issues like monetary policy for a general audience can be difficult. And I understand that reporters like to add descriptive details to set the scene when the pound these little items out. But writing about Janet Yellen’s shoes instead of the very real policy prescriptions she did lay out during her testimony is still pretty bad. I hope Williamson can do better next time.
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Photo by Charles Dharapak/AP