What on earth does a woman’s appearance have to do with her opinions on politics, or anything else?

Earlier today, I came across this video.  In it, a young woman details her reasons for voting for Romney.  (The first reason: “he’s hot, and we haven’t had a hot president since, like, Kennedy, and we all know how that ended.”)  Now, the video isn’t exactly an articulate and thoughtful contribution to political discussion.  Despite suggestions to the contrary, I continue to hope that it was an attempt at satire rather than a serious list of reasons this woman is voting for Romney.  Nevertheless, I was less disturbed by the video itself than I was by the video itself than I was by some of the comments it generated.

“You’re ugly.”

“You’re fat.”

“How can you be Catholic when you dress like a slut?”

“Did the silicone in your breast implants leech into your brain?”

“Dumb blonde.”

And just like that, before you even have time to criticize the ideas she put forth (and there was definitely fodder for criticism) her opinion is dismissed because of her face, her weight, her outfit, her cup size, and the colour of her hair.  What bearing do these things have on her political ideology?  And furthermore, what gives complete strangers, with Youtube accounts as their only qualification, the right to comment on these things?  What business of theirs is it what colour a woman dyes her hair, or what size her breasts are, and what she weighs?  I think what saddens and angers me most is that she could have posted a rational, well thought-out explanation for her political choices, and she would still receive some of the same hateful comments.  People weren’t just attacking her ideas.  They were attacking her.

I’m disturbed by the prevailing rationale–sometimes stated, more often simply assumed–that as soon as an individual, especially a woman, places themselves in the public eye, any comment on their appearance is fair game.  And you can’t win.  You can be ignored or maligned for being too pretty, and for being too ugly.  There will always be someone who claims the right to criticize your appearance.  You don’t even have to deliberately place yourself in the public eye.  You could be going about your life (shopping at Walmart, perhaps) and someone with a camera phone could snap a picture, post it to the Internet, and start jeering or leering away.  WHY ON EARTH DOES OUR SOCIETY THINK THIS IS OKAY?  Seriously, why?

Commenting on women’s appearance rather than their statements, actions, and ideas always has the effect of marginalizing their voices in various debates.  It completely bypasses the contributions they’re attempting to make, and tries to ridicule them or disqualify them from speaking based on completely irrelevant criteria.  Furthermore, in virtually every situation, those who criticize a woman’s appearance are overstepping their bounds.  When a woman places herself in the public eye as a politician, she gives the public the right to comment on the policies she advocates, not the size of her breasts or the colour of her hair.  When a woman places herself in the public eye as a news anchor, she must be open to criticism about how she reports the news, but she is not required to endure criticism about the shape of her body.  When a woman places herself in the public eye as an actress or singer, the public has the right to comment on her skill as an entertainer, but not the right to watch her constantly for signs of weight gain, plastic surgery, or wrinkles.  Our appearance is part of who we are, but it is far from the most important part, and it has absolutely nothing to do with what we can contribute to the betterment of our world.

So my challenge is this.  Even when we disagree with women, let’s do them the favour of treating them like human beings rather than mannequins, and let’s judge them based on the value of their contributions rather than the amount of makeup on their face.

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