Bachmann Sexism Watch: Hair and Makeup Edition

Michele Bachmann
Pic via

Remember Palin Sexism Watch and Hillary Sexism Watch during the last presidential election? I guess it’s time for the Bachmann version.

Mother Jones of all places wrote yesterday about Michele Bachmann’s hair and makeup bill:

According to Bachmann’s latest campaign finance filings, her campaign spent nearly $4,700 on hair and makeup in the weeks after she entered the presidential race on June 13. Records show her campaign made three payments of $1,715, $250, and $2,704 to a Maryland-based stylist named Tamara Robertson. Robertson’s LinkedIn profile says she works as a makeup artist at Fox News in the DC area. She’s also listed in the “Make-up” section of the credits for the Citizens United-produced film A City Upon a Hill, hosted by Newt and Callista Gingrich—a pair who’ve raised eyebrows with their own spending.

The “story” has spread quickly to tons of other media outlets. Folks have tried to make this relevant by bringing up Bachmann’s fiscal conservatism. It’s not.

Yeah, that’s a lot of money. Politics in our country is very much a game of appearances, and candidates shell out a lot on their looks, especially when they’re thrust into the spotlight of a presidential campaign. Suddenly a public servant’s got to come off well next to pictures of movie stars. And of course the pressure’s greater on women, who face more expectations about their looks anyway, and who also have to spend more money to fit cultural beauty standards.

Calling out Bachmann, still one of very few women ever with a shot at being a viable presidential candidate, in an increasingly visual culture, for her stylist bill is just tired sexism. And it really sucks when I’m joining Fox News in pointing this out.

I cannot stand Bachmann. I don’t just disagree with her views, I think some of them are downright evil. But could we maybe focus on how her politics are the worst instead of focusing on her hair?

h/t @berendsenea for the link.

Boston, MA

Jos Truitt is Executive Director of Development at Feministing. She joined the team in July 2009, became an Editor in August 2011, and Executive Director in September 2013. She writes about a range of topics including transgender issues, abortion access, and media representation. Jos first got involved with organizing when she led a walk out against the Iraq war at her high school, the Boston Arts Academy. She was introduced to the reproductive justice movement while at Hampshire College, where she organized the Civil Liberties and Public Policy Program’s annual reproductive justice conference. She has worked on the National Abortion Federation’s hotline, was a Field Organizer at Choice USA, and has volunteered as a Pro-Choice Clinic Escort. Jos has written for publications including The Guardian, Bilerico, RH Reality Check, Metro Weekly, and the Columbia Journalism Review. She has spoken and trained at numerous national conferences and college campuses about trans issues, reproductive justice, blogging, feminism, and grassroots organizing. Jos completed her MFA in Printmaking at the San Francisco Art Institute in Spring 2013. In her "spare time" she likes to bake and work on projects about mermaids.

Jos Truitt is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Development.

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  • Fiona Savage

    Okay so here’s a woman who wants to be taken seriously and what does she do?? Spends ridiculous amounts of money on things that don’t ultimately matter. Hair and make-up. Do the male candidates spend this kind of money? How wasteful.
    It delivers a very bad message to young women in particular.

    • Sam Lindsay-Levine

      I would be pretty surprised if male candidates do not spend this kind of money. Given that this is a campaign with, essentially, trillions of dollars at stake for the victor, and one in which hundreds of thousands of dollars are regularly spent on advertising just for one local market, _not_ spending a few thousand on the candidate’s visual image could even be considered irresponsible. I think politicans have well learned the lesson of the first Nixon-Kennedy debate.

      • honeybee

        I totally agree.

    • Cat

      Fiona, as I young woman, I’m a bit concerned about your comment. I think that the fact that she puts an effort into how she looks DOES mean that she wants to be taken seriously. I believe that you might be simply reversing sexist standards, which is just as harmful– instead of judging her for not wearing makeup as many who fall into the basic traps of socialized sexism might do, you are judging her FOR wearing makeup. Regardless of how you personally live your beliefs about beauty and value, it is her choice. And in order to win the appeal of others, she might choose to adopt certain conventional beauty standards. In many ways, one of the few things that (arguably) came out of third wave feminism was the a very valid critique of women who put down other women simply because they conformed to conventional beauty standards. I think male candidates also spend a lot of time and money crafting an appearance (was it John Kerry who had the fake-tan disaster?)–I totally agree with Sam on this one. I would definitely argue against the statement that these things “don’t ultimately matter” because, unfortunately, they do.
      But mostly I am hurt by your comment that Bachmann’s appearance “delivers a very bad message to young women in particular”. Lots of things deliver bad messages to young women. But I don’t think one of those things is a female candidate for political office who happens to spend money on hair and makeup (however terrible her politics). Because it might very well be that it is either a female candidate who conforms to beauty norms, or a male candidate, and I’d rather see the woman–one of the most important things for young women to see is a variety of women (good, bad, “pretty”, anti-feminist, feminist, whatever) in a variety of roles, because how else are we going to be able to critique our world, and see what we may or may not want to be as we “grow up”?

    • Steven Olson

      I think its pretty ridiculous to criticize Michelle Bachmann about her hair and make up costs. Not only are the amounts tiny compared with the costs of running a campaign, but I can guarantee that on her campaign staff is a personal relations person, who is making the decision for her to have her hair and make up done.

      Besides, there are hundreds of really good reasons to criticize Michelle Bachmann. We should stick to those!

  • Hope Anne Nathan

    Well, I do recall the media being all up in arms about John Edwards and his $400 haircut, so I don’t think this is necessarily an area when women and only women are being or have been singled out. I personally have no clue what it costs to look camera-ready on the campaign trail, so I don’t really have a sense of whether $4,700 is extraordinary or average. But I do agree that US journalists don’t seem to be investigating other candidates’ personal grooming expenses.

    • Matthew T. Jameson

      I agree. IN light of the same criticisms levelled at notably-groomed male candidates, it’s hard to call this outrage-worthy sexism. It’s still bogus journalism coming from MotherJones, though.

  • Critter

    I agree that calling out Bachmann for her spending on hair/makeup is problematic when the thrust of that argument is “but men don’t spend that much!”

    That said, the thought of someone (anyone!) spending thousands of dollars on something as wasteful as makeup when millions of people are facing food insecurity, joblessness, lack of access to health care, lack of abortion access, etc. really disgusts me. Fuck inequality.

    • honeybee

      You have to put it all in perspective though… she might have spent $4700 on this, but how many MILLIONS did she spend on everything else?

      Monetary values can only be compared in relative terms. 4700 compared to nothing may seem alot, but 4700 compared to millions is chump change.