Hillary Sexism Watch: Tim Gunn says she dresses like she’s “confused about her gender”

This shit might be why women don’t run for office nearly enough. Tim Gunn and George Lopez have a few laughs about Hillary Clinton’s fashion choices. Oh the lolz!

Gunn referred bitingly to her “Jersey Shore style,” and Lopez compared her prints to No Bugs M’Lady. It got worse.

After paying lip service to Clinton’s actual accomplishments, Gunn demanded, “Why must she dress that way? I think she’s confused about her gender!” He added, “No, I’m really serious, she wears pantsuits that are unflattering.” Then it went on to “cankles.”

Gunn finished, “I have great respect for her intellect and her tenacity and for what she does for our country in her governmental role. I just wish she could send a stronger message about American fashion.”

1) Anyone who makes fun of someone’s “cankles” is an idiot. For that matter, anyone who says the word “cankles” is an idiot.

2) Gunn seems “confused” about the responsibilities of the Secretary of State. They are many, but I’m pretty sure sending a “message about American fashion” is not one of them.

3) This kind of sexist commentary on Clinton’s appearance is the flipside to the sexist criticism of Bachmann that Jos wrote about just yesterday. It’s 2011, folks, but it seems like women politicians can still never win. Spend too much money and energy making sure you conform to the strict beauty standards of being a “woman” in this culture and you’ll risk not being taken seriously as a “politician.” But spend too little and you’ll end up having your identity as a “woman” questioned. Like, literally. In either case, your appearance will be scrutinized in a way that would be totally unthinkable for a male politician.

This catch-22 is, of course, emblematic of the impossible tight rope walk–between “feminine” and “unfeminine”, too emotional and not emotional enough, “bimbo” and “bitch”–that many powerful women are forced to walk in a society that still often views “woman” and “in power” as mutually exclusive categories.

Atlanta, GA

Maya Dusenbery is an Executive Director in charge of Editorial at Feministing. Maya has previously worked at NARAL Pro-Choice New York and the National Institute for Reproductive Health and was a fellow at Mother Jones magazine. She graduated with a B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. A Minnesota native, she currently lives, writes, edits, and bakes bread in Atlanta, Georgia.

Maya Dusenbery is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Editorial.

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  • http://feministing.com/members/smedwards/ Susan

    I think this post neglects the difference between political commentators and fashion consultants. No one cares what Tim Gunn thinks of Hillary’s work on easing cross border trade relations. His expertise and public persona relate to fashion and fashion alone; therefore, his commentary and subsequent disapproval of her wardrobe choices is par for the course.

    Of course, I agree that it’s inappropriate for political commentators to focus on her wardrobe while giving male equivalents a pass. But a fashion consultant and a comedian are really no big deal.

    • http://feministing.com/members/rcs500/ Rebecca

      I agree that it’s different for the commenter to be someone who makes their living criticizing people’s fashion. It’s more revolting when political commentators need to bring up fashion, something that is so totally irrelevant to their area of expertise.

      That being said, it still doesn’t excuse the kind of comments Gunn and Lopez were making. They would never, ever make the same kinds of statements about a male politician. And there are plenty of dudes in Washington that could use a session with What Not to Wear.

      The problem here is that by repeating these kinds of overdone, pointless criticisms of Hillary Clinton, they imply that her value as a politician and a person is somehow tied to her wardrobe rather than her skills. I think it says something that even Gunn felt the need to disclaim his upcoming statements. Like when someone says, now, I don’t mean to be offensive, but…”

    • http://feministing.com/members/kweirley/ Keeley

      I understand the Tim Gunn is a fasion consultnat, and tha ton its face, critiquing someone’s fashion shoudl be something he can do without too much uproar.

      The thing is that I could be fine with someone criticizing a politician’s wardrobe, but in this case Gunn has thrown in some extra gender policing. Since when does women dressing inflatteringly (perhaps a fair, if not at all relevant to her job, assessment) have anything to do with one’s gender identity? That really pushed it well past the line of “but I’m a fashion consutlant; it’s what I do.”

  • http://feministing.com/members/lioleo/ lioleo

    When’s the last time a male politician made a fashion statement, please?

    I find this deeply ironic considering how often people have pointed out that Hillary Clinton consistently wears clothes that make her stand out as a woman, i.e. by wearing things like pantsuits and scarves in such vibrant colors that they would be considered flamboyant on any male politician. She seems to love making a statement by wearing bright clothes that say ‘hell yes, I’m a woman and I’m not going to try to blend in and hide.’ Take a look at any summit photo in which she’s surrounded with men in dark suits and you’ll see what I mean. I think she’s doing pretty awesome things with that, actually.

    Maybe Tim Gunn would should spend more time talking about what kind of a message our male politicians are sending in their drab boxy dark suits and reliably red or blue ties. I would’ve thought that he would have a lot more to say about them than Hillary.

    • http://feministing.com/members/toongrrl/ toongrrl

      Ummm….Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy
      But they didn’t get all the shit that was thrown at Hillary (as in she needs no stinkin’ last name to be recognized cause ya’ll should know her by now)
      What Lincoln did during the Civil War got more play than his looks (he snarkily replied when someone called him “twofaced” “If I’m two faced why would I go around with the one I got?”) or that famous hat.
      John F. Kennedy was, not only handsome and youthful looking, but charismatic and a WWII hero
      Hopefully history will look at what women politicians have done, actually done, and leave the fashion snarking about politician style to obnoxious students

      • http://feministing.com/members/lioleo/ lioleo

        Interesting — forgot about Lincoln’s hat. Don’t know what JFK did though — any fashion statement he was famous for?

        I totally agree that the fashion snarking should usually be left alone, but I also think we should recognize that fashion at its best can be a political statement, and we should acknowledge and discuss it when it is. The degree to which clothing dictates conformity in societies is still extremely high — and therefore fashion can be incredibly subversive. I guess that’s really what I was going for — I’m really disappointed that Tim Gunn didn’t acknowledge Hillary’s contribution to that. I expected better of him and am disappointed in what he said AND what he neglected to say… because I’m sure he’s noticed.

        Sidenote: remember how Albright used her brooches as political statements? It’s pretty cool.

        • http://feministing.com/members/toongrrl/ toongrrl

          Well, JFK, by virtue (I use it loosely) by being considered Estrogen Brigade Bait and people commented on how handsome he was during his life. He ditched hat that was part of menswear at the time (it was said the men’s hat industry suffered). Plus that the Ward Cleaver look so went out and shirts & ties with color were in.
          Plus didn’t Tim remember the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pantsuits? It was a rainbow!!!!! And there was her black pantsuit with a hot pink blouse (sweet). The pantsuit is awesome!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
          Love Madeline Albright’s brooches too

  • http://feministing.com/members/tonya/ Tonya

    I think what bothers me most about Gunn’s commentary is his use of the idea that someone could be “confused about her gender” as a (supposedly) humorous insult. Doesn’t he know that there are actual people out there who are transgender or gender queer, who have every right to be offended that Gunn is using nontraditional sexual identity as a joke? Not to mention the fact that he is implying that such an identity is completely dependent upon “pantsuits that are unflattering.”

  • http://feministing.com/members/puck/ Puck

    First off, this is nothing new. I remember Gunn being written up for similar comments right here on feministing during the campaign in ’08.

    Next, as far as the “no big deal” thing goes, well, both fashion and comedy deeply reflect and influence popular culture (at least in the world I live in) and this makes it important to have a critical mind to both. This is not only in terms of calling out individuals for being wack, but also in terms of recognizing the ways in which both fields are informed by the larger culture.

    The consistent way that Gunn has painted Hillary Clinton as being unfeminine (particularly for a man whose own identity doesn’t exactly conform to masculine standards) is not only a poor choice on Gunn’s behalf, but also reflects the tight spaces in which gender is constructed in our society. Has he ever discussed, say, Colin Powell’s lack of fashion savvy? I mean, I don’t think I’ve ever seen dude wear a shirt that wasn’t just white (no pinstriping, nothing). Check out this interview, where Gunn is asked about the ’08 candidates and spends a good 1/3 of the interview talking about Clinton. Clearly, he cares more about her looks than any of the male candidates, which reflects a broader issue with regards to the ways in which female politicians are judged more superficially than male politicians – even by fashion folks (or maybe just by Gunn).

    Generally, though, since I’ve already gone off a fair amount, I don’t think anything is above critique, particularly when it comes to culture and media, given that we live in a world shaped by culture and governed by media.

  • http://feministing.com/members/nonsequiteuse/ Nonsequiteuse

    This is even more offensive given Tim Gunn’s obvious sensitivity to how cruel comments like “I think she’s confused about her gender” can be – consider his video for the It Gets Better Project.

    Is it just a coincidence that Tim Gunn was PETA’s 2009 Man of the Year? PETA just lurves policing gender norms around women’s weight.

    I hope I live to see the day when women wearing pants is a non-issue. I never thought I’d be typing that in 20-freaking-11.

  • http://feministing.com/members/gular/ gular

    Couple quick things come to mind —

    First, Tim Gunn is almost exclusively asked about women’s fashion. His role on Project Runway didn’t really do anything for his association with men’s fashions and so all he’s ever usually asked about is women’s fashion senses. The only time I can think of is when he was asked about super hero character designs. Seriously, that was it.

    Secondly, I think what he tried — and failed — to do was talk about how Hilary appears to have a really great body and shape, but the pantsuits make her look like she’s square-shaped. His comparison was entirely off-base and completely transphobic. As much as I adore Tim Gunn, the way he put it was entirely offensive.

  • http://feministing.com/members/danyfantombeast/ Daniel Ballow

    Who’s REALLY confused about gender…?
    What a douche.