It was inevitable that, while listening to the radio during my semi-annual shower, I would hear an NPR analysis on the outfits worn by the presidential candidates’ wives. Ever on the cutting edge of popular culture, NPR hauled Jackie Kennedy’s ancient stylist out of cryogenic storage to canvass her edgy up-to-the-minute views on politics and women.
Jackie Kennedy, you’ll recall, was the last genuine hottie to inhabit the First Lady title. Among her other dainty attributes, Jackie possessed, according to the stylist, “good” arms.
Is it sexist to analyze firstladyal fashion? Not at all, says Jackie Kennedy’s stylist. Their husbands are men of action in blue-suit-red-tie uniforms, but first ladies are symbols.
Of what? Of male dominance. Of the nuclear family, of the dutiful wife, of the absolute necessity of womanly beauty practices, of the unquestionable heterosexuality of the president. First ladies must exude, in perfect balance, femininity, self-sacrifice, motherhood, a gentle, quiet respectability, and the notion that they are fairly intelligent, but not more intelligent than the president. They do this, not just by looking the other way when their husbands can’t keep it in their pants, but by selecting their fashion designers and plucking their eyebrows with utmost care. For presidential spouses, dressing symbolically is both a science and an art. It’s “walking the fashion tightrope,” says NPR.
What the NPR non-story neglected to mention is that, while first ladies get more news coverage, the fashion tightrope is not their exclusive purview. All women are symbols who are expected to prop up patriarchal myths by exuding perfect balances of impossible, degrading, bogus constructs.
Meanwhile, men are free to roam the countryside, without shaving their legs or contemplating the social implications of the plunge of their necklines, doing stuff.