Last night Texas Senator Wendy Davis completed one of the more admirable efforts in recent lawmaking history, carrying out a 13-hour filibuster meant to prevent passage of an onerously restrictive abortion bill. The over one hundred thousand people who tuned in to a live stream on YouTube, and the many thousands of observers on Twitter were inspired by her courage, and stamina, and her ability to stand up for a cause she believes in in a hostile environment. But never mind any of that, what does she look like, and what was she wearing?
The AP was on top of this important development, with their story reading like something out of a celebrity tabloid profile. “A petite woman who stays in shape by jogging and cycling, Davis tried to stay comfortable and sharp by shifting her weight from hip to hip and slowly walking around her desk while reading notes from a large binder on her desk.”
If you know what they mean.
“Texas senator dons pink tennis shoes for 13-hour filibuster to block bill that could eliminate 90% of the state’s abortion clinics” trumpeted the headline on the New York Post.
Even sympathetic reports of the procedure, not to mention the New York Times, made a point to call out the pink sneakers worn by the extremely accomplished businesswoman and lawmaker who put herself through Harvard Law School after being a teenage mother, like it was a red carpet film premiere. Shopping sites are already on top of it. Shop the law-making look! Among her list of professional accolades, MSN made note of her fitness, as did the Christian Science Monitor, which wrote “An avid runner and cyclist, Davis was in good shape for the physical challenge of standing and talking for nearly 13 hours.” The Times altered its original story on the filibuster, in which Davis wasn’t even mentioned until the 17th paragraph, moving her up to the second, and striking the irrelevant word “petite.” Most of the other news outlets have not.
This probably wouldn’t seem so shocking when placed in comparison to all of the references to Rand Paul’s fashion choices and the descriptions of his taut, fit body and exercise routine during his recent headline grabbing filibuster, except there weren’t any.
Davis, who’s been dismissed as a “show horse” by Texas governor Rick Perry, is regularly lauded for her fashion sense. “Texas sweetheart Sen. Wendy Davis wins the award for the most fashion forward legislator in the Texas Capitol by maintaining her Texas sized heels and hair,’ the Daily Texan wrote a couple years back in one of the many dozens of such references in news stories about the inspirational woman. Granted, Davis is often references as the only Texas politician with better hair than Rick Perry, but that too is meant to feminize, and thereby discredit both of them. The swift memeification of Davis, with images likening her to characters from Game of Thrones and Kill Bill turn on gender and hair: look, an angry blonde lady, just like the ones we only normally see in fiction.
The irony of our media’s reactions to a very serious professional woman making a stand for an issue that will affect the lives of millions of women in her state seems to be lost on too many of those reporting on it, as if there were any remote correlation between how the law-maker looks and the cause at hand. Each of these mentions serves to remind us that, while there is legislative history in the making, it’s still being done by an object of the male gaze, which makes a perfect sort of sense when you consider the issue we’re talking about in the first place is a group of men trying to dictate what a women can and cannot do with her body.