On May 27, 2013, the Washington Post’s The Fix ran an article titled A White House Counsel Known for Her Shoes about Kathryn Ruemmler. The article states, “It may say more about Washington than White House counsel Kathryn Ruemmler that she’s known in the West Wing for her fabulous shoes.” It goes on to describe her stylish designer shoes worn in White House meetings. As a woman and a lawyer, I take offense to the article. It did not appear in the style section, although, I would still be offended by it. And oddly enough, it was written by reporter Juliet Eilperin, a woman known for covering politics for many years.
The article was a slap in the face to women and particularly to Ruemmler, who has reached the pinnacle of her legal career as White House counsel, to be known for her shoes instead of her legal prowess. The Washington Post should write an apology to Ruemmler and here’s the reason why.
The age old question of what do women want is one that has many answers. I for one want women in high profile positions to be discussed in the media for their abilities and intellect and not being known for their shoes, hair style or clothing, as is often the case. What do women want and what was wrong with the article go hand in hand. If the article was written about the Kardashians who are only known for their looks, style and dress, the article might be appropriate. Someone who has reached the top of her legal profession as White House Counsel should not be discussed like she’s one of the Kardashians.
It’s not surprising albeit disappointing that the Washington depicts Ruemmler through her shoes. First Lady Michelle Obama recently gave an excellent commencement address to Bowie State University. Her bangs got more media attention when she changed her hair style earlier this year than her words spoken to Bowie’s graduation class. We all know too well the discussion about the media’s obsession with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s dress style and hair styles through the years. As Secretary of State Clinton was appearing before Congress to testify about Benghazi, the media couldn’t help but address her appearance in thick eyeglasses.
The media rarely discusses the shoes, hair cut or dress of a male political figure. The one exception may have been John Edwards during his presidential run with the buzz about his $400 haircut. But even then, the focus was not on his hair cut style but on the amount paid for it and possibly with campaign funds. Yet, the media cannot get over its fixation with women in high profile positions and their style, shoes or hair as the case may be.
The Women’s Media Center has a campaign called Name it Change it to bring attention to issues of sexism in the media. There were many tweets on Twitter, blogs and other social media outlets that brought attention to the Washington Post faux pas. Now we just need the Washington Post to apologize for the article. That would be a major step in the right direction.
Debbie Hines is a Washington, DC based practicing trial attorney, former Maryland prosecutor and member of the Supreme Court bar who is an expert in criminal law, gun laws, death penalty cases and voting laws. She often addresses legal issues at the intersection of gender and race.