In the last week, Leslie Gibson, a Republican candidate who was running for the Maine House of Representatives, fired off offensive tweets about two vocal student survivors from the Parkland shooting. Gibson called student Emma González a “skinhead lesbian,” and her classmate David Hogg a “moron” and a “baldfaced liar.” The overwhelming backlash following Gibson’s comments ultimately caused him to drop out of the race.
The Parkland survivors, a group of vocal students who have turned personal trauma into a push for gun control, are iconic figures who will likely be remembered in future history books as those who turned the tide on gun violence. Among them, Emma Gonzalez remains one of the most prominent. The difference in Gibson’s critiques of Gonzalez and Hogg highlights the unfair treatment of women in the media and the almost obsessive focus on their physical appearance.
[Emma Gonzalez speaks at the Rally to Support Firearm Safety Legislation in Fort Lauderdale, February 17, 2018.(Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)]
For women in the public eye, their physical appearance seems to receive more attention than anything else. When photos emerged of First Lady Melania Trump visiting victims of Hurricane Harvey, she was met with a social media firestorm for her choice to wear heels, with one Vanity Fair article scathingly titled, ‘Who Wears Stilettos to a Hurricane? Melania Trump.’ The Trumps may be faulted for many political and personal decisions, but the media seems to spend a lot more time criticizing Melania’s wardrobe choices than they do Donald Trump’s oddly oversized suits.
[Melania Trump in Houston after Hurricane Harvey(Courtesy of Alex Wong/Getty Images)]
In comparison to the obsession with Melania’s expensive wardrobe, Hillary Clinton has been relentlessly chastised in recent years for her “frumpy” fashion. Conversely, ten years ago Clinton was accused of dressing too provocatively. Coverage by The Washington Post opened with this bizarre declaration: “There was cleavage on display Wednesday afternoon on C-SPAN2. It belonged to Sen. Hillary Clinton.”
[The Washington Post calls attention to Hillary Clinton’s cleavage (Courtesy of The Washington Post)]
This is only the tip of the iceberg. From the racialized comments about Michelle Obama’s body to the obsession with Sarah Palin’s wardrobe budget, women in power can’t escape their bodies, the perceptions of their curves or lack thereof, or fashion choices. Hardly does the media give them the chance to be judged on their merit.
Gibson’s tweets were heinous for a variety of reasons but most striking is how his comments differed depending on the gender of those he was criticizing. He chose to disparage Gonzalez through comments that targeted her physical appearance and sexuality (Gonzales identifies as bisexual), while his comments against Hogg focused instead on internal qualities, undermining his honesty and intelligence. In doing so, Gibson fell into a historical tradition of discrediting women based on their appearance. Hopefully, the backlash Gibson received is a sign that the tide is turning on the way women are seen. Already, it has inspired one new woman to get into politics.