In an unusual bipartisan move, three female senators wrote a brief letter to the editor in The New York Times published Friday, calling the paper’s criticism of their Democrat colleague Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s fashion choices ”sexist” and ”inappropriate.”
”Sen. Sinema is a serious, hardworking member of the Senate who contributes a great deal to the policy deliberations before us,” the letter penned by Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said. ”Your repeated focus on how she dresses, rather than what she says and does, is demeaning, sexist and inappropriate.”
According to the published letter, the Times has run four separate opinion pieces critical of the Arizona lawmaker’s choice of attire on the Senate floor.
One piece published in October calls her choice of clothing ”idiosyncratic.”
”The senior senator from Arizona — the first woman to represent Arizona in the Senate, the first Democrat elected to that body from that state since 1995, and the first openly bisexual senator — has never hidden her identity as a maverick,” the first piece by Vanessa Friedman said. ”In fact, she’s advertised it. Pretty much every day.”
Sinema and her centrist Democrat colleague in the upper chamber, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, have exerted heavy influence on the two Democratic bills dealing with infrastructure and social/climate issues.
In the evenly divided Senate, both votes are critical if the Democrats want their legislation passed and they have not been shy about letting the party leadership and President Joe Biden know what they are willing and not willing to support.
In a Times opinion piece dated Oct. 29, written by Tressie McMillan Cottom, Sinema’s clothing choices are compared to her political stances.
”Given the high legislative stakes, it is easy to treat Sinema’s aesthetics as unimportant. But that aesthetics are part of the way she courts, manipulates, and plays with public attention as a political figure,” McMillan Cottom wrote. ”Sinema is known for making a visual splash as a method of political storytelling.
”That story seems to be something like, ‘I am a maverick. You can’t control me. You are not the boss of me. I’m an independent thinker,’ even when thinking independently may run afoul of reason or ideological positions.”
In yet another piece published Nov. 5, McMillan Cottom said that Sinema’s style was a ”presentation” of her ”political power.”
”Last week, I argued that it was useful to think about the clothes Kyrsten Sinema wears, because her presentation is part of her political power,” she wrote. ”I also invited readers to think along with me. Many of you wrote me to say that the very idea of talking about what a woman is wearing gives you, for lack of a better term, the heebie-jeebies.
”Some of you worry that this line of inquiry devalues Sinema’s credentials and office; others worry that talking about presentation is tacitly sexist because it opens the door to critiquing women for something that their male counterparts can take for granted.”
Sinema responded sharply to the criticisms in a Politico interview Nov. 17, saying that her male colleagues do not experience such critiques.
”It’s very inappropriate. I wear what I want because I like it. It’s not a news story, and it’s no one’s business,” Sinema told Politico. ”It’s not helpful to have [coverage] be positive or negative. It also implies that somehow women are dressing for someone else.”
Her three female colleagues agreed.
”We cannot imagine The Times printing similar pieces on the fashion choices of any of our male colleagues,” their letter said. “As Sen. Sinema recently said about the commentary on her fashion: ‘I wear what I want because I like it. It’s not a news story, and it’s no one’s business.’ We couldn’t agree more.”
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