Pink Politics and Psychoanalysis

Basting Underlining At last night’s debate between the New York City mayoral candidates, Christine Quinn stood out as the only female contender. However, two separate pieces from the New York Daily News noticed that she stood out for another reason: she was wearing pink.

The first mention of the color of Quinn’s dress came during their live blogging of the debate. An ‘observation’ by Christina Greer, a political science professor at Fordham University, noted that Quinn’s “choice to wear pink seems forced.” The second mention, from an article written by Annie Karni, offers more insight into the perceived intentions behind Quinn’s outfit choice.

Quinn made no mention of her fight to become the city’s first woman mayor – but wearing a hot pink dress and a pastel pink blazer, she played up a visual difference between herself and the crowd of men sharing the stage.

It is important to note that Quinn’s outfit did stand out from those of her peers, and that politicians certainly make strategic decisions when it comes to their appearance (Lindsey Meeks has an interesting blog post about strategic appearance and colors in politics). It would be foolish to think that, with all the careful planning that goes into their image and branding for their campaign, politicians would just throw on outfits without a thought to how it will be perceived by the public.

That being said, when we comment on and analyze the color of Christine Quinn’s dress, we need to keep context in mind. Maybe Quinn was wearing pink to appeal to women voters (we could have a whole other conversation about why its problematic to assume that pink would automatically appeal to women) or stand out from her male peers. Maybe she just really likes the color pink and thinks it looks good on her. The fact is we have no idea why she wore a pink dress. We don’t know what her motivation was and we probably never will.

The problem with this type of analytic coverage is that, since we already know that appearance coverage disproportionately affects women, it implies that a woman politician’s fashion choices are somehow more symbolic than her male counterparts’.  If all we hear about is the psychoanalysis of the outfits of women candidates, the implication is that Christine Quinn’s pink dress is meaningful and “forced,” but Bill de Blasio’s red tie (which also stood out among the candidates) is not. Regardless of what she is wearing, Quinn will always stand out because she is the only women candidate in a group of men. And although the New York Daily News pieces may not be explicitly sexist, the problematic focus on psychoanalyzing the appearance of only women candidates further separates her from her peers, which is not necessarily good for her campaign or the campaigns of other women.

*CC image courtesy of kellyhogaboom on Flickr

Published by Allison Adams on 08/14/2013

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