Pink Sneakers Are Running for Governor?

Wendy Davis, the Texas State Senator who burst into the national spotlight with an 11-hour filibuster of a controversial abortion law, is expected to announce her candidacy for governor this week. There’s a lot the media could discuss — her policies, the chances of a Democrat winning in a red state, her rise from being a single mother to a Harvard-educated lawyer — but instead, many have decided to remind us of something completely irrelevant -- the pink sneakers she wore the night of her filibuster.

We were critical of this appearance coverage of her filibuster back in June. Mentioning the shoes now, seems even more unnecessary. The AP once again noted her “pink running shoes” in the very first line of their story about Davis’ probable run for governor. It was the same when AP’s wrote their first story on Davis’ filibuster as it was happening. In fact, because the AP gave the detail such prominence back in June – writing it into their tweet even -- is likely why the media are still focused on shoes today.

But now it’s not just the AP who routinely brings up the “pink shoes” as an adjective to Davis’ title. NPR referred to her as “the pink-sneakered Davis” in its post about her campaign plans, although at least they used that modifier to refer back to June’s events. This was not the case when Slate mentioned  “her now iconic pink sneakers” without connecting them at all to the filibuster, making the necessity of that detail even more unclear. The Huffington Post San Francisco mentioned them in an article about social media, The Los Angeles Times brought them up in an article about the lawsuit against the law she tried to stop, and The Daily Mail couldn’t write a headline without mentioning them.

But Davis’ potential announcement of her entry into the Texas gubernatorial race was not the only reason her name was bandied about by the media. Last week Sen. Ted Cruz was also talking-and-talking for a remarkable number of hours – and so some media commentators wanted to know if two different legislators were treated the same in their coverage. Some were looking for a “liberal bia” in media coverage, even if it could be pointed out that despite the actions being similar (filibustering) they were playing out on different scales (Federal vs. state) and done for different political outcomes.

Name It. Change It. also wanted to see if the coverage was similar – but mostly whether Cruz’s shoes were given as much attention as Davis’. It turns out some media outlets did mention that Ted Cruz wore “black Nikes.” The detail was never given as much prominence as Davis’ shoes, however. Most outlets did not report the color and type of shoes Cruz wore in the first lines or headlines of their stories. Nor did Cruz get dubbed “the black Nike’d Senator.” (Will future stories about his presidential aspirations be started with the sentence “Senator Ted Cruz, who wore black tennis shoes for his 19 hour filibuster…”)

Conservative media also sometimes used Cruz’s actions to bring up Davis’ shoes in a negative way.

Conservative pundit Erick Erickson tweeted:

Meanwhile The Washington Times diminutively called them “cute pink tennis shoes.”

Our research shows that any sort of appearance coverage — even if it’s positive — hurts a female candidate’s favorability with the electorate. When the media talks about Davis’ pink sneakers, they’re needlessly drawing attention to something that’s insignificant to her candidacy. The constant mentioning of the color of the shoes – pink – is just another way the media have been “coloring” Davis’ future candidacy. Meanwhile Cruz’s shoes have only been mentioned because he is being compared to Davis. Had her sneakers not been made a topic of discussion, what he wore would never have been considered noteworthy to mention now. But even though Cruz’ shoes were sometimes mentioned by the media, Cruz’ identity and his brand, aren’t being pegged to the color and type of shoes he wore. Wendy Davis, on the other hand, isn’t as lucky.

Other outlets have covered Davis’ imminent campaign announcement without commenting on the sneakers at all and thus avoided identifying her by an inconsequential article of clothing. The media can’t seem to agree on how we should interpret the sneakers: Are we supposed to find them iconic, cute, or infamous? No matter the opinion, it’s simply irrelevant to the political conversation.

Published by Victoria Edel on 10/02/2013

« Back to More Blog Posts