White House Lawyer Wears Shoes and the Washington Post is On It!

With both the Benghazi investigations and the IRS scandal, White House counsel Kathryn Ruemmler has a lot on her plate. The Washington Post first published an article on May 23 reporting on Ruemmler expertise claiming “she can go with you toe to toe on the footnotes and Supreme Court opinions or she can get into the intricacies of protecting the president against a Capitol Hill investigation.” However, five days later, another article was published that would undercut Ruemmler’s credibility and expertise as a lawyer by stating that Ruemmler is most known around the White House for her “fabulous” shoes. Seriously, the title of the article by Juliet Eilperin is “A White House counsel known for her shoes.” In other words, she is not known for her expertise, professionalism or work ethic, but rather for what she wears on her feet. The article goes far as to describe the shoes as “a jeweled paisley pattern, another is black and strappy.” Question: how do her shoes have anything to do with her effectiveness of being one of the top lawyers in the country and counsel to the president? More specifically, how does being portrayed as a shoe fashionista lend to her credibility as White House counsel?

Fortunately, this article did not go unnoticed and has had people talking. Irin Carmon from Salon has already expertly addressed the sexism inherently involved on focusing on Ruemmler’s shoes rather than her expertise.  As Carmon sarcastically points out:

If Ruemmler didn’t want the Washington Post to talk about her shoes while she’s in the midst of White House “scandals,” why did she wear them? A truly serious person would tiptoe through the West Wing barefoot.

Almost immediately after it was published the article also spurred activity on Twitter with responses condemning The Washington Post for publishing the sexist article.

And others like John Aravosis at Americablog are quick point out that our fascination with women’s fashion is also fundamentally sexist. He argues that when you care more about what a woman is wearing rather than what she has accomplished, “you diminish her, her accomplishments, and all women.” (Sing it, John!)

Ruemmler is not new to this kind of gender specific media scrutiny. In 2006 when she was the Justice Department prosecutor in the Enron case, the Wall Street Journal decided to focus on her “stunning 4-inch bright pink stiletto spikes.” Sadly enough, seven years later and Ruemmler is subject to the same gendered scrutiny.

For those who are still saying, “so what’s the big deal?” our research has been shown that descriptions of a woman’s appearance (whether negative, positive, or neutral) have negative effects on the woman’s candidacy for a position. In other words, when reduced to what they wear, women lose credibility. Thus, although the damage has already been done, we hope the amount of criticism this article has created pressures the Washington Post to be more mindful of what they publish in the future and understand how their gendered coverage has real world effects on women.

Come on Washington Post, the shoe detail was bad enough in 2006, but it’s now 2013. It’s not like we’re the only ones who know it’s time for you to re-evaluate the newsworthiness of Ruemmler shoes.


Published by Michelle Van Veen on 05/28/2013

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