I know, I know. The Hill’s new list of the “50 Most Beautiful People on Capitol Hill” is a silly, light-hearted annual summer lark that isn’t worth the time it takes to get annoyed about it.
And yeah, yeah, I also know that if you want to get depressed about something, follow the U.S. Senate.
So I apologize in advance if the following sounds humorless and hectoring.
My only defense is that it’s true.
So many women have worked so hard to make substance their legacy that it is depressing and annoying to see them rated.
Lists like this dredge up the worst instincts from our mythical good old days, the ones when the only contribution we valued from a woman was to cling adoringly to the arm of a man.
Now sure, the “Beautiful People” list does include both men and women. But while men have had much less of a problem with being judged by their looks, it diminishes everyone when appearance rather than substance becomes a criterion for any kind of achievement rating.
There’s nothing wrong with looking good and there’s nothing twisted about noticing it. That’s one of the factors involved in perpetuating the human race.
But the subjects of The Hill’s list aren’t fashion models, whose job is looking good enough to enhance the appeal of whatever they’re wearing or not wearing.
The Hill‘s subject pool is people in government, in policy-making, in journalism.
They don’t walk into a room so the guy at the head of the table can admire their legs or the women along the sides can suddenly become Scarlett O’Hara going after Rhett Butler. They walk into the room with data that can make family leave accessible. They walk into the room with a proposal for a trade agreement with China. They walk into the room with a story about how the government misspent a billion of our dollars.
An article like The Hill’s, however good-natured, sends the message that it’s okay to check out the legs or fantasize about the abs. Once you start doing that, you’re paying less attention to the message.
For women, in particular, that’s a lose/lose situation. Her proposal doesn’t get fairly evaluated and the rest of us don’t get any benefits it could have produced.
Women have had to struggle – well, through all of human history, really, but certainly in America – for basic rights and respect.
It was a battle to vote, it was a battle for protection from abuse, it’s been a battle to get jobs, it’s a battle to get paid fairly for those jobs.
And all that feeds into the most frustrating battle of all: to be taken seriously.
The Hill’s list, no matter how many disclaimers it tucks into the profiles of its subjects, makes that struggle a little harder.
“Hey, she’s a babe” has its place in the sphere of human compliments. When it becomes a job performance assessment for someone in a serious position, it’s the opposite of a compliment. It’s insulting and corrosive.
Anyhow, I suppose that does sound pretty humorless. Maybe it’s even a bit unfair to women who work hard at eating right, taking care of themselves and selecting a tasteful wardrobe.
Those aren’t bad things to do.
But so many women have worked so hard to make substance their legacy that it is depressing and annoying to see them rated, even on a coed menu, as eye candy.