I don’t care what Melania wears, I care what Melania does.
I don’t care if Melania walks in stilettos, I care if she uses her platform to defend sexual assault as “boy talk.”
I don’t care when her portrait is airbrushed, I care when she says she will fight cyberbullying but instead continues to stand by the biggest cyberbully in her own backyard.
I don’t care when her hat says FLOTUS, I care that she is FLOTUS ― that she uses one of the more powerful positions in the world to do anything productive, save promote her personal brand and line her personal pocketbook.
I do understand the instinct to critique her, whenever and however possible. Her husband is a morally repugnant and dangerous leader, and she stands by him, silently waving, smiling, and normalizing his despicable behavior. My spirit was crushed when I realized that my four young children would grow up with him as our president instead of one of the smartest, most accomplished, and experienced women in politics. And Melania as First Lady is setting a terrible example for my daughters. She is passive when we want her to be substantive, an object when we want her to be an agent, and prejudiced when we want her to be inclusive. And so I too want to poke holes in her carefully manipulated image. But I refuse to do that by commenting on her footwear.
Because when our critiques of Melania focus on her appearance, we play right into her and Trump’s hands. We are complicit in their worldview that demands women act mostly as prized possessions, in a Barbie-esque package, who speak only on script. And when we judge one woman in power on superficial terms, we make it acceptable to judge any woman on those same terms. And that has real world consequences for how we see and value women - and how women see and value themselves.
In my 2011 documentary film Miss Representation ― which explores the dangerous effects of a media that demeans, degrades, and sexualizes women and girls― media critic Jennifer Pozner astutely said that “if the media is so derogatory to even the most powerful women in America, what does it say about the media’s ability to take any woman in America seriously?”
Yes, there is such a thing as optics and perhaps the shoes weren’t the best choice. But the sheer volume of uproar about her sartorial choices is beneath us. If we do not expect more than perfect outfit choices from one of the most powerful women in the world, then how do we expect to ever make any progress towards women’s equality? How do we expect to ever see a woman as presidential, let alone elect her? And, how do we expect girls to know that we value them not for their youth, beauty, and sexuality, but for their leadership and their words, for their ability and capacity to make the world a better place?
If we want to show our girls how to be the leaders of tomorrow, and if we want our boys to see them as such, then we must start by holding Melania accountable for her failed leadership. And that starts when we #AskHerMore.