Lara Brown stands at the front of a room filled with wide-eyed students soaking up every word. She says, “If we put multiple women on a stage, they can be seen as individuals rather than as women.” This speaks to Hillary Clinton’s run for the Democratic nomination in 2016, when she stood as the lone woman on the stage surrounded by men. It was easy to point out that one of these was not like the others. Brown’s point is that if a female on the stage is no longer an oddity, but rather a commonality shared among candidates, it could legitimize women as viable candidates and eliminate the gender factor. The question is, does femininity need to be removed from the equation in favor of a more ambiguous figure in order for women to be taken seriously?
Brown goes on to say that in her time working in the White House, she would make addresses on very serious policy issues. In these more solemn situations, she would wear pink so as to seem more gentle and to play on the feminine qualities, utilizing the stereotype of pink as a weaker color. Although the stereotype worked to her advantage in this case, she utilized pink as a way to almost illegitimate and soften the impact of her words. But the question still remains: is it possible for a woman to reclaim feminine qualities and use them as a strength, rather than allowing the underlying stereotypes to portray them as a weakness?
A new character in this ring is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who wore white and was adorned with hoop earrings and a red lip for her swearing-in ceremony. She embraced traditionally feminine dress, as a nod to heritage, her hometown of the Bronx (like Sonia Sotomayor) and suffragettes – strong females who have paved the way for those to come. This feminine look did not deter Ocasio-Cortez.
Another example is in the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, who has made it a routine to don pink outfits and full hair and makeup. Even in her response to the Presidents address last night, she was dressed in a blush pink ensemble with a makeup look to match. However, Pelosi has never had a reputation for weakness. In fact, in the words of her own daughter Alexandra Pelosi, “She’ll cut your head off and you won’t even know you’re bleeding.” Pink has never deterred Pelosi, and she has worn it routinely throughout her rise to where she is today, a place where she is not one to be crossed. Even with both Republicans and Democrats making claims as to why Pelosi should not continue as Speaker of the House, where she still is today, it is clear that adorning this feminine color has not stopped her from achieving success.
Brown went on to say that feminism ultimately was not to the downfall of Hillary Clinton, but rather that she had little chance of winning to begin with. Brown stated that Clinton had a 17% chance of winning the Presidency because it would have been a third consecutive democratic term. But Clinton was not arguably a highly “feminine” candidate. Although she did emphasize that she was, in fact, a female candidate, even using the tag line “I’m with her,” Clinton would not be the face of femininity, as she did little to press the lines of feminine stereotypes.
But why does this work for some women and not others? Why can some women wear pink, or red lips, and not be weakened by it? This points to a source of empowerment – when women claim their feminine qualities as a strength, it cannot be used as their weakness. As we move into a new era in politics, I predict that women going into 2020 and beyond will reclaim femininity to utilize it as a strength and source of empowerment. As women find power in numbers, they will no longer have to shy away from their feminine qualities, fashion choices, or attributes. My hope, in the sincerest form, is that the 2018 influx of women in politics, followed by 2020, will pave the path for new generations of women, who will reclaim the power of their femininity, and find the strength in pink.