Pointing out sexism isn’t the same as fixing it

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An Australian television news anchor has concluded a yearlong experiment to prove sexism exists.

Karl Stefanovic wore the same suit everyday (except for a few when he had to get it washed) for an entire year. No one noticed.

It all came together after his co-host, Lisa Wilkinson, gave a scathing speech at an award ceremony about how people asked her more about what she was going to wear than what she was going to say. That sucks, a lot. It deserves some attention. And attention it has gotten.

This little experiment has been making national and worldwide headlines. That’s fantastic. It’s opened a few more eyes to what it means to be a woman in an industrialized nation where us lady folk are more likely to make less money than our male counterparts and subject to sexism on a day-to-day basis.

Women are marginalized on magazines as pretty faces, good cooks and great homemakers and parents. A YouTube video made its rounds calling attention to the prevalence of men hooting and hollering at women walking down the street. Catcalls aren’t complimentary; they’re degrading.

What we wear has become the product of a more than $1 trillion fashion industry. It has been engrained in both the female and male psyche that how women look is not only an indicator of success, it’s a tool to find success.

Anything that can draw attention to this annoying little stigmatism is good, right? Sure. But let’s look into Stefanovic’s exercise. He wears the same blue suit everyday and nobody notices. Wow. Shocking.

Check out this slideshow of screenshots on various days that year. Notice his shirt and tie change frequently and his suit appears to change as well depending on the lighting. The changes aren’t as drastic as his co-anchor, for sure, but they’re still there.

So no one noticed he was wearing the same suit everyday? Who cares? Men wear suits and they often look the same. Had he worn a different suit everyday, I probably wouldn’t have noticed that either. His experiment, though in my opinion correct, proved absolutely nothing that hasn’t already been proven.

Instead of continuing to find new ways to wave sexism around in the air as if to say, “see, I told you, here it is,” maybe these experiments should do something to stop it. Why not have female hosts wear the same thing everyday for a year and see how long it takes for it to stop being a headline?

It’s nice that there are sympathetic men out there looking out for the women they care about. The men in my life – my boyfriend and father and several friends – tell me on a regular basis that what I wear and how much time I spend primping in front of the mirror does far less for my beauty than the contents of my brain. Does it matter? Not really. I like hearing it, but it doesn’t mean I suddenly stop caring what the rest of the world thinks.

What really needs to happen is for women to take control. Men can get away with wearing the same thing everyday because their business attire is basically the same anyway. That monotonous suit and tie look is considered dapper, not boring. We could choose to wear a simple black pantsuit to work everyday and it would eventually not be a big deal. We could just stop wearing makeup and obsessing over every stray or gray hair and sooner or later, no one else would care either.

It’s not men stopping that from happening, it’s women. Media, whether it’s advertising or television or movies on the big screen, portray women as constantly glamorous. Even in ads for face wash, the post-cleansing actors are clearly still wearing makeup. Photos are re-touched and photo shopped. It’s gross. But we continue to accept it. The second vanity stops being profitable is the second vanity stops being a measure of success.

Even Wilkinson notes that women are the ones who criticize her for clothing and appearance-related choices.

Noticing or not noticing a suit means absolutely nothing. It’s sad, but there will probably always be women who are so brainwashed by societal expectations they will continue to personify the Hollywood image of beauty. Because of that, the only way to level the playing field for women is through reasonable anti-discrimination legislation, not a cute little experiment. But maybe his cute little experiment will be one more push for lawmakers to take a stand. For that, Mr. Stefanovic, thank you for your efforts.

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.