Janelle Irwin: TV anchor exposes sexism, but legislation is needed to eliminate it

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

Karl Stefanovic wore the same suit every day (except for a few when he had to get it washed) for a 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.

The experiment has been making national and worldwide headlines. 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 the rounds calling attention to men hooting and hollering at women walking down the street. Catcalls aren’t compliments; they’re degrading.

What women wear supports a $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 issue is good, right? Sure. But let’s look into Stefanovic’s exercise. He wears the same blue suit every day 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 every day? Who cares? Men wear suits and they often look the same. Had he worn a different suit every day, I probably wouldn’t have noticed that either. His experiment, though, proved absolutely nothing that isn’t already known.

Instead of continuing to prove sexism exists, such experiments should do something to stop it. Why not have female hosts wear the same thing every day 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 regularly that how I dress means far less than how I use 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 needs to happen is for women to take control. Men get away with wearing the same thing every day because their business attire is basically the same. Women could choose to wear a simple black pantsuit to work every day 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, portray women as glamorous. Even in ads for face wash, the post-cleansing actors are 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.

It’s sad, but there will probably always be women who are so brainwashed by societal expectations that they will continue to strive to achieve 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 will be one more push for lawmakers to take a stand. For that, Mr. Stefanovic, thank you.

Janelle Irwin is a journalist, blogger and regular wearer of sweatpants. Read more of her work on Saintpetersblog.com. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

Janelle Irwin Taylor

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in Tampa Bay since 2003. Most recently, Janelle reported for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She formerly served as senior reporter for WMNF News. Janelle has a lust for politics and policy. When she’s not bringing you the day’s news, you might find Janelle enjoying nature with her husband, children and two dogs. You can reach Janelle at [email protected]


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