Wendy Davis, the Over-Night Liberal and Feminist Superstar, Has Pink Sneakers

Wendy Davis, the over-night liberal and feminist superstar, has pink sneakers.

Did you know this fact? Of course you did.

Those sneakers have become the symbol for her stand against a Texas abortion bill that would virtually ban abortions in the state. Pink sneakers. State senator Wendy Davis valiantly defended women’s rights for eleven hours straight during her filibuster on Tuesday. She was not allowed to lean against anything, to eat, to take a drink of water, or to go to the bathroom. Because of her filibuster, the law is dead (even though Texas governor Rick Perry has scheduled another special session for July). She earned the media spotlight with her leadership, resilience, and toughness.

Apparently, to news sources, it all came down to pink sneakers.

Just look at The Washington Post: One article noted that she has achieved “fashion icon status.” Another mentioned her running shoes before it mentioned the bill or Davis’s valiant filibuster. The cheeky article titled, “Wendy Davis’s sneakers: These shoes were made for filibusterin’,” assured readers that it was not just focusing on her shoes, despite the fact that the accompanying photo shows Davis’s shoes, not her face.

The Washington Post was by no means the only offender. Consider articles from NBC News, CNN, The Huffington Post, The New Yorker, The New York Times, USA Today, Fox News and Business Insider, that all referred to Davis’s pink shoes. NY Daily News, The Daily Mail, E-Online, and The New York Post even referred to her shoes in their headlines.

So, does focus on her shoes do any real harm?

Some say yes: A widely distributed study from Name It. Change It. found that media coverage harms female political candidates when it focuses on their appearance, even if the value judgments of their appearances are positive or neutral. Some say, no harm, no foul: Researchers at George Washington and American Universities produced a study in direct response to Name It. Change It. with their findings that women and men pay an equal price when the media focuses on their appearance.

Perhaps the root question here is: does focusing on politicians’ appearances make young women more or less likely to want to become politicians? Women are hugely under-represented in politics. We know that the more visible female political figures are, the higher the likelihood that adolescent girls will want to be involved in politics, according to a study from University of Notre Dame researchers.

Undeniably, the media focuses on women’s clothing more often than men’s, especially when it comes to shoes. Dedicating energy to thinking about Davis’s shoes could delegitimize her as a political figure or paint her as a stereotype: a silly woman causing a fuss. If leaders like Davis are taken seriously by focusing on their achievements rather than on their style, headlines like “These shoes were made for filibusterin’” would not reduce them to the status of a one-hit wonder.

It is easy to see why her pink sneakers caught attention. Her shoes gave her personality. Their color symbolizes femininity, while their status as tennis shoes means that Davis knew she was going to be arguing for the long-haul. Yet, what was even more gripping than her shoe color was the fact that she single-handedly defeated the strictest abortion bill in the country (for now). Now that’s personality!

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