Back in October, while America was still in the throes of election season, I had an interesting discussion with an acquaintance. She was telling me about the Internet’s umbrage over Tim Kaine’s unusual eyebrows. That the Internet cared about Mr. Kaine’s facial hair was news to me. It’s useful to note that I’m a bit of a Luddite. I don’t have a television or Internet subscription to my house, but I do have a smart phone, and Internet access is only a short walk. So, although I listen to the radio most mornings, I have limited access to the noise of the news, which means I don’t usually know what temporarily famous people look like or do. After finding a picture of his eyebrows and concluding that Mr. Kaine looks much like Dan Akroyd, we continued.
My friend passionately argued that Mr. Kaine’s eyebrows illustrate a double standard in society’s expectations over men’s and women’s fashion. This double standard is familiar to me: it is enough for a man to be smart and aggressive in business or politics, but it’s not enough for a woman — she must also be young and attractive. Also, aggression doesn’t commonly look as good on women as it does on men: women are perceived as “bitchy” if they are aggressive about their desires or goals, while men may be perceived as an “asshole”, but that is somehow translated into ambitious or driven, which is okay. But how do Tim Kaine’s eyebrows illustrate this double standard? That’s a good question.
According to my friend, Tim Kaine’s eyebrows show that society holds men and women to different standards because Tim Kaine doesn’t have to pluck or shape his eyebrows. In other words, because Tim Kaine can step in front of television cameras with funny looking facial features, we live in a lesser world. That is approximately how my friend’s argument goes.
And while I agree that men and women are held to different standards of beauty and success, I’m not sure that Mr. Kaine’s eyebrows are a good standard by which to measure sexism. The prima facie objection to my friend’s argument is that the Internet objects to the eyebrows. Mr. Kaine hasn’t fooled anybody here. The Internet demands that he go to a stylist and have his supra-ocular mustaches manicured.
There are more convincing cases that show a sexist double standard in society: the lack of women corporate executives in S&P 500 companies, the gender inequality in wages, and the focus on women’s appearance over their intelligence or applicable skills. All of these issues demonstrate the problem of sexism in societies around the globe better than Mr. Kaine’s eyebrows. So, let’s get Dan Akroyd back on Saturday Night Live and do a good parody while we work on fixing some real gender equity problems.