Michigan’s governor gave her first State of the State address this week — but some headlines weren’t about her policies at all.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer visited the State Capitol in Lansing, MI on Tuesday to deliver her address, where she outlined a vision of stronger infrastructure, safe drinking water, and increased education funding for the state.
But instead of recapping or analyzing Whitmer’s policy goals, a local Fox News station ran a piece the day after the speech with the headline, “Social media focuses on Whitmer's dress — not her address.”
The story quickly faced backlash for being sexist and demeaning, with good reason. A person’s ability to effectively lead and govern has nothing to do with their physical appearance, and sartorial choices or body shaming are not valid critiques of an elected official. Unsurprisingly, women tend to get the brunt of this kind of critique. Women running for office regularly get comments about their looks, their clothes, and even their voices. And even once they’re in office, women are often belittled, criticized, and called dismissive names such as “bimbo” by their colleagues.
The article featured more than a dozen comments from FOX 2 Detroit’s Facebook Live stream of Whitmer’s speech, in which users took issue with the governor’s blue boatneck dress. The comments, which largely remained anonymous, ranged from critical to lewd, honing in on the fit of the dress, the governor’s body, and debating whether her fashion choices were appropriate for the venue. None of the comments featured in the Fox article mentioned Whitmer’s policies or politics.
In an attempt to justify giving these sexist attitudes a platform, the article also quoted an “expert,” Dr. Annmarie Cano, who said that women in power often face criticism for their appearance and fashion choices. However, it was not specified what Cano is an expert on, nor where she works.
Whitmer directly addressed the story in a thread of tweets on Thursday.
“Boys have teased me about my curves since 5th grade. My mom said ‘hold your head high and don’t let it bother you,’” Whitmer wrote. “That @Fox2News story was way out of line. I’m tough, I can take it.”
In my speech I was encouraging people to see the humanity in one another in this cruel political environment. In an era when so many women are stepping up to lead, I’m hoping people will focus on our ideas and accomplishments instead of our appearance.— Governor Gretchen Whitmer (@gretchenwhitmer) February 14, 2019
Until then, I’ve got a message for all of the women and girls like mine who have to deal with garbage like this every day: I’ve got your back.— Governor Gretchen Whitmer (@gretchenwhitmer) February 14, 2019
She continued, driving home the message that women should be heard and respected: “In my speech I was encouraging people to see the humanity in one another in this cruel political environment. In an era when so many women are stepping up to lead, I’m hoping people will focus on our ideas and accomplishments instead of our appearance.”
“Until then, I’ve got a message for all of the women and girls like mine who have to deal with garbage like this every day: I’ve got your back,” she wrote.
In response to the now-viral article and subsequent backlash, Erika Erickson, the FOX 2 reporter who wrote the story, said she was only attempting to expose the cruelty of online commenters.
“I genuinely tried to reveal the nasty trolls bashing @gretchenwhitmer, & now I'm being attacked as a person. Sad,” Erickson wrote on Twitter, wondering why people were questioning her rather than calling out the commenters who made inappropriate remarks about Whitmer’s appearance in the first place.
I will not be commenting on this any further. I genuinely tried to reveal the nasty trolls bashing @gretchenwhitmer, & now I'm being attacked as a person. Sad. Offer stands to speak with her. Why aren't we calling out the people who wrote the nasty comments in the first place? 🤷🏻♀️ pic.twitter.com/TWBKNElvBW— Erika Erickson (@FOX2Erika) February 15, 2019
Erickson also reiterated an offer from FOX 2’s news director, Kevin Roseborough, who invited the governor to speak with the station about the controversy.