Over at Slate, the XX factor team is dissecting the wardrobe choices of the candidates’ wives last night (what color tie was Bill Clinton wearing? Anyone? Bueller?). They’ve honed in on Cindy McCain and Michelle Obama’s choice of a red suit. Here’s what Dana Stevens had to say:
To wear [red] is to quote [Nancy Reagan] as unambiguously as McCain evoked the Reagan/Stallone ’80s by marching onstage to the Rocky theme for his victory speech. Michelle Obama’s donning of the hue is more complex. Obviously, this choice is supposed to recall the general optimism of the morning-in-America days. But is it also meant to reassure us that Michelle, who only last year left her high-powered job as an executive at the University of Chicago hospitals, will remain safely on the Nancy-esque sidelines when her husband becomes president, confining her role to charity work like the cleft-palate foundation whose board Cindy McCain serves on (and through which she adopted their now-16-year-old daughter from Bangladesh)? At any rate, the color-coded association of both women with the ultimate loyal-but-silent political spouse clearly serves to distance them from a certain prospective first husband who doesn’t need to wear loud colors to get himself noticed.
Uh. Color me confused (bad pun intended), but I didn’t think that Nancy Reagan had claimed ownership rights over the R in Roy G. Biv. I think Stevens is right that the red may be intended to bring to mind optimism. At least in the case of Mrs. Obama, I’m guessing it’s also supposed to evoke energy and excitement, rather than the staid same-ol’. But, seriously, since when are we relying on the “neighborhood astrologer’s” positive associations with red as the jumping off point for a discussion about presidential politics and PR? And why is it that we assume that Michelle Obama is invoking Nancy Reagan (whose politics she probably couldn’t disagree with more), while Hillary Clinton is evoking…something else unnamed…when she wears red?
Perhaps what got my blood boiling more than anything about this exchange was the assumption that Barack Obama wants his wife to take on a Nancy Reagan-esque role, or that she would be willing to. Sure, she cut her hours at her high-power hospital job last year, but my guess is that had more to do with the rigors of campaigning than with her desire to be perceived as a dutiful, even Stepford-like, wife. I usually really like XX factor, but this back and forth felt like just another “woman’s” blog playing into exactly the assumptions and stereotypes it should be challenging.