Because she isn’t currently a candidate, Obama’s remarks didn’t necessarily hurt Kamala Harris. But if she had been running, they would have hurt her. Not just what the President said, but the media coverage of his words. Name It, Change It says that male candidates are just not affected in the same way (of course, their appearance isn’t covered in the same way, either).

This should startle those of us in the media who routinely mention what women candidates are wearing (A pantsuit! A designer dress! Killer heels!) without a second thought. It turns out that writing about a woman candidate’s appearance is never neutral. And if it’s never neutral, then it’s never appropriate. We need to cover the uproar, of course, when the President makes a miscalculated remark. But the next time a woman is running for President—or any office—what we don’t have to do is mention her pantsuit, her hair, or her lipstick. Because how she’s dressed and how attractive she is has nothing to do with her competence or her views. And we shouldn’t sway voters, no matter how unintentionally, into thinking that they do.


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Jennifer Vanasco is a is a news editor at WNYC and the former editor in chief of MTV Network's LGBT news site She writes about social minorities, national politics, and culture. Her award-winning newspaper column on gay and women's issues ran for 15 years.