Australian TV anchor Karl Stefanovic has been wearing the same blue suit to make a point about the ways in which his female colleagues are judged. What we learned hardly came as a surprise – but it can’t be said enough
What would happen if a high-profile TV presenter wore the same suit every day for a year? It’s a question that we now have an answer to, thanks to the efforts of Karl Stefanovic, a presenter from Australia. Unsurprisingly, the answer is: nothing.
Stefanovic, who co-presents Channel Nine’s Today show with Lisa Wilkinson, has been wearing the same blue suit – day in, day out, except for a few trips to the dry cleaner - to make a point about the ways in which his female colleagues are judged. “No one has noticed,” he said. “No one gives a shit.”
Last November, Wilkinson, who used to be the editor of women’s magazine Cleo, gave the Andrew Olle media lecture in which she talked about the expectations placed on women in public life. “Today’s media landscape, particularly for women, is one now so focused on the glossy and the glamorous, it often eclipses and undermines everything else,” she told the audience. “When you’re a woman doing breakfast TV, you quickly learn the sad truth that what you wear can sometimes generate a bigger reaction than even any political interview you ever do.” She recounted a reader’s letter in which a viewer told her to “get some style” before reading her reply to that letter: “Please include suggested colours, sleeve lengths, skirt shapes, your preference for prints, fabrics, weights, jackets versus blouse et cetera,” she wrote back. Wilkinson also stipulated some conditions for the clothes her unsolicited would-be stylist could select: they had to be comfortable, not too revealing, generously cut to fit both her bust as well as her petite frame, and they they couldn’t clash with her co-presenter’s ties or the couch. In the audience, Stefanovic laughed and applauded – and an idea was born. He began wearing the same blue suit that same week, and after a month of doing so, told his co-host of his experiment. They waited for the viewer letters – and the sirens from the fashion police – complaining about his overworked suit, of course, but none came.
“I’m judged on my interviews, my appalling sense of humour – on how I do my job, basically,” Stefanovic told the Sydney Morning Herald. “Whereas women are quite often judged on what they’re wearing or how their hair is. Women, they wear the wrong colour and they get pulled up.”
It’s fair to say one part of the population was already aware of this phenomenon, but clearly, it can’t be said enough. Much like the street harassment videos and the work of projects such as Everyday Sexism, these kinds of experiments are merely neon-signed landmarks in a world that is often wilfully oblivious to the ways in which half the population is diminished. What they highlight is the way in which certain behaviours are not only endemic and normalised, but actually actively encouraged by the culture. It is telling that the customary “Who are you wearing?” asked on red carpets all year round is rarely extended to the men in attendance.
It is treated as a niche, self-indulgent interest but fashion is culture. It is as fun and as necessary to the cultural soup as say, sport or music, as well as being an industry estimated in 2012 to be worth $900bn to the world economy. According to Wilkinson, most of the emails commenting on her on-air sartorial decisions have come from women. “I don’t know how we’ve got into that space,” she said on Today. It’s not too hard to figure out: in a toxic climate, where a woman’s appearance is often deemed the only noteworthy thing about her, it is inevitable that the harshest critics may also be women. Unlearning sexist behaviour is a job for us all, men and women alike.
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