If you've been missing the media hit pieces about female politicians' fashion choices, you won't be disappointed by Jack Shafer's "Condoleezza Rice's Image Makeover" in Slate. Ostensibly it covers Glenn Kessler's book "The Confidante: Condoleezza Rice and the Creation of the Bush Legacy," which chronicles how handlers remake her image in the press through carefully prepared media appearances and photographs, but it seems like an excuse to engage in misogynous mudslinging and mean stereotyping.
In his mini-intro, to a slide show of pictures from the book, Shafer describes Rice's erstwhile image as a "stone-cold heartless bitch" and her transformation "from policy mud hen to diplomatic swan." The conclusion? Not that Rice, like most modern politicians, male and female, black and white, has a team of relentless media spinners who will stop at nothing to put a good face on their product, but that "every news image the secretary generated during her tenure must be viewed through a skeptical lens." Is there a politician whose imagery we shouldn't view through a skeptical lens?
In the slide show we are shown Rice appearing at a music school in Paris, intended to soften "her image at this pseudo-event by associating herself with children and culture." Can't that be said for every children's photo op since the beginning of time? In another style of photo shoot, designed "to defrost the frozen Rice," she's seen repeatedly placed next to fireplaces and dignitaries with her bare legs crossed in a feminine pose. I'm all for dissecting the semiotics of public imagery, but Shafer's hypersexual analysis seems twisted at best: "I'm a woman, her posture says, inviting viewers to admire her toned gams -- she is, after all, proud of being a gym rat. But her clinched thighs warn viewers not to admire too closely."
Don't get me wrong. Rice's political agenda deeply creeps me out. But this "story" does as well. The implication is that Rice, the stone-cold heartless bitch that she is, is so different from the honest white good old boys she is surrounded by, she's not playing by the rules.
The final frame pictures Rice at Wiesbaden Army Airfield in Germany, where she "invented diplomatic voguing." Again the leering tone: "Marching around in knee-high, heeled boots, she worked her slit-legged, all-black paramilitary uniform like a champ." Kessler's suggestion that the picture made Rice look like a "cross between Mussolini and Liza Minnelli" is pretty hilarious, but the whole piece -- if not the book -- seems to harbor a weird subtext about women in power. "Rice professed to wonder why the press made such a fuss about her outfit, but the vamp knew exactly what she was doing, according to Kessler."
The vamp? Voguing? They might as well have called her a drag-queen ho from the ghetto.