Anne Helen Petersen is originally from Idaho. She currently lives in Montana. She is a writer for Buzzfeed and travels extensively to write, especially about what's going on in places like her home state, her adopted home state, our state, and what the coastal communities have come to refer to as "flyover country."
We don't agree with everything that she writes, but we also know that she knows us, knows what it is like to live where we live, and she is not treating our communities and our issues with the sort of surprise of a science experiment. She hasn't come to observe us in our natural habitat, so to speak.
So when she writes and comments and reflects, especially with a feminist lens, we tend to pay attention.
In this case, she teamed up with two writers we're not familiar with - Lyz Lynz and Molly Priddy - to talk about what they wear to do their jobs. And why. Anne Helen's piece is titled, "Part 2: What to Wear When You Don't Want People to Hate You."
Not only can we relate to the premise of the essay: pretty much every morning those of us who work over here get up and try to envision how our clothing choices could, should, might be read by the various constituents and donors and electeds and community members and then dress accordingly. It presents far more of a puzzle for women than it does for men for whom if not a uniform then variations on a theme serve them fine in all circumstances, thank you very much.
But also, we feel viscerally the power of her questions: "Writing this makes me think of how much time I’ve spent in my life trying to fit in: not to become invisible so much as not become a problem. Sometimes I wonder how much better my reporting could be if I had the gumption to be a problem — to ask people harder questions, the type that would piss them off, infuriate them, tell me truer things. Why don’t I do it? Because I’m not brave enough? Good enough? Trained enough? That’s the heart of all this, isn’t it? How do we balance the primary impulses of the job with the fundamental impulse towards self-preservation? I don’t know the answer to that. But I do know that it’s only getter harder."
We have lived those questions. We live them every day. The members of the Wyoming Women's Action Network community who are or have been elected officials feel it in a particularly pronounced way. They have been carefully balancing "the primary impulses of the job with the fundamental impulse towards self-preservation" since they even contemplated running. And, once elected, it only became harder.
Even more than that, if the preference and the norm for women is that we are invisible, if the cultural imperative is to become invisible, what does it mean for our safety and self-preservation - much less our ability to govern - when the job is to be entirely visible?