Mark Zuckerberg's Simple Defense of His Clothes Reinforces a Sexist Double Standard

Source: AP
Source: AP

There's nothing wrong with gray T-shirts.

But Mark Zuckerberg's recent response to a question about his signature shirt missed the mark and landed on a rather pervasive double standard. In a public question-and-answer session last week, highlighted by Design Taxi, the Facebook founder was asked about why he wears the same gray shirt all the time. His answer:

"I feel like I'm not doing my job if I spend any of my energy on things that are silly or frivolous about my life." 

Is there anything wrong with wanting to simplify your life? Not inherently. But Zuckerberg's comment, particularly with the word "frivolous," echoes a double standard heard too often in media: That women's focus on "unserious" things such as fashion preclude them from focusing on more important things — and it prevents others from taking them seriously.

It's the same double standard at play when female CEOs like Yahoo's Marissa Mayer are criticized for posing in fashion magazines or expressing a love of style. 

"Is it feminist for a powerful woman to pose for a fashion magazine? Is it feminist for a CEO to care about how she looks?" TIME posed in response to Mayer's 2013 Vogue spread. Congresswoman and Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz faced similar Internet chatter for her Vogue spread in 2012.

And sportscaster Erin Andrews expressed her aggravation at facing the same line of questioning, telling HuffPost Live earlier this year, "People talk about the way you dress and the way you care about what you look like" when you're a woman, she said. Her male counterparts also care what they look like, she noted; and more importantly, she said, "What's wrong with showing that you're a woman who takes care of her body and works out and likes to dress up and wear lip gloss?" Are those things mutually exclusive with doing your job well and being taken seriously as a professional?

They shouldn't be. Cosmopolitan Editor-in-Chief Joanna Coles, no stranger to both the "frivolous" and the serious, put it best to NPR earlier this month:

I think that women's lives are multilayered. I have no problem understanding that women are interested in mascara and the Middle East. Men are allowed to talk about sports relentlessly, and yet we still take them seriously. I don't understand why women can't talk about fashion, or sex, or love, or wanting more money and not be taken as seriously as men.

A point well made — and, to be honest, not one Zuckerberg might necessarily disagree with. Zuckerberg's explanation for his gray T-shirt was based largely on psychology and his own day-to-day efficiency.


"There's actually a bunch of psychology theory that even making small decisions around what you wear or what you eat for breakfast, things like that, they kind of make you tired and consume your energy," he said on stage.


Nothing wrong with saving up energy. But the CEO's phrasing, purposeful or not, underscores a lurking stereotype about females who choose to embrace certain mundane daily decisions and draw joy from them. Male CEOs, politicians and leaders are rarely criticized for low-brow interests (we rarely hear a peep when President Barack Obama expresses his love for NCAA basketball and Modern Family). We should leave space for women to embrace similar unserious interests, including fashion, without branding it as frivolous. 


As Coles said, we should all be allowed to be so multilayered.


h/t The Cut

How likely are you to make Mic your go-to news source?

Ellie Krupnick

Ellie is Mic's editorial director of lifestyle. A former style and fashion editor for The Huffington Post, her writing has also appeared in Women's Wear Daily, HarpersBazaar.com and the Twitter feeds of British royal fans everywhere.

MORE FROM

Bill Cosby publicists insist speaking tour has nothing to do with sexual assault

Ebonee Benson and Andrew Wyatt accused the media of twisting Wyatt's words, when really there is a video record of his announcement.

Third Vanderbilt football player, Brandon Banks, convicted in rape case

A jury found Brandon Banks guilty on one count of aggravated rape and one count of sexual battery, sending him to a probable 15 years in prison.

What does consent look like on a show like 'Bachelor in Paradise'?

Warner Bros. has cleared the allegations involving Corinne Olympios and DeMario Jackson, leaving many questions about consent on the show in its wake.

Bill Cosby juror didn't believe Andrea Constand because Constand wore "bare midriff" to Cosby's home

This juror's response to Constand's testimony is victim blaming 101.

In North Carolina, women can't withdraw consent after giving it

The state's consent law says that once someone gives consent, they can't revoke it.

Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman was catcalled on stage and it didn't go well

Hall of fame hockey player Marcel Dionne yelled "Look at those legs!" while onstage with Raisman at the 2017 NHL Awards.

Bill Cosby publicists insist speaking tour has nothing to do with sexual assault

Ebonee Benson and Andrew Wyatt accused the media of twisting Wyatt's words, when really there is a video record of his announcement.

Third Vanderbilt football player, Brandon Banks, convicted in rape case

A jury found Brandon Banks guilty on one count of aggravated rape and one count of sexual battery, sending him to a probable 15 years in prison.

What does consent look like on a show like 'Bachelor in Paradise'?

Warner Bros. has cleared the allegations involving Corinne Olympios and DeMario Jackson, leaving many questions about consent on the show in its wake.

Bill Cosby juror didn't believe Andrea Constand because Constand wore "bare midriff" to Cosby's home

This juror's response to Constand's testimony is victim blaming 101.

In North Carolina, women can't withdraw consent after giving it

The state's consent law says that once someone gives consent, they can't revoke it.

Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman was catcalled on stage and it didn't go well

Hall of fame hockey player Marcel Dionne yelled "Look at those legs!" while onstage with Raisman at the 2017 NHL Awards.