On Tuesday, the Boston Globe published an article examining Melania Trump’s official White House photo, and promoted it with a tweet asking: “So what’s with the crossed arms?”
— The Boston Globe (@BostonGlobe) April 4, 2017
Yes. That’s right! The woman crossed her arms. We absolutely must investigate.
Now, to be fair, the article was about Trump’s appearance in the photo overall:
What’s the photo’s most unusual feature?
Is it that Trump’s arms are crossed?
Is it that she’s not really smiling, unlike former first ladies Michelle Obama, Laura Bush, and Hillary Clinton in their official portraits?
Is it that her cool, distant gaze seems to evoke her runway-model past more than her current role as the country’s first lady?
Or is it that the wife of a president who won big with working-class voters is wearing a diamond ring worth more than most Americans would make in 10 lifetimes?
These are clearly very important questions, so naturally, the Globe brought in a few experts to weigh in on them. For example, portrait photographer Ryuiji Suzuki:
“There are different opinions about people crossing their arms in portraits,” Suzuki told the Globe. “If you do it right, you might add a powerful impression, but it often gives you distance.”
“If you want to be friendly and approachable you probably wouldn’t pose like this,” he continued.
Now, that “So what’s with the crossed arms?” tweet was rightfully mocked with a series of replies — many of them compiled in an article at Twitchy — featuring prominent Democrats with their arms crossed: Joe Biden, Barack and Michelle Obama, and of course, Hillary Clinton. Is this evidence of an arm-crossing double standard? Sure, but it wasn’t the double standard that I noticed the most.
If this had been a photo-analysis of any woman but Melania Trump, liberal columnists would have been outraged. If the Globe had come out with an article asking if it was “unusual” that Michelle Obama was “not really smiling” in a photo, Jezebel would have cited it as evidence that our culture has an oppressive, gendered expectation that women have smiles on their faces. Suzuki’s comment about how doing arm-crossing “right” appears “powerful” but doing it wrong “gives you distance” and makes it look like you are not “friendly and approachable” would be spun into: “So, basically, if men do it then it looks powerful, but if a woman does it it’s not okay because women are supposed to be happy and agreeable? People are clearly so uncomfortable with a woman taking a powerful position.”
The headlines would be everywhere: “The Focus on Michelle Obama’s Facial Expression Is Super Problematic.” “Why Are We Talking about Michelle Obama’s Face Instead of Her Accomplishments?” “The Boston Globe Wrote an Entire Article Dissecting Michelle Obama’s Appearance — Yes, Seriously” and “It’s Not That You Don’t Like the Picture — It’s That You Don’t Like Powerful Women.”
(Note: I am not saying that women shouldn’t be annoyed by people telling them to smile. Walking around smiling makes me feel like I’m in some kind of weird, life-long toothpaste commercial, and I’m so sick of hearing that that makes people think I’m mean. Believe it or not, the position of certain muscles on my face actually says nothing about who I am as a person, and it’s annoying how many people can’t seem to get that through their heads. There’s nothing more obnoxious than a dude stopping me on the street just to tell me to change my face for him. It’s like, come on, I have things to do, please don’t stop me and ask me to take my headphones out unless it is to tell me that I am actually on fire.)
I understand, of course, that this article was about Melania’s expressions in an iconic photo and not her expressions on her walk to work. I also understand that, if you’re going to be in the public eye, you can expect your bodhttp://www.nationalreview.com/corner/444082/melania-trumps-biography-washington-post-calls-it-promotionaly language to be critiqued to some extent. But none of that changes the fact that the Boston Globe’s article would have been slammed as a sexist atrocity had it been about any other woman — and if you’re going to be a crusader for something, I think that you should at least try to be consistent about it.
– Katherine Timpf is a reporter for National Review.