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3 senators slam The New York Times’ coverage of Kyrsten Sinema’s fashion as ‘demeaning, sexist and inappropriate,’ but an author of those articles says Sinema’s choices are a key part of her politics

"It is weird to think that presentation isn't politics," said Tressie McMillan Cottom, who wrote 3 out of 4 stories called out by the senators. ...
Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona speaks as Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine stand by on Capitol Hill on July 28, 2021.
Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona speaks as Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine stand by on Capitol Hill on July 28, 2021.

  • 3 women senators slammed The New York Times for its "demeaning, sexist and inappropriate" coverage of Sinema's fashion choices.
  • Sens. Murkowski, Collins, and Shaheen made the criticisms in a joint letter to the editor.
  • But the author of 3 of those stories argues that presentation is a key aspect of Sinema's politics.

Three women senators sent a letter to the editor on Friday lambasting The New York Times' "demeaning, sexist and inappropriate" coverage of Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema's fashion choices.

Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire are among the 10 senators who worked with Sinema to pave the way for the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill that President Joe Biden signed into law on Monday. Collins and Murkowski are Republicans, while Shaheen, like Sinema, is a Democrat.

"The Times has published four separate pieces analyzing the style and dress of our colleague Senator Kyrsten Sinema," the senators wrote. "We cannot imagine The Times printing similar pieces on the fashion choices of any of our male colleagues."

The trio pointed to recent statements by Sinema, in which she defended her sartorial choices.

"I wear what I want because I like it. It's not a news story, and it's no one's business," Sinema told Politico.

"We couldn't agree more," Collins, Murkowski, and Shaheen wrote in their letter to the editor.

"Senator Sinema is a serious, hardworking member of the Senate who contributes a great deal to the policy deliberations before us," they added. "Your repeated focus on how she dresses, rather than what she says and does, is demeaning, sexist and inappropriate."

Reached for comment, Danielle Rhoades Ha, The Times's vice president of communications, defended the paper's coverage of Sinema.

"The aim of our Opinion coverage is to invite intelligent discussion from informed people with a diversity of opinions and ideas," she told Insider. "We believe in open debate and always welcome reactions such as the Senators' letter to the editor."

Collins, Murkowski and Shaheen contend that The Times wouldn't print similar pieces about men, but the paper has done just that, with stories about outfits worn by Biden, New York City Mayor-Elect Eric Adams, and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson. The outlet also covered former President Donald Trump's affinity for ties.

'It is weird to think that presentation isn't politics'

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema wearing a pink wig at the US Senate on June 17, 2020.
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema wearing a pink wig at the US Senate on June 17, 2020.

The senators' letter references four stories published by The Times since October 18.

The first, written by the paper's chief fashion critic Vanessa Friedman, analyzed how Sinema's choice of ostentatious outfits were in keeping with her identity as a self-styled policy maverick and the Senate's first openly bisexual member.

"Whatever the interpretation, however, no one expressed any doubt that she knew exactly what she was doing," wrote Friedman, who's crafted similar analyses on the COP26 climate conference and the Netflix hit show, "Squid Game."

The three other stories were written by opinion writer Tressie McMillan Cottom, a Black woman who has written extensively about inequality, culture, higher education, and race. Cottom did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment.

In her first story on the topic, entitled "Why We Should Talk About What Kyrsten Sinema Is Wearing," Cottom expounds at length on the fraught nature of commenting on women's bodies in the public sphere. She also makes the case that fashion is part of politics and is thus worthy of attention.

"For both AOC and Sinema, the media has struggled to put the meaning of style in a context that is not frivolous or demeaning," Cottom wrote. "This has contributed to our inability to talk about their presentation as politics. That inability makes that presentation only more powerful because it can go uncritiqued."

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Cottom went on to write "Kyrsten Sinema and the Politics of a Sleeveless Silhouette," which analyzes how Sinema's fashion choices accentuate her athleticism in a manner that isn't as accessible to Black public figures.

"Voters eviscerated Michelle Obama — who is a political figure despite not being an elected official — for wearing sleeveless dresses," Cottom wrote. "On Obama, fitted sheaths without sleeves were a code for unruly behavior and thus disrespect for the president's office. But unruliness is a reputation that Sinema can afford to cultivate."

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Lastly, Cottom wrote about Sinema's clothing as it pertains to class, writing that "the form-fitting dresses and retro color palette that Sinema favors are a way of broadcasting her bona fides as a middle-class politician and thus someone in step with middle-class values."

The same day that story was published, Cottom defended the project on Twitter.

"It is weird to think that presentation isn't politics," she wrote in one tweet.

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The "performance" of powerful women is fair game and inseparable from their political positions, Cottom went on to say.

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