In a bid to highlight the sexism faced by his female colleague, Australian TV presenter Karl Stefanovic conducted a year-long experiment during which he wore the exact same imitation Burberry suit every day for a year. As it turns out, no one noticed, while his co-host on Channel 9’s Today, Lisa Wilkinson, continued to receive snarky comments for her fashion choices.
According to Stefanovic, he was concerned by the level of scrutiny that women, especially his co-host, are subjected to for their style. He said that Wilkinson is a victim of regular unsolicited fashion advice from viewers and other mediapersons.
Some of the emails she has received are quite disturbing. “Who the heck is Lisa’s stylist?” an angry viewer demanded to know. “Today’s outfit is particularly jarring and awful. Get some style,” wrote another.
Stefanovic’s anger grew when Samantha Armytage, the host of rival breakfast program Sunrise became a victim too – a tabloid published photographs of her running errands in comfortable clothes. Ignoring their professional rivalry, he immediately offered Armytage his support.
“I’m judged on my interviews, my appalling sense of humor – on how I do my job, basically. Whereas women are quite often judged on what they’re wearing or how their hair is. That’s what I wanted to test,” he explained. “I’ve worn the same suit on air for a year – except for a couple of times because of circumstance – to make a point.”
Stefanovic pointed out that he hasn’t received any feedback about his suit so far. “No one has noticed; no one gives a shit,” he said. “But women, they wear one wrong color and they get pulled up. They say the wrong thing and there’s thousands of tweets written about them. Women are judged much more harshly and keenly for what they do, what they say and what they wear.”
When the news of Stefanovic’s experiment got out, it evoked a range of responses from social media users. Some of them hailed his project as ‘magnificent’, ‘fabulous’, and called him ‘a legend’. But a few people wondered if his message was really going to make a difference, because they felt women in the media cannot avoid being criticised.
“Stefanovic has shown, no matter what a man chooses to wear within a limited scope he will not be examined by the public,” a Twitter user wrote. “Female talk show hosts do not have that option. That’s the point I think is being made. Female talk show hosts cannot escape this scrutiny.”
“This is a consequence of being female,” another user pointed out. “Being female in the workplace means there is no single way of dressing, so there is no escaping the criticism or admiration of the public.”
Stefanovic’s experiment seems to have opened up a can of worms that no one really knows how to deal with. While his findings are truly appalling, it’s probably going to be a while before people’s attitudes towards women change. In the meantime, he’ll probably have to give his blue suit a rest pretty soon.
“Only Lisa and (Today team member) Sylvia Jeffreys know about the suit,” he said. “They often remark that it’s getting a bit stinky. I’m hoping to get it into the dry cleaners at the end of the year.”