A couple of weeks ago, I heralded the end of summer by purchasing a big fat copy of ELLE magazine’s September issue.
Near the front of the magazine is a customary summary of this season’s runway standouts, in which the author draws from multiple collections in order to distill autumn’s overarching theme.
The gist of Irina Aleksander’s "The Warrior Within" revolved around designers’ "sudden desire to protect women this season."
As I flipped the pages, I waited for the author—or one of the various quoted designers—to invoke what seemed like the logical reason for this armored zeitgeist.
But instead of mentioning "The War on Women," I got an esoteric quote from British designer J.W. Anderson: "Fragility is the sexiest thing about a woman...to be fragile you ultimately have to be very strong." More on this later.
I’ll be the first to admit my inability to transition smoothly from Politico to Project Runway, but it seems impossible to talk about arming and defending women without at least mentioning recent political initiatives that many observers see as direct attacks on women.
Holding ELLE’s "biggest fashion issue of the year!" in my hands, I couldn’t help but be reminded of what constitutes the majority of that extra bulk—advertising campaigns.
Meanwhile, a much more problematic form of marketing is taking place off the glossy page.
It’s no secret that the Republican Party is courting female voters. In fact, our own Senator Olympia Snowe (R. ME) gave the Romney campaign valuable pre-convention marketing advice in an August 24 op-ed in the Washington Post.
In order to "restore the image" of the Republicans as friendly toward women’s interests, Snowe wrote, Romney must prove "to the national audience that the overly rigid language on abortion in the GOP platform—which includes no exceptions for cases of rape, incest or danger to the life of the mother—does not represent his view."
Snowe also advises that the candidate "emphasize his strong record on women’s issues, which shows that he cares about their well-being."
Instead of following Snowe’s advice in his Republican National Convention (RNC) speech, Romney made the vague promise to "protect the sanctity of life" and emphasized the number of women who had high-ranking positions in his State House.
The disparity between what Snowe asked for and what Romney delivered should be troubling to women of any political inclination.
It reveals that Romney and his strategists believe that they can simply showcase a female supporter in lieu of actual engagement with issues affecting American women.
While ELLE magazine anointed Lisbeth Salander as this season’s "it" girl for her mix of resilience and vulnerability, but never actually used the word "rape," the Romney campaign sent out Ann Romney to talk about exhausted mothers, mounting grocery bills, and the man she fell in love with.
Here’s the thing: while it’s impossible to deeply engage in women’s issues without a woman present, it’s entirely possible to have a woman present and still lack meaningful engagement with women’s issues.
In this regard, the Romney campaign has established itself as the campaign equivalent of the much-mocked "Bic for Her" pen. It’s a color scheme, not a conversation.
As twisted as it is that a British designer finds fragility sexy, he’s not running for President.
After the disappointingly reductive marketing strategy employed at the RNC, I continue to worry about the Republican Party’s perverse attitude toward women’s bodies.
Nicholas Kristof noted in a September 1 op-ed that four states will not grant women an abortion without requiring that they first undergo an ultrasound. These states, according to Kristof, do not make an exception for cases of rape.
The Republican Party sees it as its solemn duty to wield power over pregnant women.
Snowe asked Romney for the simplest thing: To show that he cares about women’s well-being.
Forget the couture designers padding coats with extra down, forget the Intelligent Designers and their brand of pseudo-science if you can, but "remember the ladies."
If Romney can’t do just that one thing, then maybe he might be better off among actual mannequins.
Daisy Alioto is a member of the Class of 2013.