For some reason, everyone is talking about Marco Rubio's boots.
Marco Rubio is rocking some seriously fashionable black boots today in New Hampshire. pic.twitter.com/lwiSWuuCUt— Michael Barbaro (@mikiebarb) January 4, 2016
Rubio's shiny boots have captured the media's attention, as shiny objects tend to do. The New York Times, the Newspaper of Record, has now recorded Rubio's boots as "one of the weirder firestorms of the presidential campaign," and notes that "bootgate" (please make it stop) "has eclipsed any other fashion story of the election thus far, including any fashion story related to the two female candidates, Hillary Clinton and Carly Fiorina." (Okay, that last part is actually sort of interesting. Maybe sexism is over! Hillary Clinton has to write her own pantsuit jokes, am I right?)
Rubio's competitors for the Republican presidential nomination, and others, started piling on and teasing him for his fashion choice:
Fitsnews, a conservative website, added Rubio's "decidedly metrosexual footwear selections" to its list of reasons not to vote for him. MSNBC's Joe Scarborough referred to Austin Powers and called the boots "shagalicious." Ted Cruz's communications director tweeted a piece from The Cut called "A Vote for Marco Rubio is a Vote for Men's High-Heeled Booties," even though Cruz himself has been seen sporting shiny boots with about the same heel height:
Media observers tried to figure out what this all means. "Note to male political candidates: Shoe’s on the other foot now, boys," wrote Vanessa Friedman in the New York Times piece, arguing that the "lesson" here is that the male wardrobe is exceptionally predictable, and that deviating from that expectation surprises people. Callum Borchers speculated at the Washington Post that people were losing their minds over this because it subverts their expectations of an "unwritten running-for-president dress code" that's relatively boring and modest.
Sure, that's part of it. But really, let's just say it: this is also sexism. This isn't just about deviation from a script; it's about deviation from a particular, gendered script. Dare to wear stylish "high heeled" shoes like women normally do, and presidential candidates become reduced to school children while others become playground bullies. We saw a hint of this dynamic in the last Democratic debate, too, with a ridiculous question asked of Hillary Clinton about gender roles in the White House that was essentially a barely-concealed snicker over the idea of Bill Clinton picking out flowers.
Daily reminder: The rigid gender stereotypes designed to keep women in line are routinely used as a weapon against men, too. Schoolboys giggle at "sissies" because feminine men are considered worthy of mockery; "throwing like a girl" is used as an insult against both genders. Some men can't take the time to care for their own children without somebody taking cheap swipes at their masculinity, or even questioning their dedication to their careers.
Yes, this boot flareup is incredibly silly. Rubio himself can't believe people are talking about it, and correctly called it "craziness." But sexism is often trivial, and trivializing. It uses "little things" to make people feel small: from offhand remarks criticizing how a woman talks, to telling a transgender person they're using the wrong bathroom. And these silly, little things add up over a lifetime.