What happens when Australian television host Lisa Wilkinson carefully picks out an outfit, fixes her hair in place, and paints on a face every day? She is criticized for her appearance. What happens when her co-host Karl Stefanovic wears the same cheap Burberry-knockoff suit day in and day out on air for a year? No one notices.
Stefanovic's experiment was prompted by the sexism he saw his women colleagues facing.
"I'm judged on my interviews, my appalling sense of humour – on how I do my job, basically. Whereas women are quite often judged on what they're wearing or how their hair is," the Today show host told the Sydney Morning Herald. that's [what I wanted to test]."
Wilkinson remarked in a lecture last year about the daily critique she receives on her appearance, pointing to an email from a woman asking, "Who the heck is Lisa's stylist? Today's outfit is particularly jarring and awful. Get some style."
Stefanovic started small. He first wore the suit every day for a month without telling his co-host. When she didn't notice, the two agreed he should keep going.
And no audience member said anything about it, Stefanovic reported. Neither did fashion commentators or other media.
His theory was that criticism is based in women judging other women. "In this situation, for women on TV, it's mainly women judging women and what they wear," he said on Today. "So is that sexism, is my question."
Wilkinson agreed that most of the negativity comes from other women. "I don't know how we got into that space where it leads toward a lack of support," she said.
But, she noted, she gets a lot of emails, and "the majority of women are really encouraging."
"Women are judged much more harshly and keenly for what they do, what they say and what they wear," Stefanovic told Fairfax Media. "What Lisa has done for women, in magazines and in television ... she's a great journo."
The double standard for women in the public's eye has been pointed out before.
"Women in society are judged by their looks while men are judged by what they say, UK TV presenter Claire Balding told The Daily Telegraph. "We look at women and we judge, whereas we listen to men and we judge. Their voice as in what they say is stronger than their look"
And, she said, "That’s in every walk of life, not just the media. And it has a pervasively negative effect seeping through everything."
"Would you ever ask a man that question?" was her answer.