State of the Union: How congresswomen used their outfits to make a statement at Trump’s big address

From ‘suffragette white’ to feminist pins, female lawmakers silently protested gender inequality

Sirena Bergman
Wednesday 06 February 2019 10:43 GMT
State of the Union: Nancy Pelosi stands and leans towards Donald Trump as she pointedly applauds him

Female lawmakers in the US attended President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address address yesterday wearing “suffragette white” in a symbol of solidarity.

Florida representative Lois Frankel, chair of the House Democratic women’s working group, tweeted the initiative on Monday, and told CNN: “Wearing suffragette white is a respectful message of solidarity with women across the country, and a declaration that we will not go back on our hard-earned right

The dozens of congresswomen in white made a striking visual statement which was hard to miss whenever the camera panned away from Donald Trump during the address.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who was seated behind the president, was wearing a cream blazer and white top. She tweeted that this was to support women’s rights, “in spite of a [president] who doesn’t”.

It was a particularly poignant display as this year marks the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment to the constitution, which gave women the right to vote.

Representative Ilhan Omar, one of the first two Muslim women to be elected to Congress in last year’s midterms, wore a blue headscarf and red sleeves with her white suit, referencing the American flag.

Omar, alongside fellow freshman congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, and Ayanna Pressley, also wore a pin featuring Jakelin Caal, the 7-year-old Guatemalan girl who died in US Border Patrol custody in December.

Tlaib tweeted, “We are bringing Jakelin Caal into the room with us during the #SOTU. They said 12,800 children are in detention camps via federally contracted sites. Now they said it was more 15,000.”

Many women also wore “ERA Yes” buttons on their lapels to acknowledge the Equal Rights Amendment, which makes women equal to men under the Constitution. It was passed in 1972, but has never become law as it still needs to be ratified by 38 states.

Wearing white has become a political symbol in recent years among female politicians.

Last month, New York congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wore white to the new-member swearing-in ceremony.

She explained her decision in a tweet, writing: “I wore all-white today to honour the women who paved the path before me, and for all the women yet to come.”

She added: “From suffragettes to Shirley Chisholm, I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the mothers of the movement.”

In 2017, several members of the House Democratic Women’s Working Group wore white clothing, dubbed “suffragette white”, in ode to the women who fought for women’s rights in the early 20th Century.

At the time, the politicians explained they were also wearing white to show support for Planned Parenthood, affordable healthcare, reproductive rights, equal pay and several other issues.

Similarly, former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton wore the colour when accepting the Democratic nomination in 2016, and then again to President Donald Trump’s inauguration in 2017.

White, along with purple and gold, were the official colours of the Women’s Social and Political Union and the suffragette movement.

The group instructed their supporters to wear the colour – described as a symbol of “purity” – as a way to unify participants.

Last year, several members of Congress were invited to wear black to the State of the Union address in support of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movement.

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