Health Secretary Nominee Sylvia Mathews Burwell: Would a Man's Appearance be Criticized This Way?

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So if you haven't heard yet, my friend and Office of Management and Budget Director Sylvia Mathews Burwell was nominated for Secretary of Health and Human Services, replacing Kathleen Sebelius. It's a huge, demanding, pressure-filled responsibility, and Sylvia's experience and skills are a very good fit for the position.

WASHINGTON D.C., March 4, 2013 U.S. President Barack Obama and Sylvia Mathews Burwell attend a nomination ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Washington D.C. (Credit Image: © Zhang Jun/Xinhua/ZUMAPRESS.com)

It's a pretty big deal for West Virginia, and a HUGE deal for Hinton, to send a native daughter to a seat in the Cabinet. (She's actually been there for a while in a different capacity.)

At any rate … I've been reading published accounts of her achievements this week, including some of the comments posted with online stories. And I'm left wondering just who these people's mothers are? Where did they learn to be so rude? And – to quote another powerful woman – what difference does it make?

I'm referring to comments criticizing Sylvia's wardrobe and hairstyle.

Yes, there are people out there, such a commenter on the Washington Post who calls himself niceFLguy, who accuse the current Director of the Office of Management and Budget and the future Secretary of Health of buying her suits at Goodwill. (And worse, but I had to stop reading.)

You can be anonymous online. You can create a persona to hide behind, and then toss insults like baseballs during the pre-game warm-up. You can be as mean as you like, because you're protected. It would take a lot of effort for Sylvia to track you down and show you her store receipts.

And then there's that pesky First Amendment.

I'm the first to defend your right to free speech. But I'm also the first to shake my head and wonder why you feel the need to attack someone's clothing, as if that will determine her capabilities. After all, how would you feel if I pointed out that your mother's sweatpants were a tad tight, as I stood behind her at the Dollar General?

Our words matter. Everywhere. All the time. Whether we're online or on-camera makes no difference. What we say represents us. Women are finding it necessary to reclaim and redefine some words. I have no problem with this.

I have to wonder, though, why women are still fighting for equal rights and equal pay and equal respect in the 21st century. We've been working for equality for a hundred years.

The fight for equality needs to be over already. We need to end it. Claim it. BE IT.

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