This year’s Emmy Awards were remarkably woke, with prizes going to projects that offered brilliant, complex, and powerful roles for women and non-white actors—and winners and presenters alike demanding better representation for minorities and trans people in Hollywood.
But you know what doesn’t get a prize for progress? The media’s collective frenzy over the fact that an actress chose to wear pants on the red carpet. PANTS!!!
Scanning the coverage of the awards Monday morning, one might think the ceremony had taken place not in the same year that gender norms are being blown apart and a show like Transparent is both a popular and critical darling but, I don’t know, a hundred years ago.
The actress who dared to make such a “bold” move was Modern Family star Sarah Hyland. Or as one outlet put it, "Sarah Hyland Wore Pants to the Emmys as If It Was No Big Deal." Another implied her outfit required an explanation, writing, "Sarah Hyland Explains Bold Corset and Pants Look at the 2016 Emmys." The news even made it across the pond, with one British outlet offering a very British, "Sarah Hyland’s Trousers Cause Quite a Stir at the Emmys."
Sure, she was also praised for her look with headlines and tweets to the tune of "Sarah Hyland Just Slayed the Pants Game" and "Sarah Hyland Dared to Wear Pants to the Emmys — And KILLED It." But, to channel Carrie Bradshaw, I can’t help but wonder: In the year 2016, why is it newsworthy when a woman wears pants? And even more so if she wears pants and looks good?
Notably, other luminaries who identify as women also wore pants last night but didn’t receive nearly the media attention for their look. Transparent creator Jill Soloway, who won an Emmy for her directing work and is currently in a relationship with a woman, sported slacks. So did Alexandra Billings, a trans woman who is married to a woman and plays the character of Davina on Transparent. However, the giddy fashion headlines seem to be reserved for straight, cisgender women who meet a certain heteronormative standard of beauty.
Of course, Hyland isn’t the first straight, cisgender woman to draw headlines for donning “trousers” on a red carpet. At last year’s Emmys, Mad Men’s Kiernan Shipka got buzz for her pants, and Emma Watson sparked a similar fuss at events from the Golden Globes to the White House Correspondents Dinner. For a certain kind of celebrity, such a decision is instantly deemed brave. Fearless!
Are our cultural ideas about gender and sexuality are still so conservative and traditional that our heads can’t help but f-ing explode when we see a woman who meets our most rigid standards of female beauty stick her legs between two tubes of fabrics rather than hide the fact that she might have a vagina?
Like Hyland, I am also a heterosexual, cisgender woman—and I confess, I feel more comfortable, and confident, in pants than anything else. My favorite formalwear? A strapless black crepe jumpsuit. My favorite businesswear? Beautifully cut trousers. My favorite casualwear? Jeans. My favorite lounging-around-my-house-wear? Leggings, and I’m sorry, I don’t care what you say—they are pants and I won’t stop wearing them.
When I wear pants, I feel most me. I feel most in tune with my shape and my body, most able to sit and move and talk and write and be myself.
At its best, fashion can be an incredible tool for self-expression and identity—the most direct way to show yourself to the world as you want to be seen. And if that’s in pants because you freaking like pants or like how they make your legs look or like the way a cuff shows of your shoes or don’t want to shave your legs or who even cares why but you just want to wear pants—well, you should be able to do so without it being newsworthy.
But maybe, just maybe, once we have a Pantsuit in Chief in the White House, we will finally get over ourselves and let all the ladies wear all the pants.
Jen Gerson Uffalussy is a regular contributor to Fusion. She also writes about reproductive and sexual health/policy for Glamour, and television for The Guardian. She lives in Atlanta.