Here’s a brief list of requirements for being elected President of the United States of America: natural-born citizenship, over the age of 35, and residency within the US for 14 years or more.

Now, in contrast, here’s a very brief list of asinine, sexist, backwards, unproductive, and frankly embarrassing traits that some have decided disqualify a candidate from being elected President of the United States of America: strict adherence to hyper-specific modes of gender presentation.

In the first week of January, Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio was photographed wearing a pair of boots. But these weren’t just any boots— though they were made for walking the campaign trail. These were not work boots or combat boots, but instead fashionable ones. So fashionable, in fact, that several other candidates— Fiorina, Paul, and Cruz— saw fit to lambaste Rubio’s masculinity for wearing them because, clearly, men don’t care about their appearance.

That the first fashion-flavored scandal of the 2016 presidential campaign came from a Republican man is a delightful piece of irony when the Democratic front-runner is a woman, but still belies a greater public unwillingness to even consider the possibility that anything outside of prescribed gender roles is deviant at best and a condemnation of character at worst.

Marco Rubio can, and should, be called to task for a myriad reasons, but his fashion sense is not one of them. Put simply: he is not a poor leader for deciding to look nice in the face of a culture that demands that men be, to an extent, slovenly.

Our leaders should be judged on their capabilities to remain calm under pressure, their ability to put the needs of the people at large first, and their ability to push to make society better than it is currently.

Note how “behaving like a real man or proper lady” doesn’t factor into any of those qualities. Just how one performs gender has absolutely nothing to do with their ability to be a leader. Not now and not ever. A man can still be protective if he takes pride in his appearance. A woman can still be caring even if she puts her profession first, and vice versa. That we even ascribe these traits to be specifically innate to men or women—to the disregard of those who don’t fit those impossibly small categories— is needlessly difficult.

The problem of Rubio’s boots isn’t contained to the Republican presidential primary; the problem lies within ourselves. We want our leaders to reflect the best in us, to bring our best qualities to light, while at the same time trust that they’ll rise above our fears and more messy parts. Our collective anxiety about gender—about fitting into those tiny, unreasonably-constructed boxes with no room to play between the two or allow them to expand in any reasonable way—thus becomes projected in what hopefully will end up being the most ridiculous scandal of the presidential campaign.

But, who knows? Hillary may still yet be shamed for wearing pantsuits.

—Jordan Anthony

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