July 26, 2007

"Clinton's low-cut shirt simply reflected a few centimeters of sartorial miscalculation..."

WaPo columnist Ruth Marcus tries to put WaPo columnist Robin Givhan in her place:
[Hillary Clinton was] dissected by Post fashion critic Robin Givhan for showing cleavage: "It was startling to see that small acknowledgment of sexuality and femininity peeking out of the conservative -- aesthetically speaking -- environment of Congress." Givhan contrasted Clinton's decolletage with the more abundant display by Jacqui Smith, the new British home secretary, and her complaint seemed to be that Clinton was showing too little, too unassertively.

Might I suggest that sometimes a V-neck top is only a V-neck top? As a person of cleavage, I'd guess that Clinton's low-cut shirt simply reflected a few centimeters of sartorial miscalculation, not a deliberate fashion statement.

Breasts may be an advantage in certain settings; the Senate floor isn't one of them. If you're giving a speech on higher education, as Clinton was, you don't want Ted Stevens thinking about -- and you certainly don't want to think about Ted Stevens thinking about -- your cleavage.
Marcus is clear that cleavage distracts viewers into sexual thinking and that a politician giving a serious speech should not reveal it. On that firm foundation, she builds the argument that Clinton bumbled. It was mistake. A miscalculation from a woman who is continually called calculating? A very wealthy woman who must have people helping her dress? I think women -- unless they are inept or don't care what people think -- know how much of their breasts are showing! The suggestion that Hillary Clinton of all people did not know is beyond absurd.

So let's go back to Marcus's firm foundation -- that cleavage distracts viewers into sexual thinking and that a politician giving a serious speech should not reveal it -- and build something else. Hillary Clinton deliberately crossed a well-understood line, because she'd calculated that it was in her interest to do so. As Marcus notes, Clinton had just received criticism from Elizabeth Edwards for being insufficiently womanly. Hillary wanted to prod us -- subtly, with a small and deniable amount of cleavage -- to think of her as more feminine.

Now let's examine the issue raised by Givhan that the problem was showing too little cleavage. Here's how Givhan's column ends:
Not so long ago, Jacqui Smith, the new British home secretary, spoke before the House of Commons showing far more cleavage than Clinton. If Clinton's was a teasing display, then Smith's was a full-fledged come-on. But somehow it wasn't as unnerving. Perhaps that's because Smith's cleavage seemed to be presented so forthrightly. Smith's fitted jacket and her dramatic necklace combined to draw the eye directly to her bosom. There they were . . . all part of a bold, confident style package.

With Clinton, there was the sense that you were catching a surreptitious glimpse at something private. You were intruding -- being a voyeur. Showing cleavage is a request to be engaged in a particular way. It doesn't necessarily mean that a woman is asking to be objectified, but it does suggest a certain confidence and physical ease. It means that a woman is content being perceived as a sexual person in addition to being seen as someone who is intelligent, authoritative, witty and whatever else might define her personality. It also means that she feels that all those other characteristics are so apparent and undeniable, that they will not be overshadowed.

To display cleavage in a setting that does not involve cocktails and hors d'oeuvres is a provocation. It requires that a woman be utterly at ease in her skin, coolly confident about her appearance, unflinching about her sense of style. Any hint of ambivalence makes everyone uncomfortable. And in matters of style, Clinton is as noncommittal as ever.
So both Marcus and Givhan find fault. One sees mistake, and the other sees tentativeness. I see a deliberate, controlled gesture that was exactly what she wanted to do, what she thought would be advantageous. Why must a fashion expression -- or a political expression -- be forthright? Givhan uses words like "teasing" and "surreptitious," but I'm thinking: subtle, deniable, diplomatic.

But I do love Givhan's idea that the most advanced woman would be so confident about her image as a competent professional that she'd forthrightly use clothing to express her sexuality. If she does this in a profession setting though, she will be surrounded by men in suits who have no way to present themselves more sexily. What's the male equivalent of the Jacqui Smith style? Can Joe Biden wear a codpiece?

Women have much more freedom than men do. Along with this benefit of more freedom comes more room for personal expression. We can adjust what we wear to express as little as possible. A female politician can wear a dark "Dress For Success" suit if she wants, and then, like the men, she's not saying much. But if she does more, we shouldn't say oh, that's nothing, as Marcus would like. We should talk about it!

33 comments:

hdhouse said...

are we making a mountain out of a molehill here?

sorry. couldn't resist.

Roger said...

Apropos HD's comment: once again we pole vault over a mouse dropping

Zeb Quinn said...

Hillary's problem is that this is new turf for her. She never shown cleavage before, she has never dressed in any way suggestively or evocative of sexuality before, nor has her dress ever been even particularly fashionably to a notable extent. So, yeah, when she does, the change gets noticed and commented upon. Is that good for her? I dunno.

IMHO she's just too old for this game now. Most people just don't relate to 60-year old woman's cleavage or sexuality suggestiveness the same way they do to younger women. Dressing with style, class, and dignity would seem to be a better way.

Synova said...

I agree we should talk about it. Why not?

And as much as I dislike Hillary, I think her clothing lately has been very nice. I don't understand what the problem is. I thought her orange/pink jacket was an excellent choice. It looked nice. It looked sharp. The lower v-neck stuff makes her face look better. Not so much focus on the jowls.

What with the magic make-up and necklines she probably looks nicer than she ever has. Not even youth made that woman attractive in pictures.

Synova said...

I don't see the sexual suggestiveness, Zeb. Maybe because she *is* old she can do it. Maybe a younger woman would have to try not to look like a girl.

I don't remember where I read it but someone claimed to have determined that a woman that could be elected president would have to look matronly. Like we want a mother or something.

I think it's probably a smart move that Hillary, who has never been "pretty", is not trying to look like a man. The worst thing for her, I think, would be if she seemed to be trying to hard to look tough because trying to hard almost always comes off as being insecure.

(This is definitely true when it comes to the men as well, such as when Kerry went goose hunting.)

Simon said...

Maybe she should have dressed like this. At least Clinton's outfit was appropriate for the venue.

*jane said...

I also am not a fan of Hillary- in fact... never mind. But her Rosie feminist pantsuits are ugly and doctrinaire- it's nice to see her branch out a bit and for at least Repubs to not be so prudish as to object to a tiny bit of cleavage. Were Hillary to present herself to Congress in a skin-tight leopard print dress and six-inch heels, then we'll talk.

Men who try to look sexy aren't, imo. They look just great in their suits (if not too dandied with vest, double-breasted styling, tie tacks, etc.) They even can exude manliness in shorts (that's pushing it), if they're wearing a confident, generous attitude, as well.

Thief said...

1. Givhan is ridiculous, vapid, and wholly unsuited for any kind of serious analysis or commentary. (Which means that, of course, she won a Pulitzer prize for writing crap like this.)

2. The only reason why what politicians wear is of any importance is that some voters decide between candidates based on who is better dressed. (No joke. This is what a Capitol Hill press secretary told me. They've done polls and studies on this. Fear for your country, folks.)

Simon said...

Zeb Quinn said...
"IMHO she's just too old for this game now. Most people just don't relate to 60-year old woman's cleavage or sexuality suggestiveness the same way they do to younger women."

As to the first sentence - I don't accept that raw age has anything to do with it. And even if it does, as to the second sentence, what's wrong with challenging that view?

Roger said...

having already decried this as polevaulting, I will make my hypocritical attempt to clear the bar: Someone on a previous thread noted that this attire and article came out shortly after (I believe) Elizabeth Edward's criticism of HRC as manly. For those such as myself who assume Ms. Clinton is a very calculating and political person who leaves nothing to chance, I infer that this outfit was chosen specifically, and I would not be shocked to learn that Ms Clinton's attire would have been leaked to a friendly WAPO writer. But thats just ole conspiratorial me.

*jane said...

Roger, right. Of course, this was all calculated to get us talking about Hillary the Woman. Her critics on the Right and now on the Left have been taking swipes at her unwomanliness for a while now. With just one slightly low-cut top worn in Congress, she shows us she's willing to hint at her female credentials and, more importantly, to do what it takes to get the job done, which is admirable in a way... Too bad, many of us still wouldn't feel comforted in the bosom of her political ideology and Clintonesque mode of operation.

Maxine Weiss said...

But what's a "professional setting" ?

Isn't a Blogger, blogging away, doing so in a "Professional Setting" ???

Yes Blogging is a "Profession" if your definition of Profession is anyone who wants to be taken seriously at something they engage in.

By that criteria, a Blogger has no business wearing skimpy, low-cut garments, even out on a Saturday Night Gallery opening.

EXAMPLE: Reporters out on Academy Awards Night--although the women wear evening gowns they aren't low-cut. Theoretically.

SteveR said...

I guess we have to play this game but my image of HRC is not going to be changed by what she wears now. Her femaninity (or lack thereof) has been on display for a long time, reject the "Stand By Your Man" in principle while exceeding it in actuality. No time to bake cookies, a hair style a month during her days as First Lady, etc. I think we have formed an opinion.

Yeah I think it was calculated.

Mindsteps said...

Obviously, as Ann has stated before....she writes about what she wants to write about. Based upon her blog postings, my sense of proportionality and Ann's often diverge. On the other hand, the fact that Ann elects to use some blogspace on this may not have to do with her peception of its importance, relative to say Iraq, Healthcare, etc. However, it may be an area of particular interest to her (a kind of Althouse specialty if you will). I have very little to say regarding Clinton's appearance or her efforts at impression management. However, Ann does not think it should be excluded from discussion. While I do not share Ann's interest in this area, I can understand her desire to focus on it.

Peter said...

The 'revealing' photograph was the first one I have seen of Hillary for many years that did not make me find ANYTHING else to view. *I* thought she actually looked like a (gasp) woman.
The outrage by a set of pundits and comentators leads me to expect a call for any woman interested in politics to undergo a mastectomy to prevent any more inappropriate displays.

Ruth Anne Adams said...

At least the orange we're talking about isn't her faux tan.

From Inwood said...

Who knows. Maybe it's to turn Bill on, not us.

Won't work in either case.

Um, Make that "shouldn't work".

Seriously, Roger's got this silly nonsense nailed.

And I'm not being sexist. Kerry on the sail boat in youth wear. Edwards as a pretty boy.

Trying too hard.

BTW, Rudy gave up his comb-over a while back. Got some sense. Age-appropriate sense.

Gotta stop before I go into psychobabble!

Simon. See I told you that Federalism (note, I love it) is boring to the profanum vulgus.

PS

There once was a lady named Hill
Whose cleavage downward did spill.
Was it being called manly,
Fear of being also-ran-ly?
The sensible began to feel ill.

An Edjamikated Redneck said...

Why does the word 'Cougar' come to mind?

Is it possible she is trolling for a 20-something intern who smokes Churchillian cigars?

Dave said...

Synova, I've probably mentioned the work of Prof. James N Schubert (now sadly deceased) here on the 'electability' and 'appearance' factors in elections. Briefly, he has found (among other things) that particular appearances (i.e. physical, especially facial characteristics) affect the perceptions of voters in terms of 'electability'. (That is, would *you* vote for this person? and do you think *others* would vote for this person. All based only on photos.)

Of course, even with all other things being equal, the results show only a 2-4% vote swing between candidates, but it's stable and that's enough to win a lot of elections.

Specifically, though, in studies conducted using very equal pics of female Democrat Members of Congress, the 'appearance' rankings of all of them were very stable across the survey demographics, and there were several features that led to higher 'electability' scores.

Taken as a whole, voters apparently like best women who: 1) look healthy; 2) look like young grandmothers (say 45-55); 3) show their earlobes (an age indicator); 4) have short hair that appears easy to manage (i.e. not a sexual symbol as is long, flowing hair or intricate hairdos), and; 5) don't have what look like 'dating' ornamentation.

It would take too long to describe all the work, but it is very stable.

Given this, I would say that if Hillary calculated to do this she pretty much hit the sweet spot.

Look at her. Youngish grandmother look. check. (Even if she's 60 she doesn't look 'old'.) Healthy. Check. Earlobes visible. check. Short, easy hairdo. Check. Very little to no ornamentation. check.

Dave said...

Oh. And I meant, of course, that if she is deliberately drawing attention to the fact that she is female (without going overboard, which I don't see here), she managed to do it in a way that I think emphasized all the appropriate 'electability' features for women.

And, yes, to be elected President, a woman would probably have to look like that. Just as a man *must* not look like Tweety Bird. (Sorry Ralph and Dennis.)

Men should look healthy, mature (testosterone markers like brow ridge and cheekbones), and very regular featured. At a guess, some of McCain's problem is that he's beginning to show signs of possible ill-health.

Simon said...

An Edjamikated Redneck said...
"Is it possible she is trolling for a 20-something intern who smokes Churchillian cigars?"

More likely one who's fond of onion rings.

Gakic said...

I am sorry but I love a good pair of knockers but I don't want to see any woman's cleavage who is over 50. Especially Hilary Clinton.

If they have to go out of the house at all they better be wearing a turtleneck.

The most unattractive thing is a woman over 50 who is sagging and dragging her pair of headlights down the street.

I want firm, young,supple erect boobs that stand at attention and say hello to me when I walk by. Preferably with a little bounce with each step. Not bouncing all over-that's gross and the oldies generally can't keep them from hanging and bouncing all over the place. No bras showing if you are over 50 too-thats nasty. I still think seeing a woman's bra is hot if they are in to their 40's and in great shape though. At that point in their life they need to be putting many hours in the gym to keep the boobs attractive and firm. Sarah Jessica Parker still has some nice ones and I think she is around 40 but she doesn't have much time left before she needs to cover up.

If I want to see a pair of over 50 knockers I'll rent granny porn.

Maxine Weiss said...

She's still going through menopause. Women in the throes of "the change" always make bizarre fashion choices.

Gakic said...

Just saying "the change" is enough to deflate my libido.

Simon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Simon said...

Gakic - I don't think you can sweep across the board like that, except to the extent you're talking about pure personal aesthetic preference, and if that's all you're talking about, you're in no position to be making requests to the conduct of other people. To some extent it depends on the woman, and in every event is in the eye of the beholder. Given the choice between seeing some Clintonian cleavage or, for example, Paris Hilton's (or, to tie into another thread today, Tara Reid's), I'll take Clinton's - and I'm a lot closer to Paris' and Tara's age than Hil's.

As I put it in December:
"The cultural and aesthetic fetishization of youth has biological origins in the reproductive imperative: the instinct to reproduce makes young, physically fit women seem most attractive because they are the most likely to be able to bear and raise children. But if technology allows society to uncouple sex from reproduction - which modern society has done - the biological imperative is, if not obsolete, then no longer of paramount importance. While the biological-cultural inclination towards seeing youth as an appealing quality has enormous momentum, it no longer makes much logical sense, and other considerations are now free to come into play[,] ... [including] aesthetic tastes, which are naturally many and varied. ... [A]bsent cultural conditioning, there is nothing inherently attractive about being under twenty, or inherently less so in being over 50."

paul a'barge said...

Maxine writes
...if your definition of Profession is anyone who wants to be taken seriously at something they engage in...

See 1, 2 and 3

If your definition of a word is what you want it to be, then you're not using the language, you're engaging in rhetorical masturbation.

P. Rich said...

HR Clinton has approximately as much sex appeal as an attack turnip. Of course, if you are into turnips, and think that whips have more virtues than chains, then...

Palladian said...

"I want firm, young,supple erect boobs that stand at attention and say hello to me when I walk by. Preferably with a little bounce with each step..."

Um, do you need a towel?

Barlycorn, John said...

I hate Hillary, but not for this. Get over it. I hate her for almost convincing me to vote for her (I voted for GWB twice) as the person who has the most clue as to what being POTUS actually means, and the responsiblity of the office to the nation, its security, reputation, and future. Then she caved to the movon.org left. She could have won in a walk, in the general election, I think, at one time. Now I think it will be a very tight race she could lose against any strong candidate.

Although the point about bringing sex into the thought process certainly rings true. It is not like I need a lot of prompting to go there.

SteveR said...

John, Glad to see you're still kicking. They've been after you a long time.

The Exalted said...

endlessly prattling about the cleavage of the most powerful woman in american politics is so deeply feminist

well done ann

nathan said...

As I go through the various comments I can but say: wow! how bitchy so many of these remarks are. In fact, were she to show cleavage in the Senate, there would be no problem. Most of the GOP moral leaders have spent their energy at other venues, it seems