July 28, 2007

"I hope that there was considerable controversy in your newsroom over the decision to run a story posing as a 'fashion' piece..."

Hillary shows cleavage. WaPo readers show disapproval that fashion and politics columnist Robin Givhan wrote about it.

From Letter 1:
...Robin Givhan wrote, without irony, that looking at Clinton's breasts felt voyeuristic and that her small, "not unseemly" amount of cleavage is the equivalent of a man's unzipped fly, as if Clinton deserved the sexualized attention thanks to a shameful social faux pas....

When I am at work, as a young woman often surrounded by older men, I want my mind to be on display and my body to be relatively invisible....
Presumably, then, she doesn't wear low-cut tops! Or is she insisting that the world be magically transformed so that women can wear anything and no one will talk about what they are wearing or even think about their bodies? If that transformation were possible, would we want it?

Letter 2:
What's next? An article on viewing men's crotches generally or seeing a difference when they are watching her speak?
There should, of course, be corresponding writing about men's clothing and any sexual messages it may communicate. I note that male Senators wear such extremely conventional clothing that it's very hard to find anything sexual about it or, in fact, much of anything interesting to say about it.

The first two letters are trying to work the theory that you wouldn't treat men with such disrespect, but both letter writers fumble with the problem that there is no equivalent thing that a man would do. Both resort to referring to a predicament that might happen without intentionality. An open fly and a noticeable erection are scarcely parallel to a woman's chosen low-cut top. If the Post had published an article about menstrual blood stains on a female politician's skirt, the first 2 letter writers would have a good point.

But Givhan herself brought up the subject of a man's open fly:
The cleavage... is an exceptional kind of flourish. After all, it's not a matter of what she's wearing but rather what's being revealed. It's tempting to say that the cleavage stirs the same kind of discomfort that might be churned up after spotting Rudy Giuliani with his shirt unbuttoned just a smidge too far. No one wants to see that. But really, it was more like catching a man with his fly unzipped. Just look away!
She goes on to speak of a female politician in Britain who showed much more cleavage and to deal with the way showing just a little cleavage creates ambiguity about whether it was intended. ("With Clinton, there was the sense that you were catching a surreptitious glimpse at something private. You were intruding -- being a voyeur.") Givhan is analyzing the complex gesture of showing but only showing a little: The possibility that it is unintentional or not meant to imply sexuality makes the viewer uncomfortable. This is a sly political joke: Clinton is "tentative" and "noncommittal" in "matters of style."

Letter 3:
Robin Givhan's attempts to turn Hillary Clinton's choice of a scoop-necked shirt on a hot day in the District into social commentary failed miserably. Givhan crossed the line by suggesting that the shirt revealed Clinton's changing comfort level with her sexuality....
The "hot day" explanation is quite silly. The Capitol building clearly must be air-conditioned to the point where all the men are comfortable in suits and in no danger of sweating, so there is no way the low-cut top was serving an important summertime physical need. In any case, Clinton was wearing a jacket too. How desperately hot could she have been? Is cleavage some special heat vent?

Letter 4:
Most disturbing... was the misogynistic tone Givhan took, most notably with her comment, "No one wants to see that . . . Just look away!" It really should come as no surprise that women tend to have breasts. With breasts come cleavage. They are part of the female body...
This is a rhetorical move I've seen before. Talking about how a woman has chosen to highlight her breasts is portrayed as an objection to the woman's having breasts at all. And one is called misogynistic. But good Lord! What a misreading! Givhan's "Just look away!" didn't express her distaste for breasts. The next paragraph expresses enthusiasm for the British home secretary with the lavish display of cleavage! "Just look away" was Givhan's impression of what Hillary seemed to be saying with the "tentative" cleavage.

Letter 5:
I can't decide what horrifies me more: that The Post, which I have often touted for its intelligent reporting, would publish such a sexist, dated article, or even worse, that the author was echoing a common viewpoint still prevalent in society.

As a mother and a professional analyst for the government, I have always believed that my colleagues have respected my work, my mind and my opinions, not whether my cleavage was showing. I dress as I believe all women should: with the ability to choose clothes that represent who they are, be they feminine, nurturing, intelligent, sexy or fashionable. But I do so with the hope that clothes represent my style -- not how much skin is exposed.
So women should wear clothes that "represent who they are," but it's wrong to analyze this self expression? Your "clothes represent [your] style -- not how much skin is exposed"? What does that mean? The style of your clothes obviously includes the way it covers some parts and not others. Once you concede that clothes express the inner self, it follows that we should try to understand the meaning of the clothing worn by a person who seeks political power. Why would you censor this valuable line of inquiry?

19 comments:

Pogo said...

I'm asking a stupid guy question here:
Do women really make that kind of decision when getting dressed each day?
I get eveningwear and beaches, but I am surprised to find women at work make that mental calculation about centimeters of acceptable cleavage every morning. It seems obvious now that it's said, but....

Okay, I'm an idiot not to have been aware of this. Come to think of it, the male office uniform has a burka-like effect in desexualizing men. Quite effective.

The Drill SGT said...

Mary said...
Fred Thompson's wife -- that's cleavage. A good inch or two of breast crack. Very intentional, inviting you to have a looksee.


Without offering a comment on the attributes of either woman, I would point out that Hillary's low cut top was "at work", while most every shot I have ever seen of Fred's wife was an evening fundraiser / cocktail party type event. Frankly, I would expect to see more in that venue than on a podium in front of the Senate.

Palladian said...

"Come to think of it, the male office uniform has a burka-like effect in desexualizing men. Quite effective."

Quite the opposite for some of us, Pogo. Some of us find guys in everyday business wear VERY sexy. Uniforms have their appeal.

rhhardin said...

It's a case of cattiness, not a case of sexuality. Thurber, who writes on the ordinary, tells of the ``cold, flat look'' that comes into a woman's eyes when she looks another woman up and down to see what she is wearing, speculating that that, that complete lack of humanity, is what drives men to join the (then) Navy.

Karen Kleinfelder, in _The Artist, His Model, Her Image, His Gaze_, on Picasso's late porn period, wondered about his obsession with the same theme always revisited, until one day, I guess in his 80s, suddenly it stopped. Being a woman, she thought that Picasso had finally come to terms with his mortality. What actually happened is that some neuron finally stopped firing, as any guy knows.

That neuron in the male, that finds - for no reason that makes sense! - something attractive in the female, is what makes women other-than-all-kneecaps, sexually speaking. To use her various attractions for her own ends is the feminine operation ; and is subject to disapproval from other women who are her competition.

The question only goes away when the male does, one way or the other. Ultimately it's about attracting him.

Pogo said...

"Quite the opposite for some of us"

Notably, I did already mention that I'm an idiot.

Ann Althouse said...

I think suits really do make men most men look more attractive than they would look in most other clothes. Are they sexualizing? Only in the way they express power. But men don't make themselves seem sexy by expressing vulnerability the way women do. That's the core problem people are having with this whole issue. How does a powerful woman retain her feminity?

*jane said...

Palladian's right about men in suits. Suits are comfortable armor.

Anyway, how brilliant was Hill's little bit of cleavage. We're talking more than ever about Hillary the Woman. She's either Hillary the slightly naughty, inappropriately dressed woman or Hill the female feminist being attacked by somewhat misogynist, prudish or shallow critics. She has rebooted her image from that of a cold, gender disinterested person to one of a self-aware female embracing her two-sided womanhood: in the song vid with Bill she’s a wife-mother female dominator; in her neckline performance, she comes off as coquettish and slightly "vulnerable.”

If only Ghivan and others would discuss that bit of Progressive-Socialist crevice she exposes from time to time.

Der Hahn said...

Speaking of male cleavage, have any of the politico-fashion writers commented on the Obama look - single-breasted suit jacket with an open collar?

Theo Boehm said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
amba said...

God, those letter-writers sound huffy and priggish.

Givhan was wrong to compare Hillary's discreet display to a man's open fly, except for the viewer's ambivalence about whether to look or look away.

It was definitely a riposte to Eliz. Edwards saying she was too man-like.

Of course people enjoy all this much more than droning policy debates -- hey, we're animals! -- and they enjoy getting huffy about it, too, much as David Vitter enjoyed getting huffy about prostitution.

B said...

Ann, you have this issue pegged perfectly.

Keep it up!

Jeff said...

"Presumably, then, she doesn't wear low-cut tops! Or is she insisting that the world be magically transformed so that women can wear anything and no one will talk about what they are wearing or even think about their bodies? If that transformation were possible, would we want it?"

A quick look at the daily references to "the patriarchy" on Pandagon et al would seem to indicate that this is precisely what the "feminist" left wants.

dick said...

Seems to me that women, even powerful women, dress more to impress other women than they do to impress men - unless they are specifically targeting one man in particular. Why else would so many of them check with other women to see just what they are wearing and then get all huffy if someone else is wearing the same outfit. I doubt very much that any man would give a rat's patootie what nother man was wearing to ensure that he was wearing something different. Also note that it is women who are doing almost all of the writing about Hillary and her cleavage, positive or negative. About the only writing men are doing on it is by noting what the women are saying.

Luckyoldson said...

Robin has tits.

Luckyoldson said...

The Drill Sgt. says...(and I assume this is because he hasn't left the house in quite sometime):

"Without offering a comment on the attributes of either woman, I would point out that Hillary's low cut top was "at work"..."

Good God...a woman, wearing a dress, that reveals "cleavage"...and she's...AT WORK!!!

One more reason women should just stay at home and raise dem chilin' we's got.

Luckyoldson said...

b,
Remove nose from Ann's butt.

LoafingOaf said...

Again, my problem with Givhan's column wasn't that she was commenting on Hillary's clothes. It was that the content of her column was nutty (comparing an ordinary, conservative v-neck to an open fly and calling it a sexual provocation) and didn't fit the picture of Hillary that went with it.

jane says: Anyway, how brilliant was Hill's little bit of cleavage. We're talking more than ever about Hillary the Woman. She's either Hillary the slightly naughty, inappropriately dressed woman or Hill the female feminist being attacked by somewhat misogynist, prudish or shallow critics. She has rebooted her image from that of a cold, gender disinterested person to one of a self-aware female embracing her two-sided womanhood: in the song vid with Bill she’s a wife-mother female dominator; in her neckline performance, she comes off as coquettish and slightly "vulnerable.”

You're assuming Hillary could've anticipated a whole column would be written about that outfit and weirdly comparing it to an open fly.

It's not like she wore it to the YouTube debate. She wore it on CSPAN2, a channel almost no one watches. Also, I would think someone who is always in the public eye everyday would have to be careful not to wear the same outfits too often. At some point you're gonna wear something with a v-neck.

hdhouse said...

I wonder how many men get their shoes shined and then feel a little better about their appearance, stand a little better, walk more confidently...same with a well tailored suit of good cloth. Certainly women feel the same with a good outfit etc.

What the hell is wrong with dressing so you look and feel good about yourself. It is strictly an internal decision and you really don't care if some bonzo doesn't like your shoes, your tie or the "cleavage" exposed. It is about how you feel not how they discern.

Frankly, Hillary looks pretty good in her "look" and a fair appraisal would say so.

Please don't tell me you harp on someone's looks or dress or combination thereof for political reasons? Please don't.

Kurt said...

Of course part of the subtext of Givhan's article seems to be that Hillary Clinton is hardly what most people would consider sexy, and so wearing clothing that is intended to play up on her sex appeal just doesn't work.

Givhan has commented before on the sex appeal of some of Condi's clothing choices, but of course none of these angry letter writers complained because 1). they don't like Condi anyway, and 2). Condi actually does have sex appeal in a way that Hillary never will.

In fact, that's one of Hillary's problems. Charisma is part sex appeal, and Hillary just doesn't have much of that.