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....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?
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....
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."
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?
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.
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.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?
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.