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On the Cleavage Patrol

by Pamela Leavey

The Clinton campaign sent out a fundraising email today that focused on WaPo fashion writer, Robin Givhan’s piece on Hillary Clinton’s cleavage last week. The fundraising email is causing a stir and Howard Kurtz and Anne E. Kornblut have come to Givhan’s defense in a post on the WaPo’s The Trail blog.

I didn’t comment on Givhan’s column because frankly I find the whole fashion aspect of politics to be a nonsensical side-note to the larger issues, but since I have written about Edwards haircut and Romney’s make-over, I might as well wade into this one.

The big stir now is that Ann Lewis, from Team Hillary has called Givhan’s column “grossly inappropriate” and she’s asking donors “to take a stand against this kind of coarseness and pettiness in American culture.” Thank you, Ann Lewis.

Now Givhan claims that she would “never say the column was about a body part,” Oh No, it was Hillary’s style of dress:

It was about a style of dress. People have gone down the road of saying, ‘I can’t believe you’re writing about her breasts.’ I wasn’t writing about her breasts. I was writing about her neckline.”

I don’t buy it. Here’s why… The first 2 sentences in the column made it clear she was talking about Hillary Clinton’s cleavage, and not the neckline on her outfit:

There was cleavage on display Wednesday afternoon on C-SPAN2. It belonged to Sen. Hillary Clinton.

Then Givhan goes on to say after noting Clinton’s “rose-colored blazer over a black top”:

The cleavage registered after only a quick glance. No scrunch-faced scrutiny was necessary. There wasn’t an unseemly amount of cleavage showing, but there it was. Undeniable.

And really, I have to ask Givhan this, does anyone really care when the last time was that Hillary “wore anything that was remotely sexy in a public”? I know I don’t.

Honestly I think if Robin Givhan had set out to write a piece about Hillary’s neckline and stuck with the neckline being a little low with out using the word cleavage some 6 times in the piece, it might have gotten the point across in a more tasteful manner. But resorting to discussing Clinton’s outfit with paragraph’s like this one, shows some intent to stir up some controversy:

The cleavage, however, 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!

I somehow doubt that Givhan would have devoted an entire column to any Senator who happened to be on the Senate floor with his fly unzipped… and I think Givhan crossed the line devoting an entire column to Hillary’s neckline or in reality her cleavage. The speculation on why Clinton was dressed the way she was, or how it was perceived was just plain sleazy:

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.

Again, when was the last time Givhan reported on any of Clinton’s male counterparts and discussed the package in his pants? Givhan’s column was sexist from this woman’s point of view and again, thank you to Ann Lewis for pointing it out. Women should be outraged that our political process has degenerated to this level. I know I am. I’m not offended that the Clinton campaign is using this issue to raise money, I’m offended that we’re having this conversation at all about Hillary’s “neckline.”

8 Responses to “On the Cleavage Patrol”

  1. In GOP ‘fairness’ is could be argued that “cleavage” is NOT a body part, but actually NOT a body part, by definition, since it is the absence of body parts that DEFINES cleavage.

    You watch CSPAN II enough and you begin to think of these things. 😯

    Of course, in the “real” world, it’s astoningly crass, coarse, and the usual course. After all, these are people that somberly believe that two wrongs make a right (“Clinton did it,” which, even if true, isn’t an excuse) and that making fun of people’s names is a legitimate debate point.

    Frankly, this whole line of journalistic inquiry is a bust.

  2. Hart

    It’s all so damn absurd. And then Givhan getting all defensive and claiming she was talking about necklines. Good gracious the column was all about the sexual innuendo of friggin cleavage!

    I’m on CSPAN strick right now. I can’t watch it, it annoys the heck out of me. And so does the news!

  3. what’s the ‘biggie’? If she can level the playing field and have some fun, just let her be.

    I say Clinton should be able to use her cleavage for political advantage. What do you think? vote on it: http://youpolls.com/details.asp?pid=244

  4. I just love living in a society where nobody ever did anything wrong for any reason at any time, ever.

    That’s why everything’s so wonderful.

  5. For some strange, probably ADD reason, this brings a scene from Erin Brokovich to mind.

    I think the Style piece on Pelosi’s coture was in the NYT last fall. That WAS about her style of dress – the consistent one not the unusual- and it was in the section of the paper devoted to the subject.

    It can make a difference. Clinton did a makeover in the early ’92 campaign to counter the impression she was making then. Dean’s wife had problems with it.

    So Clinton can’t make a slight change in her style – during the hottest part of the year, without a discussion of her cleavage… The WaPo is really sinking fast.

  6. Well, those animals over at the WashPo have NEVER ONCE run a piece on Dennis Hastert’s man cleavage (both upper and lower) — not even when he was relevant in some way.

    What’s sauce for the goose, after all.

    Besides, I would LOVE to see Newt Gingrich turn to the camera and deadpan: “My girdle is killing me!”

    (WARNING: You may not be old enough to recognize the reference.)

  7. I seem to recall a woman running for office in Italy and doing it in the nude. But I guess they have a different concept of the human body in Europe.

    I wonder if male politicians in this coutry are going to start wearing tops at the beach, so as to maintain decorum.

    Does Congress have causal Friday? What do the folks wear?

  8. Oh, yeah, I’m still trying to decide if it’s okay for the female Clinton to not have her head covered.