Who Cares About Hillary's Cleavage?

This post was written by Sarah White

"I didn't deny you the promotion because you're a woman. I denied you the promotion because you took all that time off last year [to have a baby]."

"I wasn't harassing you. You obviously wanted my attention if you wore an outfit like that."

"I didn't grab your butt. I was just trying to squeeze by."

"I don't distrust women. I just think they're too emotional to do the job like men can."

"I wasn't writing about her breasts. I was writing about her neckline."

Yes, James Heffernan let's have a show of hands: how many women have heard some version of the quips above? If you're a woman living in America you've most heard more than one of these gems, and if you've been reading the news lately you've definitely heard the last. However, this time you didn't hear this from a male colleague or a red-faced idiot at your local bar, you heard it from a well-respected, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist. A female well-respected, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist.

Robin Givhan, the fashion editor for the Washington Post, centered an entire article on Hillary's "lowered neckline" at a recent Senate floor meeting . Her remarks include likening a view of Hillary's lower clavicle to seeing a man with his pants unzipped. Givhan reminds her readers that Hillary's past fashion choices were "glamorous, regal and defiant," noting previous alterations to make gowns less revealing. Though Givhan does not go as far as arguing that Hillary's "acknowledgement of femininity and sexuality" might be an attempt to woo voters with sex, she does imply through an analysis of Hillary's recent use of new colors and styles that Hillary is "playing the fashion field" to try and shed the "desexualized" image that she claims won Hillary the New York Senate seat.

Journalists, pundits and campaign figure-heads raced to condemn or condone Givhan's haughty analysis of Hillary's latest fashion choice. James Heffernan's response (which suggests that Givhan's article "handed Hillary a rose") kindly suggests that if Hillary wants to hide her breasts entirely she could wear a muumuu. Both Heffernan and Givhan provide stark reminders that American notions of femininity and female professionalism have caught up with our zeal for the idea of a woman president.

Even American sex symbols can't help but weigh in on Hillary's sexuality. Sharon Stone recently told an interviewer that she doubted American voters could get past the threat of Hillary's sexual power to vote for her, adding that a woman who runs for president should be "past her sexuality". In other words, Hillary Clinton must be as utterly asexual as possible to avoid arousing the uncontrollable emotions of the men she must entice politically. This idea runs frighteningly parallel to the Puritanical aversion to wrist- and ankle-baring that kept women in full-length frocks and out of schools for the early parts of American history.

So what's the problem with an article mocking Hillary's "neckline" as squirm-worthy or arguably sexual/asexual? It's true that fashion choices of male politicians become noteworthy or contentious from time to time. However, the marked glibness and haughtiness with which critics are so eager to make accusations about Hillary's sexuality and the impact it has on her as a political figure point to our societal unwillingness to accept a female professional as respectfully as we accept a male professional, especially in politics. These critics are unable to respectfully address Hillary as a politician without venting their own ideas about women and sexuality, and sexuality as power.
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