Hill’s hills: The stuff that got edited out

Because a 3-second soundbite wasn’t enough… Here’s what else I was going to say about the so-called controversy over Hillary Clinton sporting a v-neck top. Then I promise to stop yammering about it.
First off, Robin Givhan is a fashion writer for a paper in the political capital of the country. Of course she’s going to write about what the ’08 frontrunners are wearing. The difference between Hillary and the boys, though, is that she gets WAY more attention paid to what she wears. And even though Givhan’s article appeared in the style section (where, if anywhere, such an article belongs), the unfortunate thing is that other news outlets took it for news, and interspersed it with their political coverage. That’s when it gets really offensive.
Another difference between this incident and, say, the totally unwarranted flap over John Edwards’ hair, is that when it’s about a female candidate, it’s all about sex. Givhan even compared Hillary sporting a v-neck to one of the male candidates appearing in public with his zipper down. Umm… really? And in her article, she even noted that Hillary’s sedate, conservative black pantsuits during her senate campaign were “desexualized.” But the minute Hillary goes to work (because that’s where she was — at work, on the Senate floor, not on the campaign trail) in something other than a collared shirt or turtleneck (in 90-degree weather, no less), she’s supposedly making a break for “sexy.”
We’re going to run into this problem again and again. Because you know what? Hillary can never just grab a sedate gray suit out of the closet, pick a “fun” tie, and hit the road. She cannot make a fashion choice that doesn’t “say something” about her, because there is no default, nondescript outfit. The default for politicians is the traditional male suit, because for so long, all major national politicians were male. She doesn’t fit that mold. And try as she might, there is no clothing selection Hillary can make that won’t elicit some sort of commentary.
The Clinton campaign was very smart to turn this into a fundraising issue. Every female public or political figure faces the same no-win situation that Hillary does when it comes to her clothes. Too conservative? You’re a stuffy matron. A little lower-cut? You’re practically baring your boobs, you slut. Women can relate to the experience of having every aspect of their personal appearance analyzed and critiqued. So even if the fundraising appeal didn’t come right out and say, “Hillary has to put up with bullshit criticism of her appearance, just like you!” that was the sentiment they were capitalizing on. And rightfully so.

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10 Comments

  1. Posted July 31, 2007 at 7:45 pm | Permalink

    I’m going to have to disagree with you that the critique of Hil’s cleavage is totally different from the flap over JE’s hair–the hair business, just like the Gore earth-tones flap back in ’00, is all about gender politics and essentially emasculating Democratic males into pretty boys.
    Same with all the Hillary pantsuit crap. The right wing has a long history of using the public’s unhealthy obsession with gender roles (which we all know are socially constructed anyway) to their advantage in campaigns. At least this time both the HC and JE campaigns are fighting back.

  2. Posted July 31, 2007 at 7:47 pm | Permalink

    oh dear lord, so sorry, please remove the triple post. I usually laugh at people who make this kind of mistake! I’ve clearly been taught a lesson.

  3. ambidextrous amazon
    Posted July 31, 2007 at 7:50 pm | Permalink

    In one of the earlier threads I said that if I worked in congress I would wear tailored suits like the men. My comment must have been pre-coffee, because I failed to remember the “butchy ball-busting bitch” criticism.
    Also, right on, fellow-ette.

  4. brendino
    Posted July 31, 2007 at 9:19 pm | Permalink

    I think Robin Givhan addressed a lot of these objections in her article. She made it clear that she wrote about Clinton’s display of cleavage because a.) it marks a distinct change in her clothing style from her earlier campaigns — which, I assume, also took place during hot summer months — and b.) it occurred in the conservative confines of the Senate floor, where, until 1993, women weren’t even allowed to wear pants.
    I think Givhan is a brilliant writer, and it’s too bad she’s being criticized so viciously for this article. She regularly writes about politicians and their clothes. I would recommend that everyone look up the article from a few years ago in which she ripped Cheney a new one for dressing like a snow plow operator at the Aschwitz 60th anniversary ceremony.

  5. ShifterCat
    Posted August 1, 2007 at 12:09 am | Permalink

    This sort of thing is true about Canadian politics, too. Some years ago there was a lot of flap about a female politician wearing a red suit with knee-length skirt. Two male politicians had each released two covers of their autobiographies: one photo of them in a suit, the other in a casual denim shirt. This was an interesting choice, but the press made no comment about it.

  6. ccall
    Posted August 1, 2007 at 1:11 am | Permalink

    How dare Hillary have boobs.

  7. werechick
    Posted August 1, 2007 at 2:53 am | Permalink

    Anyone else find it odd that Hillary Clinton is so casually refered to as “Hilllary” every where, while her husband is only “Bill” when he’s mentioned alongside her, and in general use gets a full name. I know that, obviously, one has to deferentiate between the Clintons, but it’s not done that way with other people. Why does he get a full name when she doesn’t?

  8. werechick
    Posted August 1, 2007 at 2:59 am | Permalink

    Anyone else find it odd that Hillary Clinton is so casually refered to as “Hilllary” every where, while her husband is only “Bill” when he’s mentioned alongside her, and in general use gets a full name. I know that, obviously, one has to deferentiate between the Clintons, but it’s not done that way with other people. Why does he get a full name when she doesn’t?

  9. rachelhills
    Posted August 1, 2007 at 8:19 am | Permalink

    Perfectly put, Ann.

  10. marle
    Posted August 1, 2007 at 8:30 am | Permalink

    I wish that the simple black pantsuit was our “default” but no – that’s “matronly” “desexed” “ball-busting” “ugly” whatever. There’s skirt-suits, but then the skirt’s too long, too short, makes your legs look fat, looks silly without heels, are awkward when walking over something or picking something up, etc etc.
    At least my office does “business casual”. The men are just as confused as to what that means as the women. ;)

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