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On Cleavage

echidneofthesnakess Icon Posted by Echidne of the Snakes

July 27th, 2007

I didn’t chime in when the question of Hillary Clinton’s cleavage was analyzed, because I’m more interested in analyzing cleavage such as shown in the above photo.

Just kidding, though not quite. If you were lucky enough to miss the cleavage story, it was based on an article Robin Givhans wrote in the Washington Post. She tried to determine if Clinton was now choosing to show more cleavage and decided that it was a half-hearted attempt:

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. It also means that she feels that all those other characteristics are so apparent and undeniable, that they will not be overshadowed.

You can see the cleavage picture at the link. I wouldn’t call that cleavage, and neither did Ruth Marcus who said:

Might I suggest that sometimes a V-neck top is only a V-neck top? As a person of cleavage, I’d guess that Clinton’s low-cut shirt simply reflected a few centimeters of sartorial miscalculation, not a deliberate fashion statement.

I didn’t write about this topic earlier. Partly that was because I saw it as yet another way of singling women out in politics and of focusing on the fairly narrow feminist questions that singling out elicits, and I sensed a dangerous trend in all this.

The trends goes like this: First someone writes something silly on a female politician, something that would never be written about a male politician. Then the focus automatically turns to a thorough debate about women, not about politics. Then any female opinionator who dares to chime in will be seen as a silly one, because she is writing about boobs and not about the Iraq war. And if that female opinionator does not chime in she will be accused of ignoring the plight of her feminazi sisters. It’s a lose-lose situation.

A more fertile approach might be to ask why women on television news nowadays must show both cleavage and “leggage.” The Fox News is particularly bad in this respect. It’s possible that having ample and visible cleavage is an important job requirement for some of the jobs in the very same field which criticizes Clinton’s imaginary cleavage: journalism. And journalism is not the only field where professional expectations on women’s dress are somewhat confused these days. It doesn’t really make sense to analyze Hillary Clinton’s dress as if she just suddenly decided, for no reason at all, to show some cleavage, and now all thinking people must try to understand this odd behavior.
Cross-posted on my blog.

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