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The Washington Post is reporting - and maybe you should sit down before reading this - that Hillary Clinton has breasts.  Even masquerading as fashion writing, this piece is shameful.

On the Senate floor on Wednesday afternoon, Clinton

was wearing a rose-colored blazer over a black top. The neckline sat low on her chest and had a subtle V-shape. 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.

This is news?  Even fashion news?

But the fact that the Post noted this is not the part for which everyone involved should be most ashamed.  No, that comes from the multiple and often conflicting interpretations the story puts on cleavage.

Robin Givhan, the story's author, is not particularly happy about Clinton's clothing over the past decade, which is apparently objectively unsexy.  If you have ever found her attractive, well, sorry.  You were wrong.  But at the same time Givhan displays extraordinary discomfort with women's bodies.  She just can't make up her mind what's ickiest about them.

On the one hand:

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!

Here, a fraction of an inch of cleavage is equivalent to an unzipped fly.  It's not that it's sexual, it's that it's embarrassing and messy.  Surely she didn't mean to show that, the article implies.  In fact, it doesn't just imply.  Givhan saddles us with another paragraph on her own discomfort with Hillary Clinton having breasts.

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.

If cleavage means all of these things, yet Hillary Clinton is not allowed to display any, does that mean that she is not allowed to be confident or at ease?  Seemingly not.  Seemingly because Givhan imagines that Clinton should always wear high high necklines, Clinton's own decision to wear a somewhat lower (but still entirely professional) neckline forces the rest of us into voyeurism.  Half an inch of Clinton's breasts on C-SPAN2 makes us all deviants.  Such is the impact of a woman having political power.

I can tell you one thing - after seeing her breasts put under a microscope in the pages of the Washington Post, it's going to be a damn lot harder for Hillary Clinton to feel confident or at ease.  She works in a world where women are already under constant scrutiny because of their gender, where the New York Times marks the first woman Speaker of the House with a long article about what women in Congress wear, and the Washington Post (Robin Givhan again!) goes on at length about what scarves Nancy Pelosi wore in Syria.  And now the Post has declared open season on assessing not just whether her clothes are professional or flattering or any of the other added burdens of scrutiny that women politicians already bore, but on how sexual her clothes are, and whether their journalistic mindreaders think she's comfortable in her skin.  

And it's not just Clinton who should worry.

To display cleavage in a setting that does not involve cocktails and hors d'oeuvres is a provocation. It requires that a woman be utterly at ease in her skin, coolly confident about her appearance, unflinching about her sense of style. Any hint of ambivalence makes everyone uncomfortable. And in matters of style, Clinton is as noncommittal as ever.

A provocation!  That's right, all women carry around with us the power to make everyone uncomfortable - as uncomfortable as if Rudy Giuliani unbuttoned his shirt and, never mind leaving his fly open, adjusted himself constantly while leering.  If you're a woman out in public and people are uncomfortable, it's your fault.  

This story is so inappropriate on so many levels my mind can't stretch to encompass them all.  The notion that the outfit the Post pictures Clinton wearing was worthy of a single sentence is a sign of the idiocy of the traditional media.  The story that resulted from that notion is unconscionable and appalling, piling paragraph after paragraph onto the added burden women in the public eye already face.

Originally posted to Daily Kos on Fri Jul 20, 2007 at 12:37 PM PDT.

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