Sunday, July 29, 2007

Why the Cleavage Issue Matters

The really interesting thing about the Hillary Cleavage Debate is the comments on the Washington Post Campaign Trail Blog's web page about it. (The page was originally called "Clinton cashing in on cleavage" but was later changed to "Let the cleavage conversation begin".)

The history is: The Washington Post published an article about an outfit Hillary wore on the Senate floor that had a slightly low-cut blouse. The article claimed that Hillary was showing cleavage and then analysed all the times she has worn sexy clothing. (I couldn't detect any cleavage in the accompanying photo.) The Clinton campaign sent out a fund-raising letter that started, "Would you believe that the Washington Post wrote a 746-word article on Hillary's cleavage? ...focusing on women's bodies instead of their ideas is insulting."

Comments on the blog about the issue include:

* The Clinton campaign is over-reacting and is being stupid and petty.
* The Clinton campaign is manipulating people by raising this issue.
* The article was flattering, so why complain?
* Hillary is a hypocrite because she has started to wear more feminine clothes.
* Since Hillary is old and has small breasts, it is gross to think about her body (the term "shrivelled tits" was used, along with several other epithets). This may be the most common theme of all the comments.

I can answer all those who profess not to understand why Hillary made an issue of the article. For the 8 years she was First Lady, Hillary's appearance was scrutinized until it nearly paralysed her. I recall feature articles in top news magazines that showed all of her hairstyles over the years, implying that there was something wrong with her moral fiber because she was inconsistent in her use of a hairband. (I believe she talks about it in her memoir Living History but I wasn't able to find the reference in my copy.)

In the west at least, most women change their clothing and hair styles on a regular basis, but in Hillary's case any change is raised as an indication that she (a) has to fake it to appear feminine; and (b) is a hypocrite and a liar.

Hillary has to take control of this issue or it could ruin her attempt to become president. It shouldn't be such a damaging issue for her, but it is because of a combination of sexism, smear tactics, and our fixation on titillation. She controls the issue by getting people to talk about it and to realize just how sexist and inappropriate it is, and how hurtful it is - not just to her, but to all of us.

Update May 2008: Since I wrote this, the Washington Post has removed the offensive comments from the page I reference.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Rodham Clinton is more used to this sort of scrutiny than any of the other candidates. She will turn it to her advantage and the media have just rained her to be teflon with their perpetual attacks over the years. When someone is attacked for long enough over nothing it really starts to lose its effect. Just as Canadians are tired of everything being blamed on the Liberals and ad scam being raised constently or the nonsensical attacks on Dion personally, Americans have heard all the criticism already about Ms. Rodham Clinton, which works to her advantage.