Today, Ms. Magazine sent me a link to protest Washington Post’s Friday article analyzing Hillary Clinton’s cleavage ‘display’ at the Senate. I obediently signed off on the protest first, then went on to read the article. In matters of feminism, I have my priorities entirely clear: when in doubt, take offense!

Nevertheless, I went on to read the article and found it – um, not really insulting. Superficial, yes – to the point that it wasn’t really analysis. Robin Givhan, is clearly merely (!) a gossip, and all her ‘analysis’ was just a series of simplistic analogies (“it was more like catching a man with his fly unzipped. Just look away!”), and more gossip presented as historical data (“as she has embarked on her campaign for president, she has given up the uniform….Once again, she is playing the fashion field”). To serve a boiled potato as a culinary masterpiece requires basic competence plus attitude, and Givhan doesn’t seem to have either literary caliber or reasoning enough to thread balance through a mathematical equation. But then, she’s not out to do so. She’s just a highly-paid, result-oriented reporter with a market-driven newspaper – exactly the kind of person whose writing one shouldn’t take too seriously.

For argument’s sake, let’s still go ahead and have some fun. The article starts with a detailed description of what Clinton’s wearing (“a rose-colored blazer over a black top. The neckline…had a subtle V-shape”). I don’t know about you, but this sounds exactly like furitive, whispered conversations amongst sixteen year olds – of either gender – in repressed societies. See the accompanying picture – you really had to want to see the ‘décolletage’ (and, dear reader, if you wanted to see Hillary Clinton in any form of undress, I’d strongly recommend you see your nearest therapist first). Or maybe if like ‘young’ Givhan here, you had a brief to ‘write about Hillary Clinton’s changing fashion sense and how it is becoming more daring’ from your editor, your detail-vision would need to suddenly improve tremendously. My personal opinion is that Hillary just accidentally wore a ‘fat’ top on a ‘thin’ day – hey, haven’t we all done that – or the opposite – sometime? Definitely, the six millimeters of skin don’t deserve a Washington Post article. Maybe it was just a slow-news day, and Spears/Hilton wasn’t out of bed yet.

Givhan says that Hillary has been “publicly ambivalent about style, image and the burdens of both…..The last time Clinton wore anything that was remotely sexy in a public setting surely must have been more than a decade ago”, and then goes on to describe Hillary Clinton’s choice of clothes in three important, widely-televised appearances. And then she says “But as she has embarked on her campaign for president, she has given up the uniform. In its place has been a wide array of suits and jackets, in everything from dull khaki to canary yellow and sofa florals. Once again, she is playing the fashion field”.

There isn’t a contradiction, and this isn’t even a valid argument, Givhan just proves the point she’s arguing against. Hillary Clinton is not someone who willingly or automatically plays fashion or chooses apparel with flair. She’s not like Bolton or Joan Roberts, who were trying to make a statement with their clothes and failed – or over-did it. She’s your typical 1960’s strong woman – Clinton’s just not trying to play the clothes game. She will do a half-hearted attempt at some decorative attire for important, visual-impact situations – but she prefers emoting (if you can call it that) with her arguments or positions on issues. If you attack or analyse Clinton’s looks, you’re starting out on a battle that isn’t even being fought. Like Don Quixote, you’re rushing with your rapier to windmills that aren’t fighting back and aren’t of much interest to anyone.

Robin Givhan is a FASHION journalist, and a peculiar variety at that, the kind that specializes in politician’s fashion sense. I can only imagine the slim pickings there – there’s only so many hundred articles you can write about the zero fashion sense in the nation’s political leaders before even your slowest reader gets the message. And yes, so there are 256, 894 variations you could theoretically include in a pant-suit, but as most of these aren’t discernable to the naked human eye, if you insist on writing about them you may need to publish in the Scientific American. Given this poor dame’s analytical skills, I’m pretty sure even she’s been able to figure out that’s not where her core strengths lie.

But of course, one should hand it to the Washington Post’s genius to even have a politician-fashion column. People feel strongly about their politics, and strongly about fashion – and the less they know about either, the more passionate they are. So in America, everyone’s passionate about both issues. Worse, in this brave new world, there’re a million different ways to dress inappropriately in any situation, and since Joan & Melissa Rivers and others have made a career out of bitching, it’s now actually O.K. to tear down someone’s fashion sense. When everything’s politically correct, there needs to be an outlet to be mean, and fashion it is.

Robin’s previous articles about John Roberts and his family, and John Bolton, and Dick Cheney, all of which have put their respective supporters into a bit of a froth (here and here), just show that this kind of writing is like a lodestone. While on the froth, I’d like to totally lay to rest the idea that a politician’s – or political appointee’s – wives and children are out of bounds. Well, they’re out of bounds as much as his/her college thesis and papers are. And we know what happens with those.

What I loved, loved, loved about the lady (Givhan, not Clinton) is that she doesn’t consider herself part of the fashion industry. “I don’t design. I’m not a photographer or a model booker,” says Givhan. “I see myself as being a part of the journalism community who is lucky enough to stand in the doorway and see what (designers) do and convey that to readers.”

Me, I haven’t stopped laughing – and voila!, this just proves my earlier point about her lack of either reasoning skills or literary caliber. My only suggestion to this woman is, take your own advice – don’t show a little (thick)skin, don’t be ambivalent about your gossiping. Just go all-out – go on, be bitchy, be catty and take your claws out of the closet and put the thinking cap back in storage (it doesn’t have much wear on it anyway) – and make it “all part of a bold, confident style package”.

To mis-quote Robin: To display cattiness in a setting that does not involve blackboards, zits and passing notes in stealth is a provocation. It requires that a woman be utterly at ease in her skin, coolly confident about her Harper’s Bazaar-reading & her observation skills, unflinching about her sense of style. Any hint of ambivalence makes everyone uncomfortable. And in matters of journalism, Givhan is as wannabe as ever.

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