Robin Givhan on Hillary Clinton

09 December 2007

In July, Robin Givhan wrote a peculiar column in the Washington Post about Hillary Clinton's shirts (titled "Hillary Clinton's Tentative Dip Into New Neckline Territory"). According to Givhan, Clinton's slightly V-shaped neckline was "unnerving" and "startling." This bizarre piece about Clinton's cleavage was widely ridiculed.

Today, Givhan has another column. This one is about Clinton's pants (titled "Wearing the Pants").

The mind, so easily distracted by things mauve and lemon yellow, strays from more pressing concerns to ponder the sartorial: How many pantsuits does Hillary Clinton have in her closet? And does she ever wear them in the same combination more than once?

The pantsuit is Clinton's uniform. Hers is a mix-and-match world, a grown-up land of Garanimals: black pants with gray jacket, tan jacket with black pants, tan jacket with tan pants. There are a host of reasons to explain Clinton's attachment to pantsuits. They are comfortable. They can be flattering, although not when the jacket hem aligns with the widest part of the hips (hypothetically speaking, of course). Does she even have hips?

And because Clinton seems to prefer crossing her legs at the ankle -- in the way girls were taught when girls were still sent to finishing school -- there is less likelihood of any embarrassing straight-to-YouTube video.

Women have come a long way from the time when wearing a pair of pants was considered "borrowing from the boys." So it would be highly regressive to suggest that the candidate is using trousers to heighten the perception that she can be as tough as a man. And yet . . .

This is a campaign in which gender stereotypes are being challenged even as the old assumptions are proving stubborn and resilient. Voters are being asked to envision something this country has never had: a female commander in chief. And the culture is gently roiling as audiences try to color in the outline of an XX president.

Is even considering the senator's clothes a kind of chauvinistic assault? Or is it merely the intellect trying to wrangle some sort of order out of the imagination? Oh, the tumult!

I understand that political coverage will occasionally go into the personal lives and details of the candidates. It can't be all policy, all the time. But isn't this a bit too silly to put in section A of one of the nation's leading news publications? Really, does anybody other than Givhan have to "wrangle" with the idea that Clinton wears pantsuits?

UPDATE: Apparently, Givhan won a Pulitzer in 2006 for "her witty, closely observed essays that transform fashion criticism into cultural criticism." Am I missing something here? Because all I see is fashion criticism and celebrity gossip, wrapped up in psychologizing statements and attempts at mind-reading ("it is not so far-fetched to believe that her wardrobe is a way of reminding voters that a woman can have as much peacock bravado as the boys").

Am I just being overly critical here, or has the media generally trivialized election coverage by overusing "fashion critics" and "body language experts"?


Anonymous said...

High and mighty really do usually go with dumb and stupid. Evidence A: your blog.

Samuel Brainsample said...

I think that the phrase you're looking for is "Exhibit A."