Givhan gets it wrong

Those who know me know that I am typically a fan of Washington Post fashion correspondent Robin Givhan. I think she writes sensibly about both haute couture and about the clothing choices and their signification of ordinary and not-so-ordinary women and men. Sure, her beat covers the frivolities and excesses of the Milan and New York catwalks, but she always keeps in mind that real women aren’t going to wear a feathered jumpsuit to work, no matter how “challenging” it might be.

Givhan also writes about the sartorial choices of the inside-the-beltway aristocracy; she’s criticized Cheney, poked fun at Bush, praised Sharpton, and cataloged Abramoff’s meltdown. She took some flack from feminists for her coverage of Condaleezza’s boots and Pelosi’s jacket — and at the time, I stood up for her.

The major feminist critique of Givhan is that “you shouldn’t focus on the clothes of women in politics — it suggests they are frivolous, and you wouldn’t do that with men”. There’s a very clear historical precedent for that critique, and it’s usually true — unless you are familiar with Givhan’s work. Then you start to notice that she does in fact cover the clothing of political men just as much as that of women. A casual reader of a single article isn’t going to notice that, but I think Givhan is very aware of what she’s doing.

Alas. Our idols have feet of clay.

Her latest piece is on Hillary Clinton’s cleavage. This one is different.

Assume for the moment that giving equal opportunity to analyzing the clothing choices of powerful women and men mitigates the problem that it has historically been women’s clothing that’s been overanalyzed. (I’m not sure that’s entirely true, but allow that reasonable people can disagree on the point.) But if you do accept that premise, you can’t write about cleavage. When you write about a woman’s cleavage, you get misogynist responses like these (from the comments page of the Post article):

  • What makes this newsworthy to me is not Hillary’s cleavage, which rivals Paul Reubens’, but the fact it may be the first public photo of any skin below her chin in 15 years…
  • a 60 year old womans boobs is not a pretty sight.
  • Hillary Clinton used to discuss her cliter (sic) and its needs during her famous battles with numerous Bills’ girlfriends.
  • Falsies. She used a whole box of tissues to beef up those jahoobies, such as they are.
  • Thanks for not showing a picture, cause it was bad enough reading about Hillary’s cleavage. A barf alert would have been nice though.
  • Just what we all needed, a shot of a post menopausal old bag’s boobies.

Happily, these are a tiny, tiny minority of comments — but the point remains. Despite your intentions, you have declared that her breasts are fair game for public discussion. And this never, never happens to men.

Although perhaps we can expect articles on the significance of whether the other presidential candidates dress to the left or to the right … ?


3 Responses to “Givhan gets it wrong”

  1. m0g0 Says:

    Thank you for pinpointing what was bugging me about Givhan’s article. I actually don’t like her very much personally (she poo-poohs the idea that fashion models should not be skeletally thin, IIRC), but you’re right that she does give equal time, gender-wise, to political figures. But I felt like this latest article was out of line, and I couldn’t explain why. You nailed it.

  2. annaphor Says:

    She actually has been critical of skeletally thin fashion models (although I don’t know to what extent this is a recent conversion) — but she’s been quite rightly skeptical of some of the recent attempts by the industry to police itself with nonbinding “guidelines” for the health of young women on the catwalks.

    Ruth Marcus did a great column in the post today about this article in which she described herself as a “person of cleavage”. 🙂

  3. m0g0 Says:


    Okay, now I’m going to have to go back and figure out what my beef was with Givhan.

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