In fairness to Wa Po fashion/culture reporter Robin Givhan, whose article on Clinton's wearing a shirt with a V-shaped neckline on the floor of the senate officially launched the Cleavage Kerfuffle, the astonishingly vapid piece she published yesterday in the paper's "Style" section isn't, technically or primarily, devoted to Clinton's hair, but the cutesy headline on the story gestures in that direction: "Touching Up (And On) Feminist Roots." The point of the article appears to be to reflect upon how feminism has changed over the past several decades and how it is informing Clinton's campaign for the presidency. Givhan pursues the point through a strained comparison between Clinton's campaign and "WACK!: Art and the Feminist Revolution," the show at the National Museum of Women in the Arts that the moms and their friend the Shy One took in last Sunday. (I comment on the show in this post.) WACK!, which includes a number of women performance artists of the 1960s and 1970s who brought their bodies and sexualities into their work as a way of critiquing masculinist ways of seeing and depicting women, gives Givhan an excuse to mock that "old" work as "vulgar," "humorous," and "cliched," though she commends its feminism for having a bracing "clarity of purpose." Clinton, by contrast, represents for Givhan a feminism that "has become more nuanced, more reserved, more politically savvy, but also more painfully ambivalent." Givhan explains:
Clinton dwells on the uneasy relationship between making a historic statement for a group and being held captive by it. Of being proud of one's gender, but not wanting to dwell on it. Of savoring the pleasures of femininity -- ever-changing hairdos -- but not wanting others to be distracted by them.On Givhan's planet, "the body has been, for the most part, banished from the cultural conversation" and "No one needs to spread her legs to make a political point." This, in her judgment, is a good thing, though she seems bothered by the supposed ambivalence of contemporary feminism, by its reduction, at least in the Clinton campaign, to jokes about weight and "bad hair days."
Robin, dear, we know you're a fashion writer who has probably, at best, only "dabbled in women's studies," as you put it in your article. We don't expect you to be strong in the kind of historical and structural analysis that would be necessary to explain that the Clinton campaign's careful tip-toeing through the minefield of gender politics is part of a broader cultural dynamic of ambivalence about women's power and female bodies in the public sphere. Breasts, hair, hips, that space between the legs no one needs to spread anymore to make a political point -- They are all relentlessly scrutinized (by people like you, in industries like yours) and severely judged (as when you wrote of Clinton's display of cleavage that it was "unnerving," because it came across as if "you were catching a surreptitious glimpse at something private. You were intruding -- being a voyeur"). Women's bodies have hardly been "banished from the cultural conversation." It's just a question of whether they are an audacious and liberating part of the conversation, as they were in those "old" works of feminist art you seem so eager to trivialize, or a half-buried yet compulsively reiterated subject that taps into deep-seated anxieties about sex, power, desire, and social change. You are a part of that conversation, and your ambivalence is every bit as palpable and problematic as Clinton's.
Meantime, here in Roxie's World, a planet populated by reasonable middle-aged women whose audacious bodies occasionally ache, we think about Clinton's long, hard days out on the campaign trail and worry about the one part of her anatomy that is not likely to garner significant media attention -- her feet. As she makes her way through the vast cornfields of Iowa and the snowy woods of New Hampshire, we hope she's wearing sensible shoes with good orthotics and that, at the end of the day, she's got someone to give her feet a thorough and vigorous massage. Really, Bill, it's the least you can do. Put the cigar down. Your hands have some serious work to perform.