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August 06, 2007

For Hillary, ‘Girl Power’ and Cleavage Don’t Mix

"Frankly, focusing on women's bodies instead of their ideas is insulting. It's insulting to every woman who has ever tried to be taken seriously in a business meeting. It's insulting to our daughters -- and our sons -- who are constantly pressured by the media to grow up too fast.”

This was how Ann Lewis, a senior advisor to Hillary Clinton, reacted to Robin Givhan’s column that appeared in the Washington Post a couple weeks ago . The fashion writer dedicated some 700 words to Hillary’s cleavage as seen in a C-SPAN debate from the Senate floor, sparking quite a ro(bust) debate.

Jokes aside, I’m not here to rant and rave about what the media should or should not be focusing on. And I’m not here to berate Mrs. Clinton on her choice of attire. Google “Hillary Clinton’s cleavage” and you’ll have quite enough to read on both topics.

What interests me is Lewis’s quote. For me, what Lewis had to say relates, as it brings up one of the biggest contradictions women, perhaps Gen-Y women especially, have had to face. Growing up under the umbrella of second- and third-wave feminism, I saw my own mother go to her high-powered upper-management job every morning for the better part of my childhood. In school, I was taught women could do anything men could. Politicians, teachers, mentors -- just about everyone made it clear it’s not about how you look, it’s about how you think and what you do.

In retrospect, all of that was encouraging and played an important part in how I carry myself today. Yet at the same time, the media conveyed a similar message via bands like the Spice Girls, who encouraged “girl power” as they strutted around in no more than bras and booty shorts. Artists like Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera and Destiny’s Child are all guilty of this as well -- perhaps subliminally sending the message that “girl power” equates to dressing provocatively.

And yet clearly, it doesn’t. All of the debate surrounding Hillary’s neckline is another example of this paradox. In theory, it just shouldn’t matter what Hillary wears; people should be listening to what she has to say. But it does matter. And it’s an important lesson to women. The fact is there are certain ways women should dress in the office if they expect to move up the corporate ladder. Penelope Trunk touched upon this last week.

Do I agree with these unspoken guidelines? Certainly not. Do I think Hillary’s neckline was inappropriate? Not really. But am I insulted by the attention her cleavage has been given? More like disappointed. I think it speaks to a larger issue. Just consider the contrasting messages girls grow up with surrounding women’s empowerment, and never mind insulted -- you probably won’t even be surprised.   

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Posted by Brooke on August 6, 2007 at 01:25 PM in Women at Work | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

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