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Hillary in the pillory

She's still unfairly judged on looks.

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Sen. Hillary Clinton gave a speech last month on the Senate floor about the burdensome cost of higher education. Do you remember her key points? Neither does anyone else, because all anyone remembers from that speech is what she wore: a perfectly reasonable V-neck T-shirt under a blazer.

That outfit, according to Washington Post fashion writer Robin Givhan, "was … like catching a man with his fly unzipped." Calling it "an exceptional kind of flourish," she explained that, "it's not a matter of what she's wearing but rather what's being revealed."

This hyperbolic drivel – from a Pulitzer Prize-winning critic – ended up, not just in the "Style" section where it barely belonged, but as the inspiration for countless network news spots and a fashion field day in the political blogosphere.

This is not the first time that Hillary has been judged on her looks, and it won't – though it should – be the last. Indeed, just days later, in the CNN/YouTube debate, presidential candidate John Edwards, when asked to say something he disliked about her, said, "I'm not sure about that coat."

As we look forward to one of the most diverse and potentially radical presidential races in recent history, it is crucial that America's media elite evolve less-sexist standards for political coverage.

Women have shattered many a glass ceiling, only to find that we still get judged on the other side of the shards, not just on our histories and talents, but on our looks. The media is partly to blame for this antiquated way of "seeing" female leadership.

Of course, there are professional standards in attire, and everyone in the public eye – male or female – must expect such scrutiny. We have seen pithy pieces on Barack Obama's radical choice to shed his tie, for example, but such analysis is usually focused on what fashion choices reveal about personality and leadership style – not sexuality.

The hullabaloo over John Edwards's $400 haircuts was – while overblown – centered around the gap between his talk and his walk. How could the man with "The Road to One America" campaign justify spending a poor family's rent check on his hair? This is a valid and important question – pushing us all to think about the ways in which our lives don't match our values.

But Hillary's V-neck was immediately analyzed sheerly in terms of cleavage (which was nonexistent in the photos).


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