In July of 2007, Hillary Clinton, then a senator representing the state of New York and a candidate for the presidency of the United States, gave a speech that ended up being memorable less for its words than for its visuals. Clinton, you see, while delivering her message in her now-typical uniform—a pantsuit—had worn a shirt under the suit’s jacket that revealed … a bit of cleavage. A very little bit, but still. “The neckline sat low on her chest,” The Washington Post reported of the scene, “and had a subtle V-shape. The cleavage registered after only a quick glance. No scrunch-faced scrutiny was necessary. There wasn’t an unseemly amount of cleavage showing, but there it was. Undeniable.”
Undeniable. As political scandals go, this was a decidedly non-scandalous one, and Clinton’s “Tentative Dip Into New Neckline Territory,” as the Post’s headline had it, would—albeit after write-ups in The New York Times and the Times of London and a discussion on Meet the Press—soon be forgotten in favor of the 2008 campaign’s many other teapot-tempests. Today, Cleavagegate serves mostly as a hazy reminder of the particular challenge that Clinton, as a woman who dares also to be a leader, has been made to navigate over the long course of her public life: the media’s often aggressively ambivalent relationship with women who seek power. Her shirt failed to properly—which is to say, abashedly—disguise the fact that Clinton, a wife and a mother and a soon-to-be Madam Secretary, was in possession of a pair of breasts; for that reason, the shirt became the topic of discussion within some of the nation’s news outlets of record.