Monday, June 17, 2013 was host to a cluttered news cycle, to say the least. Let’s review the day’s most titillating topics, shall we?
1. President Obama revealed during his pre-taped interview with Charlie Rose that the NSA surveillance program is transparent, as evidenced by the FISA court’s existence.
2. Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) attempted to disrupt the already vulnerable momentum of the Senate’s immigration reform bill by attempting to include a voter ID amendment.
3. The Supreme Court struck down Arizona’s Voter Registration Citizenship requirement, ruling that states cannot require proof of citizenship from prospective voters unless they receive federal or court-level approval.
Pundits had a field day, dissecting every morsel of information as it rolled in- what with all these important stories, how could we possibly cover anything else? What could be as important as a Supreme Court ruling in favor of the people, a Senator’s attempts to further complicate a hotly debated issue and the President defending his administration’s controversial security measures?
Why, the First Lady’s bangs, of course!
Michelle Obama traveled to Belfast on Monday to speak at this year’s G8 Summit, an annual conference attended by eight of the world’s most prominent national economies, only one of which sees female representation (Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany). As she spoke, social media outlets targeted her bangs, sparking the Twitter trend #bangfail. It appears the content of her speech was lost amongst her audience in favor of a more petulant observation, one that is both ubiquitous and demands admonishment.
I searched the keywords “Michelle Obama G8 Summit Speech” on Google to investigate whether I could find the contents of her speech- of the first 10 results, 5 retained headlines about her bangs. They used the following words in their titles to describe social media’s reaction to her hair: “backlash (used twice),” “mad,” “sparking debate” and “slammed.”
Why is the Twitterverse, or any universe for that matter, demanding that more value be placed on appearance over ability? As is frequently seen, women are expected to meet professional demands while simultaneously appearing physically flawless. A hair out of place is met with malice, a tactic used to discredit the victim, thus creating a culture of subordination as appearance continues to be a factor for success. Such measurements make it impossible for women to excel as there is always an extra but unnecessary dimension in which we are judged. There are no written rules for how to measure success, but the way we look should not be one of them.
Former First Lady and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has received similar treatment- in her newly activated Twitter account, Clinton self-identifies as a “hair icon,” a factor of her own appearance that has received tireless coverage over the years. There’s even a Tumblr accountdedicated to chronicling Clinton’s hair styles. Her hair is just that important.
If you’re asking whether any of this matters, the answer is yes. What appear to be hollow attacks by aimless bloggers, misguided Twitterers and the like is a culture of sexism and relentless concentration on body image that reaches beyond the blogosphere and lies deeply embedded in our social discourse. We have become so fixated on appearance, – bangs, ponytails, whether or not Hillary Clinton decides to wear a pantsuit next Wednesday- these qualities are now relevant to a woman’s success.
For an audience to have visceral reactions to an accomplished woman’s appearance as she speaks at a highly publicized forum means that we are failing. We are failing to recognize women for their worth and we are doing so at the expense of generations to come. It’s time to reorganize our priorities and demand that physical appearance not be a barometer for success- for women, or anyone else.
Now, Mrs. Obama- as you were.