A couple of weeks ago, Hillary Clinton got a haircut. On the day of New York Mayor Bill de Blasio’s inauguration, the likely presidential candidate (meaning Hil) was seen sporting side-swept, fluffy bangs. People took notice.
They were the bangs heard ’round the world. The Huffington Post reported on her new hairstyle — and fashion and lifestyle authorities followed suit, putting their own characteristic spins on it. NYMag rejoiced. Vanity Fair wondered if they qualify as “bangs” or not (I mean, okay, but come on). E! Online tweeted that “We need to talk about Hillary Clinton’s new haircut.”
Not everyone thinks so. Penn senior Dylan Hewitt responded to E!’s tweet with another. “But, do we really NEED to? #sexism.”
He got noticed, racking up 15 retweets and 22 favorites and sparking a conversation on Twitter that lasted over an hour. The hashtag #sexism was paired with #patronizing, and users who responded unanimously exclaimed that, no, we don’t need to talk about her hair.
In a world where a former FLOTUS could soon become POTUS, discussing Hillary’s hair before her politics seems backward. Admittedly, for the media, this is part of the news cycle. E! needed to write about Hillary Clinton’s bangs because it needed to remain on top of the Hillary Clinton conversation that day. And the tweet in question fits with their urgent, gossipy tone — but it rings patronizing to some readers. Fast-moving websites like E! need to take responsibility for their actions and tweets.
And when they don’t, when outdated frameworks are used to talk about women (and men!), consumers should feel an obligation — as well as the necessary confidence — to call out media outlets.
Twitter is a democracy —all 140-character messages are created equal. Sure, some tastemakers are verified, and some aren’t. But the little guy can call out any Goliath on the Internet, and that’s a powerful muscle we need to exercise.
The mundane can often dominate the conversation on Twitter, like any other social media platform. We’ve all received our fair share of dumb Snapchats and unfriended those who spam our Facebook newsfeeds. But like Snapchat and Facebook, Twitter is just a tool — and we decide what it’s used for. We can defame corporate giants and let policymakers know where we stand. Holding influential people accountable is one of the sexiest things you can do with your Twitter profile.
E!’s response to Dylan shows that there’s a significant learning curve to having a productive conversation on the Internet. The media outlet wrote: “If Obama started sporting bangs, we would need to talk about that too. #calmdown.”
Maybe — but a hashtag like #calmdown aimed at a respectful if critical consumer is practically asking for an online scandal. If the right people had read that and gotten properly angry in response, #calmdown would have gone viral. The condescending turn of phrase would have been flipped on its head and used to criticize E!’s intolerant attitude toward its outspoken readers. E! would have deleted the tweet, fired whoever wrote it and released an apology — just like the internet mammoth InterActive Corp did last month after their PR director offended thousands with a racist tweet.
The effects of such a reaction would be systemic and long-term: Calling giants out on Twitter forces them to learn a new behavior. No brand — journalistic, political, trendy or otherwise — wants its gaffes to be retweeted ad nauseum.
The problem with sexism in the media is that it’s as subtle as it is pervasive. E! is trying to get clicks and eyeballs on its site, but its sense of urgency is misplaced. By literally prioritizing (“We need to talk”) the discussion of Hillary Clinton’s hair, they’re engaging in an outdated and sexist discourse about female politicians.
Sure, the hypothetical argument exists: If Obama or Bill got a pixie cut, the media would be just as quick to overreact.
But that’s a hypothetical scenario, and this happened. Women are scrutinized by the media every day—either intentionally or not—often just for the sake of clicks.
If it’s eyeballs they want, eyeballs they’ll get. The feminist militia of Twitter is ready to drive even more traffic to sexist news sites. All it takes is a retweet.
Frida Garza is a College senior studying English. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her @fffffrida.