Stop Talking About Hillary Clinton's Hair

The secretary of state is one of the most fascinating people of 2012, and not because of her hair.

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U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton meets with Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi in Cairo, Egypt.

In 1991, when Bill Clinton was first heading up to New Hampshire to appeal to Granite State primary voters, it was the black headband. Then, after Clinton won, it was the battle of the chignon and the short 'do. And now, it's the question of whether a longer hairstyle is right for a woman in her 60s.

Hillary Clinton is secretary of state. She has logged nearly a million air miles trying to ease tensions in the Middle East, promote women's rights abroad, and soothe hard feelings after embarrassing information surfaced in the Wikileaks episode. She made an impressive and nearly successful run for the Democratic nomination for president in 2008, and a lot of people are hoping she'll try again in 2016. Never mind being one of the smartest and hardest-working women in government. She's one of the smartest and hardest-working people in government.

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Can we stop, already, then, with comments about her hair?

It's distressing when anyone belittles a female politician or other leader by commenting on her looks or her grooming—and this goes as well for former Gov. Sarah Palin and Rep. Michele Bachmann, whose stunning good looks seemed too much of a distraction for a lot of the media. It's even more offensive when the subject of the evaluation is one of the stars of the administration, and when the perpetrator is another woman.

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Barbara Walters named Secretary Clinton as one of the "most fascinating" people of the year, and of course asked about her job and future political ambitions. Was it really necessary to ask about her hair? Walters did, and Clinton, good-humoredly, responded:

It's fascinating to me how people are so curious about it. Because after a while, it just got to be really burdensome to try to find a hairdresser in some city, somewhere, oftentimes not being able to speak English, that at least I could communicate with. So, I said enough, we're just going to try to go with as simple as possible.

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Well, good that we got that burning question resolved.

It's not that men are never questioned about their appearances. Walters also needled New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie about his weight. Presidents are periodically reported to have gone grayer during their terms. But those remarks are reflective of issues of health and stress, not of their roles as men. Remarks about a woman's hair are fundamentally comments about how she manages the job she has with her other job—that of being a woman, and being not only attractive, but age-appropriate attractive. In Palin and Bachmann's case, their relative youth and good looks seemed to be at odds with their suitability for higher office—all the more offensive, since there were good, solid reasons to question their suitability for higher office on more substantive grounds. And when a woman is older, she's expected to defeminize herself, as though there were something obscene about a woman past her child-bearing years showing any femininity at all. Long hair is feminine, and Clinton seems to have ruffled some sensibilities by not keeping it chin-length or shorter to suit someone else's idea of what a 60-something woman should look like.

Clinton is indeed one of the most fascinating people of 2012, and it would be even more fascinating to watch her run for president in 2016. And if she does, here's hoping she wears her hair down her back.