I’ve started to hear a lot of applause for Bernie Sanders’ “no nonsense” response to a question about Hillary Clinton’s hair coverage by the media:
When the media worries about what Hillary’s hair looks like or what my hair looks like, that’s a real problem. We have millions of people who are struggling to keep their heads above water, who want to know what candidates can do to improve their lives, and the media will very often spend more time worrying about hair than the fact that we’re the only major country on earth that doesn’t guarantee health care to all people.
It looks good on its face, I suppose: Sanders is, in general, running on a platform that he’s not putting up with the media circus because there are stakes which deserve better than spin and calculation about the best news cycle. “Hair questions” are silly.
The big problem here is that I think someone who thinks that way ought to have more than enough insight to realize “Do you think it’s fair that Hillary’s hair gets a lot more scrutiny than yours does?” isn’t about hair. The media focus on female candidates’ appearance is the least painful symptom, surely, but nevertheless a symptom of gender inequality.
This was, then, a prime opportunity for Sanders to discuss the way women’s health is a political football or the pay gap between men and women (and, for extra intersectionality, the even larger gap for women of color).
Yes, Sanders mentions both financial distress and health care in his dismissal of the question, but because he flatly ignores the gender element (even after the interviewer explicitly says this is about gender) the whole thing winds up taking the unfortunate tone of some kind of #AllLivesMatter tweet.
Then again, in the same interview, Sanders expresses his surprise at having Black Lives Matter activists interrupt an event that was to feature him, pointing to his record on civil rights. Said record is good. I’m not trying to impugn anyone’s efforts here.
I am saying, though, that maybe the reason activists come at Sanders are the same reason a reporter who happens to be female thought she could ask him a not-particularly-coded question about gender inequality and he wouldn’t need it spelled out for him: because the people most likely to help, by signal boosting or allowing for their own errors or checking their privilege, are going to be those who’ve done so in the past.
And if we can’t get them to recognize the ongoing issues, how the hell can we expect to move the needle when it comes to those firmly entrenched in opposing rhetoric?