There were some excruciating moments in this week's episode of The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story, the based-on-a-true-story retelling of Mr. Simpson's trial for the 1994 murders of his ex-wife Nicole Brown and her friend Ron Goldman.
No, it wasn't the palpable grief of the victims' families – Mr. Goldman's father railing in the prosecutor's office (as seen in a previous episode) or Ms. Brown's sister weeping on the stand. It wasn't Mr. Simpson's Dream Team plotting to pull out all sorts of ethically questionable stops to win an acquittal. It wasn't the glaring miscarriages of justice playing out in Lance Ito's circus of a courtroom.
It was Marcia Clark's hair.
The prosecutor is subjected to the impressions of a focus group ("she seems like a bitch"), jury consultant ("consider softening your appearance"), television style expert ("frump incarnate") and her boss, who describes it all as sexist and horrifying, but in the same breath offers to connect her with "a couple of terrific media consultants."
So Ms. Clark (played by Sarah Paulson) submits to a salon visit and, newly shorn, struts back into court feeling pretty fine, until the new look becomes an instant joke, in the courtroom and the media.
Cut to Ms. Clark at the grocery store checkout, facing tabloid headlines such as "Marcia Hair Verdict: Guilty" and "Curls of Horror." Then the male cashier, unloading a box of tampons from her basket, quips, "Uh-oh. I guess the defence is in for one hell of a week, huh?"
The TV series may be a dramatization, but it's a skillful illustration of the glaring sexism Ms. Clark faced: a smart, successful lawyer prosecuting the trial of the century, being judged by her suits and hairstyle.
"A Good Hair Day: Prosecutor Marcia Clark Sheds Curls for a New Look" read a 1995 Los Angeles Times headline. The Globe and Mail ran an AP brief that same day: "Marcia Clark Changes Her Look, Again." Both articles ended with the comment made by the made-over Ms. Clark to the applauding people waiting to get into the courtroom: "Get a life."
This week's episode (called "Marcia, Marcia, Marcia") aired on International Women's Day, and it would be wonderful to think that we've come a long way, baby, in the more than 20 years since Ms. Clark's appearance and manner faced such intense scrutiny.
That there would be no need to go all gaga when the Prime Minister announces something as radical as a plan to put a Canadian woman on a bank note. That we wouldn't need to mark IWD with studies concluding that gender parity has not been achieved when it comes to pay, employment opportunities or female voices in media coverage.
That when Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau, attending a Let Girls Learn event in Washington with Michelle Obama, tells young women "You be fearless, because you already are fearless," her message would be remembered, rather than the fact she delivered it wearing a red-and-pink dress.
That the designers of the gown, handbag, shoes and jewellery Ms. Grégoire-Trudeau wore to the state dinner at the White House do not qualify as a "CBC News alert" on Twitter, which they did.
Have we really come very far from the days when Hillary Clinton was scrutinized for her scrunchies, headbands and ponytails?
Men are not immune from this, I know. Donald Trump's mop regularly makes headlines. Justin Trudeau's locks have received some media attention. Even Wayne Gretzky's tresses recently made the news, as when The Globe's Marty Klinkenberg revealed that a hockey card printed for the 1981-82 season was suppressed because Mr. Gretzky was embarrassed by his long, shaggy hair.
But, any way you cut it, it seems unlikely that we are approaching anything near gender parity on this front: Women are still judged by their appearance to a degree that men are not.
A recent academic study out of Scotland asked participants to assess candidates for a job by reviewing their Facebook profiles. Researchers, analyzing participants' eye movements, found that women were judged predominantly by their looks, while male candidates were judged by the content on their page.
You may have heard about Coquitlam, B.C., Mayor Richard Stewart's recent social experiment looking into gender equality and appearance. He wore the same suit to city council meetings for 15 months, and nobody noticed. His point: Try getting away with that if you're a woman.
"In my business it's always about women's hair. It's never about men's hair," says Tamara Taggart, who co-anchors CTV's supper-hour newscast in Vancouver. "Nobody is ever criticizing that suit the male anchor wore or how his hair was done today." (It has been suggested by a well-meaning reader, based on the photograph that accompanies this column, that I consider a shorter haircut.)
Ms. Taggart told me this week that in her 19 years on TV (she held other positions, including weather presenter, before becoming news anchor), she has heard a lot of criticism about her hair and clothes. And it's getting worse with the ease of commentary allowed by social media.
She has developed a pretty thick skin, but the one time it got to her, she says, was when she was going through cancer treatment. Her chemotherapy drug was tough on her hair; it became thin, brittle and out of her control. And she received complaints about it. "Your hair on air is hideous," one person tweeted last year.
"I already felt self-conscious, so nasty comments were painful for me," Ms. Taggart told me.
When she looks back now, she says she wishes she had never wasted a second being upset about the criticism. "Obviously, I would rather be alive than have good hair."
One is reminded of Ms. Clark's wise words – words she might have advised Ms. Taggart to use in response: Get a life.