A few days ago, a contributor to the website TotalFratMove.com with the user name RogerSterlingJr posted an article titled, "Why Girls Should Not Cut Their Hair Short." He opens with the following sentiment,
"None of us grew up looking at or imagining ourselves with women rocking a solid scissor fade. Still, over the past couple of years, there has been a disturbing trend spreading across gender lines: pixie cuts."The anonymous author goes on to beg college women (or in his words, "women in their prime") not to follow this celebrity trend, a style modeled by Anne Hathaway, Beyonce, Emma Watson, and most recently, Jennifer Lawrence.
To be fair, TotalFratMove.com is not known for its political correctness, especially with respect to the attitudes of its contributors towards women. That is not why the site exists, nor do I think it needs to change. And in fact, unintentionally, RogerSterlingJr actually makes a poignant social commentary about the role of hair as it relates to femininity.
Hair, much like other parts of the body, was historically outside a woman's domain of control. Complicated hair styles that required assistance to maintain meant that a woman could not live alone while these styles were in fashion. Shorn hair has been used by men as a mark of slavery or punishment. French women who were accused of collaboration horizontale during WWII were shaved and humiliated, a punishment which this article published by the Guardian shows has been in use for centuries as a desecration of beauty and femininity.
In the 1920s, young flapper women cut their hair as a mark of independence and departure from gender norms. Women around the world from different religious backgrounds cover their hair as a sign of modesty, whereas other women change its color, texture, and length regularly. Jewish and black women face stereotypes and ignorance about the texture of their hair. Some women have lost their hair all together as a consequence of chemotherapy.
As women, we are judged and defined by our bodies, and hair is an important part of what defines a cultural notion of femininity. And as that hair gets shorter, some men like RogerSterlingJr start to fear this defiance of what they consider to be "feminine,' in part because it defies a long-standing societal expectation, and in part because it is a transgression to what it means to be "masculine." God forbid masculinity is defined as more than just short hair.
Several of the comments on the article criticize the author for his sexism, primarily because the contentions which support his argument are, "If celebrities can't pull it off, you can't," "You will stand out, but not in a good way," and, "They amplify your flaws to other girls." RogerSterlingJr's reasons for avoiding a pixie cut are external; they relate to the way other people respond to the woman's hair, rather than the reasons why a woman might make the choice to cut her hair short. These critics argue that the decisions women make about hair are based on their personal preferences and needs, not to satisfy the preferences of celebrities, men, or even other women.
This is the very reason why rebellious women throughout the 20th century opted for a shorter cut; they reclaimed control of gender norms by defying them. The language of this article is so steeped in these expectations that I would not be surprised if it was actually written by Roger Sterling Jr., the fictional Mad Men character who operated in the male-dominated world of advertising in the 1960s.
TotalFratMove.com does not need to change the beliefs of its contributors, and neither do the readers of this article. But I will say that I hope women recognize the cultural importance of hair as it pertains to control, liberty, and femininity, and will make choices that reflect their personal preferences at the hair salon. If that means a generation of women who prefer a blue buzz cut to all other styles, the rest of society will just have to deal with it.
And as for RogerSterlingJr, I don't want you to worry too much. I am certain there are still women out there who choose to keep their hair long, and may even subscribe to your archaic notion of gender norms who will make you a very happy TotalFratMan. But the next time I go to the salon, whether I keep my hair long or chop it short, I am not going to give a damn about what you have to say about it.