Short hair for women carries a stigma. And here’s why you may not even know you’re part of the problem (and more reasons I don’t blame you).
To quote the famously badass Emma Watson (at least that’s how she’s known around my apartment) about her short hair: “I felt more myself with that haircut. I felt bold, and it felt empowering because it was my choice.”
I begin with this because I assume someone – many many someones – in fact – asked Ms. Emma Watson what the hell she was thinking cutting her hair “that short.” Not — much more relevant questions, such as, “what is next for you after your empowering speech to the UN?” (You may find the transcript here: Transcript of Emma Watson’s UN Speech and believe me it is well worth the read.) In a society where impressive female actors are *STILL* asked about what they’re wearing — in contrast to impressive male actors being asked about their performances — during red-carpet events, I’m not surprised.
Before I digress, this particular post stems from something I have noticed since my most recent haircut. Yes, it is short. Yes, I’ve envisioned it for months. Yes, I love it.
The problem I am having, however, is a subset of everyone else’s reactions to it.
Do not get me wrong. I appreciate each and every compliment I get about this haircut. I am in no way trying to diminish the kindness both males and females have expressed towards my choice to cut my hair so short.
But the truth is, it does not really matter to me what you think. Because I did this for me. So why do I *STILL* feel the need to write about this?
I will say if someone comments on my hair he/she almost universally says something like “I love your hair” or “it’s so cute!” Thank you. I appreciate that. Unfortunately, following that compliment, I am almost universally asked “but how does your boyfriend like/feel about it?”
Because I am committing a violation of sorts.
When I get asked that seemingly innocent follow-up question, I hear many things.
I hear “that’s nice that you are comfortable doing that, but what does the man in your life think?” (Because his opinion matters just a little bit more than mine, right?)
I hear, “what you have done is abnormal for a woman. How has it affected your relationship with your heterosexual partner?”
I hear, “was he at least consulted?”
I hear, “there is no way a man would have ALLOWED you to do that unless he really really loved you.”
I hear social constructs forcing these words out of otherwise rational peoples’ mouths — perhaps without them even realizing it is happening. And it bothers me on levels even I struggle with. Suddenly I feel defensive – conjuring the need to explain my decision.
Except this is my hair. And my body. And my choice.
So, instinctively, I unwillingly bite my tongue and state, in reply, with 100% honesty and truthfulness that my boyfriend indeed LOVES my hair. And I am glad — and I suppose — yes — lucky — that he does. Because so many men do not. And so many women do not.
But what I want to say – nay – scream (upon reflection about how many times this follow-up has been asked) when people ask me what my boyfriend thinks, is: “IRRELEVANT!!!!!! WHY ARE YOU EVEN ASKING THAT QUESTION? DO YOU REALIZE HOW INSULTING THAT IS? AS IF I SHOULD OR SHOULD NOT MAKE A CHOICE ABOUT MY BODY BASED ON MY BOYFRIEND’S PREFERENCES. AS IF IN 2015 IT IS ACCEPTABLE FOR YOU TO STILL BE SERIOUSLY ASKING ME THAT QUESTION.” And what if I said “he hates it — he thinks I look like a man?” How would that conversation continue?
As a matter of fact, my manicurist (who has met my boyfriend many times) upon seeing the haircut exclaimed, “Oh my! I love your hair! But what about your boyfriend? My husband won’t let me cut mine. My friend cut her hair, and her husband got angry and made her get extensions.” Sadly, my surprise level was at zero percent.
To his unyielding credit, when I approached this subject with my boyfriend, sharing my observation, he shook his head in dismay and with resentment stated, “I don’t understand that! Why do people DO that?”
Gender identity can be extreme. In fact, I upset many people when I wear this t-shirt: Gender is Here Not Here. People get uncomfortable; people I would not expect to get uncomfortable get uncomfortable. It certainly is open to interpretation. But to me, it means how we perceive gender is in our minds (due to innumerable factors) — not based on what genitalia we have.
But I am constantly explaining, explaining, explaining — because I feel a deep desire for others to take a peek inside my mind at my thoughts about gender. And I want to change opinions.
I know I’ve lost “friends” over my constant bombardment of attempting to change views. It’s worth it to me.
I am in the minority. I know this. I am denying that long hair defines me as a woman. People not only assume I am a lesbian, but actually ask me if I am – based on my appearance. This is not new for me. I have dressed/acted/participated/looked differently than the social norm for most of my life.
As a result, I must: be a man-hating feminist; love only women; or, be “acting out” because something is wrong with me, etc. None of these incorrect assumptions offend me, because there is nothing wrong with identifying in these ways (with the exception of “hate” being acceptable to me). What bothers me is that these assumptions are being made at all.
Let me be clear – nothing I ever do makes me feel like I am identifying as a man on purpose. I actually believe everything I do is perfectly aligned with being female. So, why are these biases making me feel confrontational?
SOCIETY. Society says to women like Anne Hathaway, Emma Watson, and Natalie Portman, “why would you ever cut your hair THAT short?” in a blatantly accusatory “THERE IS SOMETHING WRONG WITH YOU BECAUSE YOU DID THIS” way. Well why the hell shouldn’t they? That’s concerning to you, oh Asker of questions? You could ask these amazing women anything — but they cut their hair and it’s armageddon. WHY IS THAT?!
To my boyfriend’s unwavering support and analytical credit, he mentioned that sometimes people ask him how I feel about his beard. Some people even going so far as to say to him, “you’ll never get a girlfriend with that thing.” So certainly neither gender is immune to these situations.
I guess my ultimate point is this: I love my hair. I’m glad if you like it too. I’m perfectly fine if you don’t. What I hope you will ask yourself, though, is why you don’t like women with short hair, if you don’t. Does that really — REALLY affect how you see someone’s gender-identify? If it does, why? Should it? Does it make you uncomfortable? Why?
Ultimately, what I truly want for those of you who may ask these follow-ups maybe without realizing where they come from, is for you to think about why you do.
If you care to, maybe do some self awareness assessments as you’re wandering through this crazy life. What assumptions are you making about people you don’t know? What assumptions are you making about those you do know?
Stereotypes abound. That is a fact. Biases flourish and are exploited every single day through myriad mediums. I challenge you to be above that noise.
And finally, not to be harsh, but, if you do not like my hair because you think it makes me look like something other than you feel “I should look” — guess what — that’s your issue. But.
Know that you are not alone.
Know that I do not judge you for asking this follow up.
Know that all I want is equality.
Know that if you reject these ideas I believe in my very core that you have a long way to go. But I love you anyway.
And, I just hear too many “I love it, but I could never do that’s!” to not say something.
It does not matter what you say, what my boyfriend says, or what my employer even says.
I am a female with short hair who feels empowered and feminine and bold, because it is my choice.