Wednesday, July 25, 2007
Your hair is everywhere...
I am currently reading the book In Our Time by Susan Brownmiller. It is a first-person account of the start of the American Women's Liberation Movement.
In the third chapter of the book, Brownmiller describes a scene that took place at the Emmanuel College conference of 1969 (a conference on women's rights). A radical feminist group called Cell 16 performed a Chinese revolutionary drama onstage, during which they cut off their long hair in front of 600 audience members.
The audience had a very strong reaction to this public hair-cutting. Women were crying and screaming for the cutting to stop. Roxanne Dunbar, a member of Cell 16, tried to explain to the crowd that "long hair belongs to men". Later on in the evening, Dunbar and some fellow activists broke into an ABC news anchor's bag and destroyed the video footage of the event, so that no record would remain.
Although this public shearing is mentioned only briefly in Brownmiller's book (which is great so far, by the way) I have been thinking about it ever since. Why did a group of activist, feminist women react so stronly to seeing other women chop off their own hair? What is about long hair that makes it so feminine and powerful?
According to Dunbar, it is heterosexual men's fondness for long hair that makes us value it so highly. Women are taught that long hair makes us look sexier and more feminine, and that men will pay more attention to us if we grow our hair long. This message is constantly reinforced in the media, and in our interpersonal interactions.
So as feminists, should we eschew long hair for short? Does it matter? If a woman wants to grow her hair long, does it matter where that desire comes from, or as feminists should we just support her right to look however she chooses?
The more I think about it, the more there really is to hair. Think about how America reacted to Britney Spears's head-shaving incident, or how the stereotype of a butch lesbian involves a short, spiky haircut. When a woman goes through a major life transition, she often radically changes her hair to match her changing moods.
This is a complicated issue, and I am not surprised that the women in Dunbar's Emmanuel College audience reacted so strongly to seeing women cut their hair. I wonder, do men have anything comparable to women's hair? It's not as if an audience would mind terribly if a man cut his hair short in front of them.
Does anyone have any thoughts on this? Have you or anyone you know cut your hair as a feminist statement? Would you? Why do you think we care so much about hair?
Posted by Kelsey Wallace at 7:30 PM