So while I still have 50 pages left to read by tomorrow my brain suddenly decided it was extremely important to research the symbolism of hair. Perhaps because I recently shaved my head. Perhaps because researching the symbolism of hair and thereby avoiding my assigned reading somehow gives me a feeling of power over my life. I am CHOOSING to stress myself out later tonight or early tomorrow morning when deadlines force me to complete my responsibilities, but it's MY choice, not someone else's. Perhaps because reading Mary Wollstonecraft's book, The Right of Woman, makes me want to rip any hair I may have left on my head out - for many, deeply varied reasons.
When will we stop being told what it means to be a woman? When we will simply be able to BE?
Considering the fact that our current U.S. administration who seems to want to run back to the 50's (or 1500s) as quickly as humanely possible, it doesn't seem like this freedom is going to come anytime soon. So we respond by giving meaning to things like hair.
In his article, Shame and Glory: A Sociology of Hair Anthony Synnott claims, "Hair is perhaps our most powerful symbols of individual and group identity – powerful first because it is physical and therefore extremely personal, and second because, although personal, it is also public rather than private. (Synnott, 381).
Interesting. My motto has always been, "It's just hair. It'll always grown back."
I've been coloring, curling, straightening, cutting, and shaving my head since I was about 12 years old. Blue, black, green, kinky-curls, straightened-bobs, shaved... you name it, I have tried it. My head is like a playground. A place for me to visit when I feel the need for change. It never once occurred to me that I might be changing the trajectory of my personal symbolism in the process. All this time I thought I was just having fun.
A couple weeks ago, I chose to shave my head (well actually my teen daughter, Zoe, did the shaving) as a metaphorical act for a dear friend currently fighting cancer. While I did pause for a moment to ask myself if this decision might scare my students, I didn't really give much more thought than that to the outer world's opinions of my insignificant scalp. This was an moment between me and a friend. Nobody else's business, right? But people seems to have feelings about my baldness. They have questions and thoughts and opinions...and much more concern than I have had about the whole thing at any point in the process.
If I were living in the Victorian age, my decision may have taken a very different course, which reading Wollstonecraft currently reminds me. After all, "Rousseau declares that a woman should never for a moment feel herself to be independent, that she should be governed by fear to exercise her ‘natural’ cunning .... and sweet docility of manners that are supposed to be the sexual characteristics of the weaker sex" (Wollstonecraft, 17). Oh Rousseau. If I only had the opportunity to punch you right in the throat! Of course, Rousseau was not alone in his vision of woman. According to Elisabeth Gitter's article,The Power of Women's Hair in the Victorian Imagination, "The woman herself is without individuality, silent and spiritualized: her potency is concentrated in the disembodied hands, eyes, breathings, and, of course, hair that create a perfumed twilit atmosphere for the poet-lover's response" (942).
Most of the articles and tidbits I read on the symbolism of hair agreed that long, flowing hair on a woman is considered sexy and even powerful while short or no hair signifies sterility or castration. Witches had their heads shaved in order to remove any magical powers, for example, and I don't believe many poems have been written about the smooth, shining glory of a woman's shaven head.
So I figured it was up to me to list the plusses to not having hair:
1. You will never fall victim to a poet's desire to trap your feminine identity in a false, overly-romantic vision, which encapsulates your entire being in one body part with no regard to your intelligence or points of view on the world.
2. Without the "power" of your long trusses to protect you, you'll be forced to figure shit out using your brain instead of your "womanly wiles".
3. You can stop worrying about how you look because the assumption is that, until your hair grows back, you look awful. Enjoy the freedom to not care about how the world sees you while you can!
4. For a short period of time (depending on how quickly your hair grows), some will be afraid of you (or feel sorry for you, assuming some horrible medical situation brought you to do such a horrible thing as to eliminate the key to your sexual powers). Use your capacity to conjure such fear wisely.
5. On the practical side of life: you save time and money on your personal grooming.
And this is the most thought I've put into the whole thing since shaving my head (something I've already done in the past). Look back at my words, I feel it's more than is necessary already. Procrastination session is officially over. Time to get back to my reading!
Gitter, Elisabeth G. “The Power of Women's Hair in the Victorian Imagination.” PMLA, vol. 99, no. 5, 1984, pp. 936–954., www.jstor.org/stable/462145.
Synnott, Anthony . “Shame and Glory: A Sociology of Hair.” The British Journal of Sociology, No. 3, 1987, p. 381. EBSCOhost, doi:10.2307/590695.
Wollstonecraft, Mary. A Vindication of the Rights of Woman with Strictures on Political and Moral Subjects: With an Introduction by Elizabeth Robins Pennell. Vol. 1, Jonathan Bennett, 2017.