Why has it always been inherently political for women to have no hair? With the ever-evolving gender dynamics of the modern world — what is it that a shaved head has always challenged?
Despite the overwhelming aspect of the decision being how I just no longer wanted hair on my head and therefore it didn’t make much sense keeping it; I will attempt to unpack its value in terms of gender politics. The inherent narcissism of an exposé on the hair on my own head I am acutely aware of. But consider this an experiment, I wanted to understand more about my relation to male desire as a 19 year old woman.
When one is focused on her own spiritual growth, professional development, and what to do with a Politics degree while graduating into a recession — in an ideal world — I would concern myself very little with the opinions of random men. As a young woman, currently (and unsurprisingly) the idea of how sexually attractive ‘Callum’ the rugby boy that-can-sink-3-pints-in-a-minute finds me shouldn’t be of high priority.
Unfortunately, in my short and sheltered experience, I have discovered how my sexual ‘value’ is intrinsically related to my value in platonic scenarios and relationships.
Unfortunately, I have to be concerned.
I’ve never regarded male attention with any necessity or stipulation, further reaffirming my suspicion that any focus on appearance was not inherently but rather typically connected with my ardent desire for some visibility.
It is condescending to assume all young women’s minds are primarily occupied with maximising male sexual attention for its sake, with their infinite toiletry collections and ‘high-maintenance’ beauty appointments. This assumption ignores the glaring and debilitating patriarchal confinements that have allowed sexual desirability and women’s humanity to become mutually exclusive.
Our mothers and grandmothers recall ‘turning invisible’ the day they became too old to be assessed lust worthy. This directly concerned how they were understood professionally and their denomination socially. For men, this is not the case. Men can be funny, clever, obnoxious and successful baring no relation to their objective sexual appeal.
After exaggerating myself into a caricature to survive the unforgiving school years of 9-11, who I want to be since then is a more acceptable version of myself. I want to be attractive not to attract, but to be realised and to be heard. Those pieces of my personality I understood to be harsh and uncompromising were more acceptable once I made efforts to be typically attractive.
In my maturity I understand, now, how much I do not owe.
It would be difficult to make these points — especially in relation to hair — without crediting the work of the Islamic scholars that explore modern women’s relationship with modesty. The principality of removing my hair is akin to covering it in the context of this double standard. Modesty, etymologically, is about not giving something credit or power. When society gives something sexual emphasis — for a woman to deny it that power is modest. Therefore, modesty is defined by a woman’s freedom to choose rather than what she chooses.
A woman must learn and practice her agency. By cutting her hair, she is buzzing a crevice right through the centre of that expectation, daring to succeed without it. By growing out her god-given armpit hair — she is cracking through the follicles of a capitalist construction.
Why has it always been political for women to have no hair? For now, whatever is considered conventionally attractive of women, is equally expected of them to survive.
By Alice Connor
Image: by Alice Connor