hair.jpg“I should do that with my hair!” The 60-something woman emphasized SHOULD – like, “I SHOULD do that… But I wouldn’t.” I can’t tell you how many women have said those exact words to me. About hair. About my hair, and theirs. And what they mean is that they should cut their hair as short as mine. I have asked several of these commentators, “What stops you?” The answer invariably involves a reference to their husband’s displeasure.

Like fat, hair is a distinctly feminist issue. Frigga Haug,German sociologist, wrote brilliantly about this subject in Female Sexualization, where she reports on a fascinating project where participants narrate anecdotes concerning hair and gender identification.

I am on holiday, and I needed to get my hair cut yesterday. It’s a challenge. At home, Bill the barber cuts my hair. I have never seen a woman at the barber shop, but the guys cope. The barber shop I go to is downtown, where, in my imagination, people learn to accomodate difference more directly than folks in the suburbs (where I live). But on holiday, what’s a gal to do? You can’t just waltz into any old barber shop. The last time I tried that, the guy said, “Oh my g#d. I will have to pull the shades. What if my wife drives by and sees you?” I left. Any place with “Salon” in the name is out. They would balk at my directions — “Keep it short. Use the clippers.” Lady luck was smiling on me. I walked into a place where the woman who cuts hair used to live with a couple of dykes. I chose the place because the sign said, “Hair, Nails, Facials” – that’s it. Nothing fancy. “Very good.” she opined while we chatted about living arrangements – mine, and hers. “No men. Works better that way.”

I knew that eventually, I would have to confess. I enjoyed the feel of the razor sliding up my leg far too much. After a twenty-year moratorium, I shaved my legs. It felt glorious. I was stunned by the depth of guilt. I am not sure who I felt like I had betrayed, but it was tangible. I managed to hang on and ride the waves of repression until after dinner. Then I leaned over to my good friends P and J (who Janice and I met up with in Wailea) and in a whisper, spoke the ugly truth, one lapsed feminist to another. “I shaved my legs.” The aftermath was really fascinating. It turns out I was not alone. We have all been pretty committed feminists for about twenty years, and had all enthusiastically picked up and carried the “thou shalt not shave thy body hair” torch, and both P and I had shaved our legs for our Hawaii vacation. And we both felt guilty. And neither of us was sure about anything, except that something important had been set aside in this abandonment of the ban on shaving.

In the Survivor final episode post-party yesterday, the host, Jeff Probst, asked Denise, the lunch lady, her BIG question. It was about her hair. “What’s with the hair?” he inquired, as if we would all know what he meant. The audience laughed, knowingly. Can you imagine anyone ever under any circumstances asking a man that question? Denise’s answer was very telling. “I have to keep it short,” she shared with the audience, “because the children are always grabbing it. But I also want to feel like a woman.”

Frigga Haug, you were so right about hair.