Sometimes Long Hair Is For Boys

Anne Hathaway

Anne Hathaway

Andre Agassi

Andre Agassi

Women may wear their hair short because it’s chic or easy to care for. And some guys favor long, sexy locks, a la Andrea Agassi — before he went bald.

But some women cut it short to express a more masculine sense of themselves. Just as some men — cross-dressers — don girlish wigs to bring out their feminine side.

So hair holds symbolic meaning: Long is feminine; it’s for girls. Short is masculine; it’s for boys.

Except when it’s not

American Indians wore their hair long — whatever their gender — before Europeans arrived.

American Indians

American Indians

But men and women in southwestern Ethiopia keep their hair short.

Woman of southwestern Ethiopia

Woman of southwestern Ethiopia

Among the African Masai, women closely crop their hair, while men sport longer, more elaborate styles.

Masai warrior

Masai warrior

So did Greek warriors.

Ancient Greek warriors

Ancient Greek warriors

In ancient Greece, and during the Middle Ages, hair length was more indicative of class than gender — with longer locks signifying the upper crust.

Rich man of the Middle Ages

Rich man of the Middle Ages

Sometimes men and women both kept their hair long, but men’s was more often in a ponytail, while women’s styling was more elaborate and ornate, as with King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.

Marie Antoinette and King Louis XVI (played by Jason Schwartzman and Kirsten Dunst)

Marie Antoinette and King Louis XVI (played by Jason Schwartzman and Kirsten Dunst)

Or, America’s Founding Fathers and Mothers favored longish tresses, with women’s hair longer and more ornamented, as we see with President James Madison and his wife, Dolly.

James and Dolly Madison

James and Dolly Madison

But Western men began cutting their hair short as a symbol of thrift and industry as the industrial revolution began.

Industrial Age man

Industrial Age man

Men’s hair got shorter still when crew cuts were introduced as the military’s regulation cut in WWII.

The military crewcut

The military crewcut

But guys grew it long again to protest the Vietnam war. The “older generation” complained that, “Nowadays you can’t tell the boys from the girls!”

John and Yoko protesting the Vietnam War

John and Yoko protesting the Vietnam War

So yeah. Long hair is for girls and short hair is for boys. Except when it’s not.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on November 19, 2014, in gender, men, psychology and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 50 Comments.

  1. Everyone can choose their hairstyles in our society, but I believe social stereotype about gender affects our hair style indirectly. I had one friend with long hair. When I first met him, I asked him, “Do you want to be a guitarist?” He said, “No, I just like to have long hair.” Other classmates made fun of him again and again. He finally cried. The next day he cried, he showed up with short hair. His short hair looked “normal”, but I felt sorry for him.

  2. I think that despite how far we’ve come in being accepting of other people’s choices in today’s society, there’s still too much of a stigmata when it comes to hair length. I’m a woman, but most of the guys I know have much longer hair than I do (although that could also be because I have a shaved head). I never thought it was weird or too “feminine” for the length of their hair to exceed that of a woman’s. In high school, a good friend of mine used to grow his hair out past his shoulders and when it got to a certain point, he would cut it and donate his hair to an organization who made wigs for kids with cancer. It’s not always about expressing something about yourself or how you want to be seen by other people. Sometimes, it says more about your inner character than anything, such as was the case with my friend. However, there are still plenty of people who try to hold on to what society has set as the standard for hair length today; some of those people are my parents. It happened a lot more when I first cut off all my hair, but it still occurs every now and then today…more than ten years later. I used to constantly hear how I should let my hair grow out because it would look so much prettier or because how I wore my hair wasn’t acceptable for a girl. Now, even though they’ve become slightly more accepting of my hair style, I do still get the occasional request to at least let the top grow out because they like it that way. Bottom line is that who cares? Short hair, long hair, no hair…masculine, feminine…boys, girls…do whatever you want. In the end, it’s your hair.

  3. When I was a junior school student, I liked to cut my hair short because I loved doing sports and had belonged from track and field club, so I did not want to care for my hair. My little cousins, around 5 years old, asked me if I am a boy or girl. They wondered because I have both a girl name and a short hair which implies a boy. I think the long and short hair is the best tool for children to recognize gender. But in general, today, it depends on individuals to chose long or short hair because we can choose our hair style based on our tastes.

  4. Her hair being long and adding enough of a feminine look made it so she wasn’t confused before. Minus the hair and shorter and her facial features with the short hair, made her look more like a boy. How was her hair styled too though? Was it short but also cut like a guy or short hair but like a woman? Like the woman in the music video, there’s isn’t any confusing of her being a woman, but her short hair is styled and cut in a feminine way too. It’s not like she has like a crew cut or anything either.

  5. If a girl looks like a boy with short hair, it’s more likely because she has a less feminine face. Women and girls with feminine faces don’t usually get bothered or confused as boys with. Same for guys, that Nelson band with the long blond hair, made some think they looked girly. A lot of it was because of their faces, than just the long hair. For example, the band Twisted sister, nobody confused the lead singer with long curly blond hair and make up as girl. Because he had a very masculine (pretty ugly) face, and very pronounced facial features.

    Some women though not only can work the short hair, but short hair seems to work better or well with their pretty, feminine faces. I heard a song, one hit wonder, but female singer in 1989, that had short hair, but was pretty attractive with it. Here’s the music video, Toy Soldiers by Martika.

  6. Hair is one of the parts where I judge the gender of a person. One of my favorite magazines for teenage girls always had an article about hair such as which smell of the shampoo boys like or introducing the easy hair arrangements. Those of hair arrangements are often for long hair. I remember an article saying that boys find a girl attractive when she removes a strand of hair from over her shoulder. We did not get interested in cutting our hair shorter, even when two of our favorite actress, Anne Hathaway and Emma Watson, changed their long hair. It may take a while to both men and women to accept girls’ having a short hair like a boy.

  7. Personally i looove long hair short hair on anyone. I believe if you can carry yourself in a majestic way and of your own passion then go right ahead ‘ i dont thnk it really matters. But i do know that every centery has their own way of thinking so thays why we have revolved so much over time

  8. Nowadays, it has been a little difficult to distinguish women from men according to their long hair, and there are few people who will feel strange when they see a man with long hair. However, there are still a few of older people who think that it is female who should have long hair, because boys had short hair at that time. But if looking back upon for a long time, there had been a lot of men with long hair in different times and under different cultures. The concept of distinguishing women from men on the basis of the length of their hair has become blurred. At present, according to the change of clothing and the appearance of the trendy clothes, the public’s appreciation of the beauty has also changed a lot.

  9. Personally hair when it comes to my hair I am extremely OCD and picky! I love dying my hair because it is a way to express myself but if my hair dresser comes close to the scissors I will run. I love being able to express myself with different braids curls and accessories. The choice of hairstyle is definitely personal. My hair dresser has always had long hair and just recently decided to shave most of her hair except for the front. She was fed up with people looking at her and assuming she was the dumb blonde because she fit the stereotype. She decided to go against the norm and her comfort zone. I wish I had the guts to chop off my hair and still maintain confidence. It was very interesting seeing all the hair styles around the world. It definitely gives me a new outlook on cultures

  10. This social idea that boys have short hair and girls have long hair is an American norm that has been taught pretty well to its people. I saw this in my nieces of ages 7 and 9, when they asked me why I had long hair. They tolled me that only girls had long hair and if that made me a girl. At first this made me laugh because I had experienced this type of confusion in young people before, but I made sure to clear up their confusion about this norm. It also got me wondering how I would have felt in the same scenario if I had decided to have long hair at a younger age. Would I have felt self conscience if some one tolled me I looked like a girl or just brush it off. In all honestly it would have to depend on who would have tolled me. On the opposite end, when I meet people of Native American decent or who study Nature they usually comment on my hair on a positive note. In the past two years getting complements on my hair has taught me to value it more and grow attached to it, as much as don’t want to admit.

  11. The idea that long hair is for women and short hair is for men is still deeply ingrained in us, even in the younger generations. Two years ago, my cousin’s son started kindergarten. At that point, he had long hair by his own choice. After experiencing teasing at school for his longer hair, he insisted he get it cut. The other students taunted him by calling him a girl. My cousin was at a bit of a loss. She didn’t want her son to be miserable at school, but she also didn’t want him to feel like he had to change his appearance to fit in or to fit a particular concept of what boys and girls should look like. Eventually, the boy got his hair cut. He hated the new cut initially but got used to having shorter hair. It is unfortunate that even now, a child doesn’t feel able to be him or herself. Hair is cosmetic; there is no good reason that a person can’t have the hair he or she wants.

  12. This is really interesting. The Media and Society have over time gotten us use to generalize long hair with woman and short hair with me. The shampoo commercials have long beautiful hair and show girl styling it. Long hair is though as more sexy and feminine. Girls have more time to style it. While man doesn’t have time to style so they go for short hair that is easier to manage. It true that past cultures have men with long hair and yes they can have long hair too but when it comes to styling it they don’t do much. We don’t see in the media men commercials with long hair it just how society depicts short hair. In the military like mentioned in this article they are required to have short hair or at lead pulled back and neat because it looks more clean and easier to manage. Hair is also a way of expression it depends on the person and how they feel more confortable. I love long hair and I have never liked it short I love styling it and I would not mind for my partner to have short or long hair. I’m sure IF I were to cut my hair my family and friends would make fun of me because I have always had it long. It is different for people and depending on their culture. But short or long hair is for both men and woman.

  13. This whole women should have their hair long and men wear it short is really quite stupid, and this article makes a great point. My little cousin started growing his hair out when Justin Bieber started becoming popular. Bieber has since cut it, and he still lets it grow out to his shoulders. He has cut it before, but he seems to prefer it when it is longer. I personally think he looks nice with either cut, but most of our family thinks otherwise. They are constantly criticizing him and telling him that he looks like a girl. They tell him that people who see him confuse him for a girl, and that they didn’t know that his mom had a girl. He sort of just laughs it off and tries to ignore it but I think it does get to him. He’s young and he lets other people influence the way he acts and what he wears. Recently I saw he posted on Facebook that he wanted to cut his hair but that he was conflicted because he really likes it long. The comments from his friends and family piled in, some telling him to cut it, and some telling him not to. He responded to each telling them he wasn’t sure, and that he would think about it. I told him not to cut it if he didn’t want to and that he looked great with both long hair and short hair. He responded with “thanks” and “I’ll think about it”. It’s upsetting to think that he was contemplating doing something to please others, or perhaps even shut people up. Hair should not and does not define your sexuality.

  14. I think its more of a generational thing, from the 80s hair bands, to the 90s grunge, to the emo look of the 2000s. Sometimes hair length is associated with a religion, from Christianity, Judaism and the sheikh religion. It even expands beyond generation and goes into race. Modern Caucasian culture typically has men with short hair and women with long, deviation from that social norm is often a form of rebellion, in all manner of guises. I know that in the modern work place, there are often restrictions on what length of hair men can have, yet there are typically no restrictions for women.
    There are stereotypes for hair length, which coincide with gender, where short hair is more butch and long hair is more feminine. Assumptions are made against women with short hair more than men with long hair, where as women with short hair can often be stereotyped as being a lesbian, the reverse is often not true for men with long hair. Instead they are seen as more of a free spirit or “hippie”
    All together though, it really depends on the culture and sub culture, not too long ago African American men began to adopt a long dreadlock style of hair, which is mostly seen in the urban hip/hop sub culture. But for the most part long hair on men, that is well cared for is still seen as a bit of a sex symbol.

  15. Long hair and make up are only for Girls ?

  16. Great article! I’ve been waiting for this one =)

  17. And let’s not forget about Rock stars.

  18. This topic is interesting as my girlfriend just had a short haircut yesterday because she fell in love with sports recently and thought that short hair would be more suitable for her need. Personally I like her new style since it’s fresh and special but she has got a lot of critiques from her friends. They think short hair makes her look like a boy and women should have long hair anyway. This really frustrates my girlfriend and me. Who actually set the criterion and says that women should have long hair and men should have short hair? No one. So why would people set restrictions on themselves while everyone can enjoy freedom and choose whatever they want. I think people should be more open to anything and that’s how our society can change.

  19. I love this Post! Short, simple and to the point! The pictures were a great way of getting the point across, everything from sharing a photo of Anne Hathaway to American Indians before Europeans arrived to King Louie XVI and his wife.
    One argument I have, not against the post but for all women to agree with, when we cut our hair short, whether it’s for maintenance or sex appeal we are looked down on. No one will say anything to one’s face because we live in the 20th century but no matter how far we’ve come people will always have things to judge and say in their heads. ‘Oh my god is she a dike?’ ‘I like my women with long hair’. Even if we plastered this article on billboards and blow the social network up with links to it people will stay programmed to think women should have long hair.
    On the other hand, 80’s rock and roll, all those men were praised upon and told their hair was the most attractive thing. I’ve even heard my stepmom (which does judge women with short hair because every now and then she chops her hair for fun) tell me how beautiful a man’s hair is, ‘Look! His hair is perfect! Look how silky it is! Beautiful!’ I personally come from a family who does not judge this matter at hand but I’m not naïve and believe ‘Oh well if my parents like it, everyone thinks the same!’ There are mass amounts of people in the world who judge women with short hair and ogle at a man with long pretty hair. It all comes down to the fact that no matter how many centuries pass, how many bills pass, no matter how many women stand outside and preach feminism there will always be a little more judgmental barriers in a womens life.
    Oh and I thought this was funny and something to share: I worked at the bowling alley for years and every now and then I got to chose a playlist, we had a playlist called ‘80’s hairbands’ HAHA!

  20. Having long hair , instead or short hair or vice versa, for some it’s just a trend and others there are specific reasons. Both genders should stop using such ideas to define who should look this way and who should not and stop trying to read in it when gender switch for this or this other style. I think the biggest problem isthat we hold on too tight on our appearance in our society. I actually like both style for both genders

  21. I think women look better in any way they want to have their hair. It all depends on the person everyone has different taste. My father had both long and short hair to me it didnt make a difference. I currently have an aunt who loves to have her hair short she hates to let it grow. I believe that the lenght of hair doesnt define if a person is masculine or feminine I see it like a sense of style. If you wonder how I have my hair its long not to long nor to short that how I like my hair. I hate when people start saying u should let it grow longer or cut it shorter you will look much better. Well that not how it works with me. Let people decide what to do with their hair its not your hair.

  22. I think this entry is interesting given the recent interest in Lauren Conrad’s hair. She has been cutting her incredibly long hair for three weeks now, cutting it shorter and shorter each time. And after reading an article about it, I was totally inspired! Her main reason for doing it was because she felt that her long hair was a security blanket for her. And I kind of agree! I have had hair that was down to my butt for about 5 years now, and the last time I majorly cut it was sophomore year in high school. And I HATED myself for it. I looked fat, and lets be real, short hair just did not work for my facial structure. So I have grown my hair out and I have been loving it ever since. And although I don’t agree with her in that I don’t think it’s a security blanket, I do love what she’s doing, and I’m sure a ton of long haired folks can agree!

    And ya know? Call me weird, but hair has never been a source of attraction for me. I have never looked at a guy or girl and went “WOW, I love their hair so much, I would date them.” Hair has never been a source of attraction to the opposite sex, so hair doesn’t matter. Would it be odd to share a brush with someone in the morning? Sure, but I could care less.

  23. Jasmine Lopez Torres

    I really loved the creativity of this post. The pictures really do give a lot of context to the author’s main point.. Since the pixie cut has been widely used by celebrities and people who are prominent in the media, it’s being accepted more and more. I personally believe that anyone is entitled to fix their hair however they want. It will always grow out anyway. I don’t know why some people want to marginalize everything sometimes and designate standards of beauty for a society. Such as long hair is for women and short hair is for men. Even your own hair isn’t safe from trying to be molded to society’s standards. I largely applaud those who do not follow social norms. Any woman with short hair and any man with long hair are basically walking around with a sign on their back stating,”THIS IS WHAT I AM, I AM COMPOSED OF THE THINGS THAT I LOVE. I AM FREE & I DO NOT CARE WHAT YOU THINK”.

  24. I have always loved long hair on dudes! You don’t see it a lot these days, but I find it sexy. Thanks for this interesting piece of history

  25. I was in 4th grade when I was forced to chop my hair off. I had lice so bad that my mothers solution was to almost shave my head. I wore a hat to school and was made fun of almost every day. The boys would tease me and said I looked like a boy. It was a traumatic event in my life. I made the decision to never let that happen again. As I got older I started to notice that old ladies cut their hair short because they didnt have the strength to blow dry curl etc. The idea of short hair on women was either because you were old had lice or you wanted to look like a boy. Now I see women with short hair and I think theyre lucky. According to an online source, women spend the equivalent to 26 years on their hair alone in blow drying etc. I think it is a thing for women; Something that represents how well you take care of yourself. I also have dated men that have had long hair and found it attractive on some yet when they play with their long hair it is the same motions with the hands as a woman. A little strange definetly something to get used to. I believe it is all a part lf who you are. I think men and women that step outside of the norm are even more unique and exquisite. The history provided in this blog was very informative.

  26. Marilyn Jauregui

    Hair, in my opinion, is a form of self expression. There is such wide variety of hair styles that people can choose from. Some people choose the more conservative side which is to grow out their hair and keep it tamed, while others choose a more risky side and cut their hair short like a mohawk. Personally, I love it when men have long hair and rock the cute little man buns and I think some guys don’t mind girls with pixie cuts. I think people are a lot more open minded when it comes to this topic, but the traditional “girls are supposed to have long hair” and “men are supposed to have short hair” type of gender roles are still carried and its something we need to work on.

  27. I think having a hair length is completely up to the individual. For guys its whether they think they look better with long or short hair. I grew up as a kid thinking that it was normal for guys to have both types of lengths but that women should only have long hair. When I was young I would see a bald girl and automatically assume they had cancer….of course I know now thats not true. Now I think there are a lot of girls who look good with short hair.

  28. I would love to cut my hair short- pixie like- but I have to admit, I carry this childhood trauma from w hen I did have my hair cut short and the boys at school ran around me- this was the first grade- chanting – BOY BOY BOY! I think short hair on a woman can be sexy and bold, just like long hair on a man. I guess I’m still working through some of my stuff, :). And your right- the meaning and choice is so personal. – it’s whatever we want it to be.

    • Once when I wore my hair short we were assigned to do some role-playing in a high school class and I was told I should be the boy because I had short hair. So I can relate.

  29. In my opinion either long or short hair is normal for men and women. No, long hair doesn’t make you feminine and short hair doesn’t make you masculine. As mentioned different styles are seen differently in many cultures. I personally know men with short hair as well as long hair. Same for women. Yes hair can say a lot about a person such as one who dyes it blue can make them seen as ambitious because they’re willing to try new things. Girls with short hair may be seen as dykes but does tha mean they are one? No. It’s all what society puts in our heads. Hair length doesn’t determine whether one is masculine, feminine, straight or gay. In my opinion of course.

    • Yeah, hair length definitely doesn’t signify male or female in every culture (even ours, though there’s a bias) — and we shouldn’t have to feel like we have to conform.

  30. Hair has always been a strong form of expression in our community. It can reveal status, class, and even your religious beliefs. For example, at my church, woman were supposed to have long hair down passed their butts to symbolize their respect for God. We were supposed to follow the bible Corinthians 11:1-16 which said “every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head…if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering.” As a child i remember hating this rule, my sister and i always wanted to cut our hair short like the girls at our school but it was forbidden by my dad (who’s the more religious one in the family). However, one day my mom caved and took my sister and i to cut our hair as short as we wanted. At that moment i felt excited, like a new me was emerging. But, i also felt scared that i was going to be punished by my dad…even though my mom had already consented the cut. This alone shows that men are always trying to control woman, especially the ones in their family (even though he’s my dad, i still felt entitled to styling my hair how i wished). Looking back at this day i can still remember the anger my dad felt when we came home with short hair, but if it wasn’t for the woman in my family taking charge of their bodies–and hair, we would have never broke that boundary that was set for us, and who knows…my hair could have possibly still been long today.

  31. Personally, I think women look very hot with a short and sassy pixie cut. But people should feel free to cut their hair however they choose as hairstyles are a very personal form of self-expression.

    As a middle age man, I can no longer grow my hair long without looking like a middle age man in a crisis that wants to look young but doesn’t… So I brought photos of women with really nice pixie cuts to my stylist and told her I want a short, sassy pixie cut.

    Not only does my stylist enjoy cutting my hair like this, she is now starting to get more creative with it. Also, since it has more layering and choppiness than a traditional man’s cut, I get compliments (mainly from women). And no one but my hairdresser and I know that I’m getting a girl’s cut…

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