The Hairy Gender Gap
However hair is styled, it says something about gender. Let’s take a look at recent Western history.
Men and women both have long hair, but…
In the 18th-century men and women both kept their hair long — but women’s stylings were more elaborate and ornate, as with King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette (as played by Kirsten Dunst and Jason Schwartzman, pictured here):
Around the same time, America’s Founding Fathers and Mothers also favored longish, if more modest, tresses. But still, women’s hair was longer and more ornamented, as with President James Madison and his wife, Dolly.
Probably to create greater gender distinctions. At that time women were considered the more leisured and decorative sex, leaving them more time to maintain elaborate hair styles. And, being pegged the passive gender, women needed something to attract men.
19th-century: the gap grows larger
By the 19th century the gender gap had widened as men sported shorter, more practical styles.
The French and American revolutions attacked aristocratic snobbery symbolically through plainer dress. Since only men had political rights, they were the ones to take up the symbolism.
Also, middle-class working men of the emerging industrial age wanted to project a thrifty seriousness.
But women were expected to maintain a sense of style. Especially since women’s role increasingly came to be seen as “a haven from the harsh world” that men could return to after a hard day’s work.
But also, women were less in the public eye. When ethnic groups immigrate, men are more likely to conform to the host culture’s fashion style, while women are more likely to wear traditional garb — maybe the sari or hijab, for instance.
1920s: Women’s short, bobbed hair
By the 1920s women favored a short, bobbed hairstyle. This cut accompanied their new right to vote, movement into the workplace, and greater financial independence — at least before marriage. The style symbolized taking on masculine power, and both symbolically and practically bestowed greater freedom.
From 1940s military to 1960s counter-culture
During World War II men got crew cuts, which many kept after the war.
But styles radically changed in the 1960s, as the younger generation fought the older generation’s support of the Vietnam War.
Young people began questioning authority —and society at large. In a countercultural move men “let their free flags fly” by wearing longer hair — one of the few times that men have appropriated a style associated with women. Message: Age is more important than gender. Short hair on men became a symbol of being under society’s control.
1970s early feminism
Some women embraced 1970s feminism by cutting their hair short — perhaps symbolic of taking on male power, or helping them get in touch with their more masculine side.
Over time, cultural feminists called for valuing feminine traits that had been denigrated by a patriarchal culture, and celebrated femininity.
If a woman feels that a more masculine style best expresses her personality, that’s great. Do it. But don’t assume that things associated with masculinity are better.
As it turns out, a simple thing like hair can hold a lot of meaning!
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Posted on August 5, 2015, in body image, feminism, gender, men, psychology, sexism, women and tagged body image, costume, Fashion, feminism, gender, hairstyle, men, psychology, sexism, women. Bookmark the permalink. 16 Comments.