gender essentialism

(More) Hair

My hair looks awesome today. So do my pants. So do the revisions on my paper I sent to my advisor this morning. The patriarchal hegemony is not holding me back from wearing kelly green capris and quasi-pixie-bob buzz-swoop ‘do!

In more easy-to-understand-terms, I have more pictures to show more drastically the before and after of this hair journey (for the longer word-based journey, check out Monday’s blog post)…

Before:

Danielle, 2003. Senior year of high school. I never wore my hair like this but still felt the need to spend three hours getting my massive amounts of hair curled and styled for my senior pictures. I also never wore makeup, except for my senior photos. So basically this is a photo of someone I never met. I think my internalized patriarchy might be showing a bit.

Danielle, 2003. Senior year of high school. I never wore my hair like this but still felt the need to spend three hours getting my massive amounts of hair curled and styled for my senior pictures. I also never wore makeup, except for my senior photos. So basically this is a photo of someone I never met. I think my internalized patriarchy might be showing a bit. 

Danielle, 2009. The long hair, past the shoulders, not quite to the elbows. About 10 minutes later, I chopped off a 10-inch braid and never looked back.

Danielle, 2009. The long hair, past the shoulders, not quite to the elbows. About 10 minutes later, I chopped off a 10-inch braid and never looked back.

Later (not really “After,” since my hair is an ongoing project):

Danielle, 2014. The Swoop, as it is sometimes known, is exactly what my hair wants to do, and I let it.
Danielle, 2014. The Swoop, as it is sometimes known, is exactly what my hair wants to do, and I let it.
Danielle, 2015. The hair is short, sassy, and in your face. I get shit done.

Danielle, 2015. The hair is short, sassy, and in your face. I get shit done.

Danielle, 2015. It took me longer to put on my three shirts than it did to do my hair. Short hair = ME! While sporting this ensemble while in line for the restroom, I got into a conversation about genderless restrooms and Idaho politics. I don't think that was a coincidence.

Danielle, 2015. It took me longer to put on my three shirts than it did to do my hair. Short hair = ME! That night, sporting this ensemble while in line for the restroom, I got into a conversation about non-gender-labeled restrooms and Idaho politics. I don’t think that was a coincidence.

Danielle, St. Patrick's Day 2015. You know you're an elementary teacher when the highlight of the week is getting to wear the kelly green capri pants you bought in 2004, with a pair of knee-high St. Patrick's Day socks, and you look totally awesome. A fellow teacher tried to "fix" my hair as we were walking in the building. I said, "No need. It's exactly how it needs to be!"

Danielle, St. Patrick’s Day 2015. You know you’re an elementary teacher when the highlight of the week is getting to wear the kelly green capri pants you bought in 2004, with a pair of knee-high St. Patrick’s Day socks, and you look totally awesome. A fellow teacher tried to “fix” my hair as we were walking in the building. I said, “No need. It’s exactly how it needs to be!”

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Hair

The first time I had a panicked birthday was my 22nd. I was a senior in college, about six weeks away from graduating. I looked around at my friends and classmates, remembering how at 18 I had looked up at the seniors and seen them as a world beyond me. They were so adult, so learned, so together. I felt none of those things, and it terrified me. Also, 22 looked like a fat number. That second two looked a lot wider than 21.

I did not freak out at 25. I had just purchased a house and life was awesome. I did, however, freak out when my baby sister turned 25 two years later. But, for the most part, my family are not birthday freaker-outers. My mom did not flip at 40, 50, or 60. My grandmother is 93 and as far as I know she handles each milestone birthday with a positive attitude and a sizable helping of angel food cake.

I turn 30 in less than three weeks.

I am totally losing my shit.

I don’t think 30 is old. I am not grieving the end of my 20s, as far as I can tell. I just feel like I haven’t really made much progress on this whole “adult” thing since I turned 22. And I’m certainly not where I thought I’d be. I’m divorced, I have no children, and I’m broke. I haven’t had a raise, really, in seven years.

In the midst of my weekend freakout, a friend shared some encouragement with me: May you have at least as many lives and adventures as I have had….and am still having. May you be able to reinvent yourself as often as your cells regenerate. When I saw her later that evening, we had a conversation along that topic, regarding hair. If hair represents my regenerations, I am currently in my Tenth Doctor tousled phase. All I’m lacking is a personal hair tousler.

Dream Job: David Tennant's personal hair tousler

Dream Job: David Tennant’s personal hair tousler

That said, my hair has been fairly representative of my life since moving to Idaho, and I am grateful for the conversation this weekend. During most of my life, I kept my hair long  enough for a ponytail, even if it was a short “sumo” ponytail. I am perpetually low-maintenance. I haven’t even used shampoo in seven years, let alone any hair product. To say I have thick hair would be a gross understatement. My hair is grotesquely thick, monstrously thick, thick-beyond-words thick. Whenever I have started with a new stylist, their shock the first time they have hefted my vast coif is worth capturing on film. I have a lot of hair. My current stylist books an extra-long block for me now, simply because we spend so much time thinning, and that’s even after he buzzes out the bottom third of my hair.

Anyway, I put as little effort into managing this mane as possible, which for the vast majority of the first 24 years of my life meant ponytails. Then, I chopped off a ten-inch braid, and my hair has been getting progressively shorter ever since.

During the same time frame that my hair has become strikingly short, I’ve taken control of a lot of areas of my life. I started going to counseling again, I started a 12-step program, played roller derby, took control of my health (sorta), embraced my feminism, appeared in two challenging productions with provocative, award-winning scripts (How I Learned to Drive and The Vagina Monologues), and started graduate school.

Correlation is not causation, but the correlation between my ever-shortening hair and my bolder approach to life is no coincidence.

I am loud and awkward and passionate, and I spent a lot of time apologizing for my elbows and my voice and my opinions. My parents were always shushing me. I no longer apologize for taking up space. I used to try to blend in and shrink back and hide the parts of my body and my personality that were deemed unfit or flawed. I spent too many years hiding in ponytails, oversized jeans, and hoodies. Now I wear what I want and I embrace my hips and my breasts and my tears and my fists when I’m fighting for the underdog.

Every time I’ve cut my hair, I’ve shed a layer of myself. Like a sassy snake. My hair was ridiculously fluffy last Wednesday, and the sensory integration therapist met me in the hallway and said, Your hair is so… awesome today. I replied, genuinely, Thanks! I used to fight with my hair, but I always lost. Now I just let my hair do what it does. Who wants to start every morning losing? One of my students thought that was really funny, in part because she has a mane of curly hair that has at least an 80% correlation to her mood. She’s like Japanese animation. She retold that story three times on Wednesday. The next day, after a good-morning hug, she told me we both won with our hair that morning.

Last semester in Feminist Theory, we regularly returned to the theme the personal is political. Hair is one of those personal-political feminist issues. Any time a Hollywood actress shaves her head for a role, she gets major headlines. When Jennifer Lawrence cut her hair in a pixie style (was that in 2013?) just because she damn well wanted to cut it that way, I’m pretty sure the internet broke. The fact that cutting one’s hair is considered so newsworthy makes it pretty clear how much a woman’s hair means in our culture. And when we add race to the equation–because I love me some intersectional feminism–the implications and consequences of short hair are magnified. In 2012, Rhonda Lee, a small-market meteorologist in Louisiana, was fired after defending (in a Facebook comment) her choice to keep her black, ethnic hair short and natural. It seems to me, at least in certain contexts, short hair is where the personal becomes political.

Women with short hair get noticed. I am okay with that now; I don’t have to hide. I may not be where I thought I’d be, but I am certainly not where I was.

Danielle, 2009. The long hair, past the shoulders, not quite to the elbows. About 10 minutes later, I chopped off a 10-inch braid and never looked back.

Danielle, 2009. The long hair, past the shoulders, not quite to the elbows. About 10 minutes later, I chopped off a 10-inch braid and never looked back.

Danielle, 2015. The hair is short, sassy, and in your face. I get shit done.

Danielle, 2015. The hair is short, sassy, and in your face. The underside is totally buzzed. I get shit done.

“Swatting is acceptable in certain situations”

I’ve written this blog post four times. I’ve written it angry, discouraged, royally pissed off, and totally deflated. I’m not sure what mood I am experiencing at the moment. It’s a mix of tired and something.

The other day, a friend posted an article about using restorative practices rather than zero-tolerance policies to address behavioral infractions, thus cutting off the flow to the school-to-prison pipeline. I was very interested in this article, as I have been following the writings of David Perry as he develops and shares his essays and posts on the Cult of Compliance, which he explains thusly:

Here’s some of the thinking behind the “cult” language. I could have said a culture of compliance, or a culture that doesn’t accept non-compliance, or any number of other ways of framing the problem. Cult, though, implies an unthinking adherence to an idea, principle, group, prophet or deity that you must venerate at all costs. To me, in our police culture but also our American culture more broadly, we venerate compliance.  It’s not just the police to blame, but all of us who accept the “he/she didn’t comply” rationale in any given case. (emphasis in original) (source)

I should have known not to get involved in a comment discussion; I end up frustrated and jaded and I smash my face on the keyboard. The first three comments made it clear that Jerkface McPoopyhead (not the original poster) had either not read the article or did not comprehend the article he’d read. He first asked the original poster what the alternative should be (even though the entire article was about the alternative: restorative policies. He must have only read the headline). He issued quite a missive about how sending kids to the principal doesn’t work and suspension is the only way to punish both the kids and their parents. He peppered his comments with references to his experiences in law enforcement, which made the leap from Cult of Compliance (as related to police) to the Cult of Compliance in schools an easy one to make.

I can’t break his arguments down into component parts; it was my first big reminder that just as spheres of oppression intersect, so do spheres of prejudice. Very rarely is someone just racist or just sexist. Mr. McPoopyhead said the school-to-prison pipeline doesn’t exist because rules are not actually enforced unfairly. Blacks are disproportionately represented in the discipline statistics because they disproportionately break the rules. The reason is they all come from broken families, because the black family unit is deteriorating, because black welfare mothers kick the men out so they can collect more benefits. And everyone knows that fathers (men) are the only people who can provide any kind of structure for children and teens, and, by extension, for society. See? Gender essentialism and racism all wrapped up in one little package. I can’t extract one from the other. It’s ampersandwiched bigotry, coming to you live on Facebook.

I wanted to let it go. But I couldn’t. As an ally, I cannot remain silent if I see racism in action. Moreover, he said that things were better back when we could swat kids on the backside. He held himself up as an example of a kid who knew how to behave because of corporal punishment. I put on my typing gloves.

The conversation was like playing Calvinball, except with an adult with a who is going to become a teacher some day.

I started small: “Swatting and spanking children is not an option. Please stop holding it up as the reason you turned into a well-adjusted adult.” We should not need to have that conversation, but I will continue having it, even as every person who uses such an argument loses all credibility with me.

Physical discipline damages children. It does. There is mounds of evidence to support that assertion. If we are going to be discussing the problems with school culture, or with school discipline, or with the preschool-to-prison pipeline (which is a real thing, people), I feel like we need to at least have this recognition in common. We need to at least be on the same page and agree that physical punishment does not belong in our schools.

And yet, I found myself staring his reply in the face: “Swatting is acceptable in certain situations.” On the same day I read a new report that “minority children, and disabled children, make up the largest majority of children paddled by their teachers.”

No.

Take note of the recent heavy press given to police brutality, aggression, excessive force. Call it what you will, but we have a problem. There is an underlying belief that some people will only respond to force. That some people just have it coming. That a physical response is necessary for failing to comply with verbal directives given by a school resource officer, or a police officer, or off-duty deputies. Because this is where it starts.

The more I see it, the more I cannot ignore it. So when someone asserts that black children and teens are more inherently deviant, and that swatting is acceptable, I will engage. Because minority children and children with disabilities are disproportionately represented on the receiving end of corporal punishment and zero-tolerance policies, and we should be seeking restorative practices for all our students. Because the #CultofCompliance depends upon early adoption, early indoctrination. The #CultofCompliance depends upon the silence of bystanders to maintain its foothold in our schools and in our police stations.

And I will not be silent.