Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Against Cumbersome Hair

Advisory: rather "frank" words are used in this post. And let me be clear: I'm talking principles here. I'm not making any rules.

Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to have floppy long hair. And yes, I'm about to mock half of America's white teenagers. I was talking to a 24-year-old friend this week, and he made the comment that his generation "don't know how to fight, don't ever want to fight...they're pussies." And so it is. Floppy long hair, with those flips that get in your eyes, are a symptom of that. Justin Bieber is referred to as a "cutie", not as a stud.

The contemporary teenager's impulse to cover his eyes with long hair is not the first time this has happened. Emo kids did it. Gothic kids did it. These groups are defined by their effeminacy and weakness. Some pseudo-punk and skateboard kids did it. Those kids were the bitches of their groups, not the fighters and leaders. Now the hair-in-your-eyes thing is widely accepted. Your chess team captain won't sport it, and most of the football players won't, but all the white kids who fall between that range will.



Masculinity has become a widely reviled thing (not least in the overwhelmingly feminized state school system) over the past few generations, and each new generation of boys allows effeminacy to take a more mainstream place. It is no longer the temptation of social outliers to signal surrender with outward signs of effeminacy, it's the mainstream thing to do.

I had a good bit of difficulty understanding how on earth anyone could debate whether or not Adam Lambert was homosexual, except to say that the rest of society has introduced a lot of ambiguity themselves. There is no ambiguity from Adam Lambert; it wasn't about how long his hair was (among other fashion choices), it was about what he was signaling: receptivity and attractiveness. That, I'm afraid, is the tendency you see among teenagers generally: a softness that signals, if not sexual receptivity, passivity.

I want to be clear that the problem here is not long hair. I don't really get to grow long hair, it just kind of grows straight out into a white man's afro, but most of you know that my grooming standards tend toward the bushy. The problem is actually the signal being sent about readiness to fight; the problem is cumbersome hair.


The haircut classically associated with masculinity is the crew cut, or anything else high-and-tight, that masculinity with a '40s and '50s edge, like Brad Pitt in The Tree of Life. It's the military haircut of a military generation.

But you can have long hair and not look soft at all.


This Indian warrior, the famous Sitting Bull, is an old man, but he still signals his readiness for action by binding his hair back. If he needs to get some violence done, he's not going to be worrying about whether or not his hair is in his face, or if his clothes are too cumbersome, or if his shoes will allow him to run. These are perceived as feminine things in great part because when women are dressed like that, they signal permission for men to protect them. That's what butch is, the very conscious and self-aware decision to reject that for oneself, and even very often to offer that protection to another, which is where the lesbian butch and femme relationship comes from.

Boys and men should not be belligerent. When a woman signals pure passivity, reliance, and dependence, both men and woman alike tend not to respect the woman at all (although that certainly does attract a certain sort of man). That's what a bimbo does. If a man signals pure aggression, he's either a thug or an asshole. There is certainly room for soft things in a man's life (I, for example, have extremely soft hands). But men and boys should signal a readiness to protect things worth protecting. And you can't do that very well with hair in your face.

My boys are sporting their summer haircuts right now, so they're looking like shorn lambs. But we let their hair get reasonably long; especially the baby's. I firmly believe, however, that if we allowed our boys' hair to get cumbersome, difficult to wield, time-consuming to maintain, we would not be training them to be men of action. We'd be training them to be boys forever. Which is a vice of my generation and the ones following it.

16 comments:

  1. Excellent post! A very enjoyable read.

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  2. Dig it Joffre! Having experienced the full spectrum of hairdom from cumbersomeness (and what you argue it represents) to being unable to grow hair outside the "Lobot Band" (and put more at the ready-to-act as a result), i think i can identify with your essential point quite well.
    Does this beg a "Fathering" post?

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  3. Very nicely put. My wife and I are expecting our first child in the fall and I know every guy hope and prays for a boy....a "mini me". As I thought about it more and more I was thinking of all these "hair styles" and looks boys are sporting now and was wondering..."is he gonna be a punk? Pushed around? Will he want that look?" The lingering thoughts had me uneasy for a while......until we found out we were having a girl...(phew). Cheers.

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  4. Baby,we need to roughen up those hands. I've got some work for you to do.... in the garden... as soon as you're ready.

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  5. Frank response.

    Joffre, I'm not sure I follow what you're trying to say here. Are you suggesting that "cumbersome hair" is not merely impractical, but also somehow defining of gender identity? And even if it was (which it isn't), why would this be undesirable?

    While I agree that one can choose to use hair styles associated with femininity specifically to be more feminine, I would not say (as an instructor of young gentlemen and ladies) that this is the thinking of most young men. Rather, I would say it is their (mostly) increasing awareness of their own heterosexuality, and an understanding of what is popular with young women of their age group, that makes them choose to wear such hairstyles. The Biebs is popular, thus...

    Your advisory was well given, because I disagree strongly with one of the main premises of your post: that boys and girls are inherently different, and you would treat boys and girls differently. They're not, and I try very hard not to. We should teach both boys and girls to defend themselves and protect what they care about. We should teach both boys and girls to be great communicators. That we consistently treat boys and girls, from birth, as if their most important feature is the one in their pants is responsible for the gender/sex inequality we see our societies.

    I reject that "effeminacy " is "surrender." You make effeminacy in all situations, at all times, to be undesirable. No wonder so many men have trouble treating women as equals, if the very (constructed!) gender roles they typically occupy are considered inferior. And I also question what you mean about the "feminised state school system." If you mean that, as instructors, we aren't as tolerant of fights out on the school yard, or our students getting the beejezuz punched out of them during a sports match, well I think that's progress, not weakness. If you're suggesting we've spent much time finding out how girls learn, but ignoring how boys learn, there is truth to that. We are failing boys because we tend to believe they are "not treated unequally" and therefore fail on their own merits. Which is not true. Such learning style differences are created by the way adults treat children based on gender; they are not inherent.

    However, schools have a long way to go before I'd ever apply "feminised" to them as a descriptor. We still don't allow, in most cases, boys and girls to participate in mixed teams (regardless of ability) in most sports, despite the fact that "true generalisations" of lesser female strength don't mean a thing from individual girl to individual girl. We still steer girls towards softball instead of baseball. Only recently have we let them begin to play football. As for boys, there is still a bias, from adults, passed onto children, that certain activities are a threat to masculinity, and therefore a surefire way to be teased or physically accosted. Ballet is a good example. Figure skating (one of my sports) is another, despite the athleticism and dedication needed to excel in such activities.

    Floppy hair is the least of our worries as men. And as women.

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  6. I don't think floppy hair is a worry. But it is a symptom of other things that are worrisome.

    The only place I use the word "surrender" is when briefly touching on "outcast" groups, kids who are picked on.

    There are several valid and interesting points you bring up, but I think most of them come down to the lense we use, which shapes how we define a lot of words and concepts. I DO believe that men and women (and boys and girls) are very different; fundamentally different, even.

    There's no suggestion of lesser expectations for girls, or that everything "feminized" (an admittedly very vague term) is bad. I confessed to having soft hands, after all...I was made lightheartedly made fun of by several people for that line, not least by my wife and sister, who have the calloused hands that reflect their hard work and talent.

    But because I think men and women are very different, and because I believe they USUALLY have different roles to play in life, I believe how men and women act out those roles is vitally important to their well-being (and to fulfilling their purpose).

    Again, the assumptions we're making to have our different/not different separation are many, and deep, and great. But hopefully you see a spirit of charity, and not of judgment. The fact that I'm stronger than any woman I've ever met doesn't make me a better human...and I wouldn't be a worse one if I were a 100-pound weakling.

    I appreciate the time you took to read and respond very much!

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  7. We'll definitely have to agree to disagree on the inherency of gender, I suppose (I look at sex about the same way I look at eye or skin color. Biologically different, but of very little meaning in the Big Picture).

    I weigh 120LBs. I did so when I was in the Navy the first time (currently just had an interview to become an intelligence officer), and I do so now. Even after lifting weights and trying out a dozen silly protein shakes, I still have gained no more weight. I'm fast and I'm light (and my legs are very strong), but I don't have much upper body strength at all. Most athletic women are my equal.

    That being said, I've never shied away from a good fight when something was, as you say, worth protecting. And I'm a b

    As far as fashion and style, I've come to realise that my frame is a unique one (it can be very difficult finding clothes that fit my length, thinness, and a fair amount of curvature in the torso), and so I'm willingly incorporating more female and feminine items in my wardrobe. They fit. And fit is a key component to any style decisions.

    ...that being said, I've had long hair and short hair, but never floppy hair. So perhaps there is something to your views.

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  8. Hmm. Got cut off. "I'm a big fan of roughhousing and tackle football in appropriate settings."

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  9. Good times. :-) I definitely wondered what "B" might stand for...got some interesting answers. Speaking of tackle football, I saw you're in Japan, and I came across some videos of a game called "botashi". Have you heard of this thing? Is it a school game or a village game or what? What's the deal with this thing?

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  10. Bota Oshi, actually. It's played by the Japanese military (yes, they have a military, one of the best in the world. Having been at Yokosuka Naval Base and having watched the Japanese ships do formation maneuvers, I can tell you they are damn good sailors).

    From what I understand, I don't think it's so much about scoring as it is about team building. Since it absolutely requires the use of multiple people to reach the top of the pole, cadets learn to rely on their fellows in order to win.

    We have similar things at the Naval Academy, and I did similar things as as an NROTC midshipman.

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  11. im reminded of absalom, and how his hair was the end of him by Joab's hand

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  12. For the record, the Native American gentleman is Sitting Bull.

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