Women, Hair Brushed or Air Brushed in History?

There has definitely been a resurgence of feminist writing and references to feminism of late, which is pleasing to see; the F word is well out of Hair by Tallia22the closet. This week in my Sunday paper of choice  (The Observer, 28th July, 2013) there were two articles which which illustrated this perfectly I’d like to share them with you. The first was an interview with Philippa Gregory, a very successful author of historical novels: currently her White Queen is being shown on British TV. Here’s an extract:

Writing as a feminist, Gregory always puts women centre stage in her work. But were they central – or does she write with wishful hindsight?

“The more research I do, the more I think there is an untold history of women.”

She says that whenever she writes about a remarkable woman, people comment that the woman was “exceptional”. But she thinks there were lots of remarkable women “striving for their lives, trying to satisfy their own needs”. She is fascinated by the way patriarchy operates:

“In the medieval world, patriarchy is naked. Nobody pretends to respect women. Women are criticised as sexually uncontrollable or stupid. In our society, you’ll sometimes get a remnant of this – you know, when a man wants to help park your car. It is an absolute insult.”

You can read the full interview here. I didn’t watch the series but I’m now thinking I may have missed a treat. Her latest book is The White Princess  published by Simon & Schuster

And then, in what I presume was an intentional  juxtaposition, later in the magazine follows an article on the significance of women’s hairstyles, of which two extracts below:

Hair cut, too, has long been a social signifier. When the bob gained popularity in the 1920s it was emblematic of a new era of modernity and women’s emancipation in the aftermath of the First World War – a literal cutting-off from outdated Edwardian traditions. In the 1960s both men and women grew their hair long to rebel against accepted establishment norms. In the 1980s the first wave of women in the workplace often cut their hair short in order to fit into a male-dominated environment (in Working Girl, Mike Nichols’s 1988 film about a secretary who yearns to become a businesswoman, there is a seminal moment in which the protagonist, Tess, is so desperate to be taken seriously that she cuts off her soft blond hair.

“It’s a traditional idea of female glamour and it’s kind of boring,” says Cox. “It’s the whole pole-dancer look: huge heads of artificial hair, faces that look as if they’ve been dipped in a bucket of make-up, ultra short skirts and huge stripper heels. In terms of fashion and feminism, it’s like: oh my God – what was I fighting for?”

and later in the article:

Big, fake hair has reached the workplace, too – as evidenced by the female candidates on the recent series of The Apprentice, one of whom made repeated references to her “voluminous” bleached-blonde locks on her CV.

Karin Lesnik-Oberstein, a professor of critical theory at the University of Reading and editor of The Last Taboo: Women and Body Hair, sees this as part of a broader trend towards cosmetic enhancement.

“There’s an idea now that the more successful a woman is, the more glamorous and sexy she should be,” she says. “If not, she has sacrificed her femininity. It’s the same with cosmetic surgery or Botox. It goes with the idea of ‘having it all’ – because if you’re a boss and also a woman who doesn’t comply with trying to look sexually attractive, then really you’re like a man and you become a castrated bitch.”

And because the semiotics of a woman’s hair are so complex, so inextricably linked with the story she wants to tell about herself and so shaped by the outside forces of gender, commerce and culture, it is truly shocking when someone subverts the narrative.

Fascinating, eh?

You can read that article in full here.

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The photo is by Tallia.

Posted on July 28th, 2013 by

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