A few months ago, my boyfriend and I stopped by a hair salon so I could get a quick haircut. As summer approaches, I like to get my hair cut super short. Having long thick hair in the heat can feel like having Gollum profusely sweating and permanently clasped to the back of your head, so I was pretty eager to be rid of it.
When my stylist, a woman about my same age, asked me what I wanted to do, I gave her a simple description.
“Just cut it all off,” I said. “Go as short as you can.”
“All of it?” she repeated, sounding as stunned as if I’d asked her if she could pretty please tie an angry skunk to my head to wear to church on Sunday.
“But what is your man going to think when he sees you cut your hair off?” she asked. “Isn’t he going to miss it? Did you ask him if it was OK?”
I was completely taken aback by the question. What would my man think about it? Is this 1950? Do I need written approval of someone of the opposite gender to make changes in my physical appearance? Is there a council of men—the Dude Committee—who gather to offer their two cents on what ladies can do with their hair? Do I have to go before them and plead my case just so I can be comfortable in the summer?
Is he going to “miss” my hair? Why on earth would he “miss” it? It’s not a sea captain heading off to war.
“I have no idea what he thinks,” I said, dumbfounded.
It had never even occurred to me to ask “my man” what he thought of my hairstyling options. First of all, he has the aesthetic of a blind ostrich. The man literally wanted to hang a wall-sized portrait of the Schlitz Malt Liquor bull on our living room wall because it “looked awesome.”
Should I be forced to endure something I physically can’t stand just because a man would prefer it a certain way? No, because as the great philosopher Beyoncé once said, “My mama taught me better than that.”
I’m 42 and an out-and-proud feminist and have been one for as far back as I can remember. I’m so secure in my feminism I almost forget about it altogether; it’s as naturally a part of me as my own skin. I’ve picked fights with complete strangers and beloved members of my family over those beliefs.
My experience with feminism has been something like a dizzying roller coaster at Six Flags. From the epic highs of watching a woman run for president to the depressing lows of watching lawmakers treat women as if they were little more than sentient incubators, it’s been a helluva ride.
This was definitely one of the lows. And before you get the wrong idea, let me make something very clear. I was not mad at my stylist. As much as I wanted to stand up scream “LADY, ARE YOU KIDDING ME OR WHAT?” I knew one thing for certain. She was not the enemy. Not by a longshot.
What bothered me so much was how, in 2016, with the resurgence in popular culture of feminism, we had somehow managed to fail this woman. Despite all the T-shirts boldly declaring “This Is What a Feminist Looks Like,” despite all the popstars brazenly embracing feminism and declaring their empowerment, despite all the women’s issues blogs and magazines proudly celebrating our rights and our power, and despite all those arguments I’d gotten in over the years, this woman still stood in front of another woman and wanted to know if she’d asked for a man’s permission to change her appearance.
We are still living in a day and age where a woman thinks we should worry about the acceptance and approval of a man when it comes to something as trivial and utterly meaningless as our hair. I can’t even begin to imagine how that type of thinking comes into play with more serious issues, like her reproductive rights or her right to right to earn the same pay as a man. That’s depressing.
I realized at that moment, that in between whatever other battles I wage over feminism—be they online, in my writing, or with members of my inner circle—there will always be women like this. She is, even though she may not realize it or even want it, exactly who people who call themselves “feminist” should be fighting for, not against.
So I took a deep breath.
“I wouldn’t know what he thinks because I’ve never asked him or any man about my hair,” I said. “Besides, I don’t care what he thinks.”
“Really?” she said with a smile. “That’s pretty cool.”
“But if you really want to, we can ask him,” I said, turning to my better half who was patiently sitting in the waiting area.
“Hey,” I called out to him. “What do you think of me getting my hair cut super short?”
He looked up from his reading, puzzled.
“Huh? Your hair?” he asked, as if completely unaware that he was sitting in a hair salon where I was about to get a haircut. “Why would I care about that?”
I turned back to her.
“There you go,” I said. “We have a man’s opinion. We can proceed now.”
This isn’t as profound a moment in feminist history as say, winning the right to vote, but it still taught me an important lesson. If we contain our battles over feminism to blogs and opinion columns and forget that there are still real people who are the ones most affected by these issues, then what exactly are we fighting for in the first place?
I’ve gone back to her several times since, because she is a great stylist and I love what she did to my hair. She still jokingly asks me each time if my boyfriend likes my short hair, and I remind her every time that I haven’t bothered to ask.
Rebecca Rose is a journalist and blogger on the Central Coast who’s written for Jezebel and cosmopolitan.com. Send comments through the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.