Long hair is a physical characteristic associated with both “femininity” and “masculinity” conventionally defined.
It is a pervasive Western (patriarchal) norm that women grow their hair long and men maintain their hair respectably short(er). Revealingly, men retain a great deal more freedom in hair length normativity/social expectation than do women.
There are exceptions to this norm, but deviants of both genders risk being socially ostracized by defying hair length normality. In United States history, noteworthy examples include:
-The “Flapper” movement of the 1920s in which women adopted a short “bob” cut and took more “lenient” positions regarding the woman’s proper relation to sex, drinking, partying, dancing, and “masculine” activities such as driving cars and smoking. The Flapper was consequently ostracized by “society” (or “Society”) due to her deviation. This movement all but disappeared with the coming of the impoverished Depression 1930s as opposed to the opulent economic conditions of “the Roaring 20s” that gave rise to such feminine liberation. (this is an interesting correlation to bear in mind: whether economic comfort lends itself to greater opportunities for women liberation? There is–or is there?–a connection.)
-The 1960s ushered forth a social rebellion against established norms. The youth population expressed its discontent with US foreign policy and stifling social expectations by being socially reactionary. Men wore their hair long–whether in protest against norms or simply to “conform” to the non-conformist hippie movement. Long hair was “liberating” but also stigma affixed itself to wearers of long hair and this trend (as a trend) died with the end of the 1960s. However, the 60s men wedged their foot in the door of historical norms, thus allowing for men later in US history to wear their hair long and not to be regarded as a “savage” or space alien.
-The 1990s-today allow for many hairstyles that defy normality. Women with short hair and men with long hair can readily be found. However, social and gendered/sexed significance is still attached to one’s hairstyle, indicating that we haven’t moved nearly as far from Victorian ideas as we’d like to believe. A woman can shave her head, but that MEANS something. A woman can leave her hair long, and nothing more is thought of it. We’ve not escaped foolish hairstyle norms.
One is left wondering: why should hair say anything about what’s in between my legs? And the answer is: it shouldn’t. Frank Zappa once remarked, in an exchange with an interviewer:
Interviewer: “So Frank, you have long hair. Does that make you a woman?”
Zappa: “You have a wooden leg. Does that make you a table?”
(NOTE: this is a severely inadequate history of American hair length–particularly because the women and men involved were all white and middle to upper class in social standing. But, then again, isn’t that the typical historical subject of American history? If anyone has other ideas about hair length and historical normativity, please add!!!)
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Posted in activism, feminism, feminist theory, heteronormativity, heterosexism, hierarchy, homophobia, human, identity, liberation, natural, nature, normality, norms, oppression, Other, praxis, queer, right, supremacy, unnatural, wrong on July 16, 2007 |
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The Natural is the social explanation for strict and conservative governing of human life. The term itself has much to do with forming and sustaining normativity—what is OK and what is not OK. Claiming that something (an object or an act or a phenomenon) isn’t “natural” often ensures society passing unfavorable judgment on it. First we need to break down what “natural” means and how it transitions into the political weapon I will call “the Natural.”
Let us take “natural” to mean that which is necessary to reproduce the human species. (Or, from a Darwinian standpoint, the actions that maximize a creature’s reproduction success.) In this way, “natural” are the qualities and characteristics of animals that bring about reproduction of the species.
How have we arrived at this definition? Does it not seem rather esoteric? Let’s apply it to our current political and social world and, as a result, it ought to make more sense:
If we take “natural” to mean that which is necessary to reproducing the human species, it should then be taken as truth that homosexuality and other non-heterosexual practices are unnatural. Homosexuality is constantly decried as being ‘unnatural’ (and therefore unnecessary) and should be criminalized, discouraged, punished. With the above definition of ‘natural’ at hand, it is a truism that homosexuality (read: all non-hetero sex practices) is unnatural. But, then again, so are countless other daily activities that we practice in an unthinking manner. For example, driving or riding in a car is a profoundly unnatural practice. We can note that driving a car is unnatural because it poses a much greater risk to the driver while on the road than if she left the car at home and walked.
The US Department of Transportation reports that:
There were nearly 6,420,000 auto accidents in the United States in 2005. The financial cost of these crashes is more than 230 Billion dollars. 2.9 million people were injured and 42,636 people killed. About 115 people die every day in vehicle crashes in the United States — one death every 13 minutes.
We can then ask, how many of these 42,636 dead or 2.9 million injured would still be reproductively viable if they had instead walked rather than driven a car? Using our standards of ‘natural’ as it applies to homosexuality (that it is an unnatural act that does not reproduce the human species and should therefore be discouraged), by all accounts, we should be criticizing driving and homosexuality equally for being ‘unnatural’ human acts.
We then have arrived at the crux of the problem of ‘natural’:
How is it that the natural suddenly became synonymous with the good and right?
We can see then that ‘the Natural’ becomes that rare occurrence: the irrational idea which (horrifyingly) simultaneously assumes the role of the authoritative idea. Like religions rooted in dogmatism, the Natural defies logic and steamrolls any criticism of itself, so ingrained is its authority and rightness in the minds of uncritical human beings. This is the inception of the Natural as a political weapon: when it is used to batter those individuals and practices that do not reside firmly in the ‘natural’ realm.
When we see that the Natural is ambiguous and nigh-irrelevant to our daily lives and social interactions, why do we persist in being governed by its irrational ‘laws’? This is the point at which we part ways with the Natural. Combating the Natural should not be done by attempting to “explain” homosexuality in such a way that it fits into the narrow framework of ‘natural.’ No, instead we need to reject the Natural as a force entirely. Pleasure governs us, not nature! We respond to reason and discourse, trading of ideas and dialogue, not some politicized concept of what nature decrees as “right” and “wrong”! This is our praxis…
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“Queer” is a word with an evolving history, and a word whose potential reclamation for the positive is discussed today.
My searching shows that “queer” is of Scottish origin and in 1508 meant “strange, peculiar, eccentric”. That’s how it was defined to me by my dad when I was 11 and he was insulting a pair of men holding hands with one another. Contrary to his negative intention, I was attracted to and bonded with the word and sent my psychic support to the men. There’s the acknowledgment of my bias with the word.
“Queer” was written as a verb in 1812 and meant “to spoil, ruin”, and changed what I think to be a somewhat positive original meaning to an obviously negative one. About 100 years later, around 1935, “queer” began to be used as a noun in replace of “homosexual” and was based off of the verb. This is where the unfortunate history of the word really began.
After making “queer” a synonym for “homosexual”, the word began to take on a variety of slightly different negative meanings. “Mentally unbalanced or deranged” is a nod to homosexuality being treated as a psychiatric disorder until 1973. “Not feeling physically right” and “of questionable character” are two others.
It’s currently a controversial term. Some argue that it has too much negative connotation to be used while others (laregly activists) have been using it as an inclusive word for gay/lesbian/transgender/pansexual/intersex/asexual/other non hetero-normative communities.
My position on the word has remained in support of it, even given its degraded past. What do others think?
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