I thought I’d take a break from all the art posts to get little serious. And yes, it turns out that hair is serious enough to have its own post. (Isn’t everything more political under the surface?)
AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL OPENER (EXTENDED REMIX!):
So I grew up with red hair. I guess I still have it, but I’ve kept my hair short enough the past three years that it doesn’t look red most of the time. Even as I write this I can hear all the reasons why this is silly to talk about: I’m still very much a member of a privileged Anglo-Caucasian class. A few red haired feminists have tried (inappropriately) to compare their experience to racial oppression (and in my opinion, generally end up sounding stupid). Basically, if I really think my hair color was an influence on my upbringing and my character today, then I probably just have a very weak personality.*
But just for kicks, I’ll continue with a little self disclosure.
I have this memory of third grade, I think, of sitting in the hallway with the rest of my grade, all waiting to be picked up by our parents. A group of U.P.G.’s (Ubiquitous Popular Girls) down the hall call over to me, telling me to stand up. I turn deep red (due partly to the fact that these girls never spoke to me and partly to early unrecognized lesbian crushes) and I stammer a bit, and ask why. They laugh and tell me again. So, uneasily playing along, I stood up. (Why? I don’t know). The U.P.G.’s continue to laugh, and then they tell me to turn around in a circle. I wonder if my fly is down, if there’s a hole in the seam of my pants, if my body is really ugly enough to laugh at, and (here is where the logic goes totally out the window), I obey them, and turn around in a circle.
I’m actually not sure what the original purpose of this prepubescent ceremony was (maybe my seam really was ripped), but I did overhear one comment that has been amplified in memory– somebody was laughing about how my hair clashed with my tie dye shirt (shut up– this was the early 90’s and their clothing was just as bad). Even in memory, I give them full permission to laugh at my clothes, but I can’t seem to shake the feeling of being pushed onto a stage, being rotated and exhibited for a laugh Scarlet Letter. The comment about the hair, and the unfortunate fact that the spiral tie-dye pattern happened to center on my ass, all sort of culminates in a general feeling of freakish exhibition.
So, middle school. Not a good time for anyone, and I won’t dwell. To make a long story short, I sell my soul to have a social life, and a few boys begin talking to me. And one day C.P., an outgoing Italian kid with braces, asks me “if the drapes match the curtains.” I am unable to hide my confusion, and the boy standing next to him explains: they want to know if my pubic hair is the same color as my [head]hair. The worst part is, I didn’t know which was the “right” answer: “yes” (“oh, that’s totally bizarre and disgusting!”), or “No” (“oh, I guess you’re not as fiery and sexually adventurous as we thought”).
Amazingly, this is not the only time that I receive this question over the next few years. Clearly, I went to school with some tactful kids.
So my red hair became sort of inseparable from my own sexuality– yet I wasn’t sure if having red hair meant that I was sexual (and therefore desirable), or freakish (and therefore totally undesirable). Adults fawned over it, and constantly touched my hair without asking me. At the same time, boys my own age told me straight up that blondes were the hottest, and then brunettes, and then maybe red hair could be hot, but only if she’s tan (…wtf at that genetic combination).
Which brings me to a series of memorable moments that have all sort of blended together into a general feeling of humiliation. I’m at a pool party, and when I come outside from changing into my bathing suit, the entire group of kids laugh and fake-scream at me to put on clothes– because my pale skin is blinding them (highlight: a boy that I have a pseudo-crush on pretends to fall off the diving board) (I’m also the only girl wearing a one-piece bathing suit, but that’s just icing on the adolescent cake). As a result, I go out in public far too many time with orange knees and muddy brown ankles after yet another experiment with self tanner. I repeatedly get asked if I’m related to that girl from the Parent Trap (ironically, another young red-haired pre-lesbian, Lindsay Lohan) even though we look nothing alike.
And on, and on…
In high school, a long-term boyfriend (that I’m for serious in love with) tells me I won’t be attractive if I cut my hair. I respond by asking my guy friends for second opinions… they back him up.
So two weeks after graduation, I cut my hair. But that, dear readers, is a whole different story: about hair, gender, and the shithead clerk at the tobacconist who took one look at my old license photo and told me I made a mistake in cutting my hair.
Maybe that’s why I was so fascinated when I read about a waitress who was awarded £18,000 (almost $30,000, I think) for workplace harassment over her red hair. And I was even more bemused by the comments:
“This is just the kind of banter that you get when working in places like this, bars, cafe’s, hotels, take-aways, etc, etc. …. Questions about hair colour, body parts, and sexuality arise because generally the type of person to take a front line job in the industry has the type of personality that is outgoing and confident enough to take this as a joke.”
So, if a person is “outgoing and confident,” that means she shouldn’t speak up about inappropriate comments! Right, totally understandable. And apparently, there are a hell of a lot of places that a woman can’t work if she’s going to stand up for her own privacy and wellbeing: bars, cafes, hotels, takeaways, etc, etc.? Damn.
“Why the case was ever brought is ridiculous. Think back to the days of wolf whistles and lewd remarks when females walked by building sites – did they receive any payouts, no, of course not.”
So, I’m not sure I quite understand– is this commenter saying that because women have been mistreated and their complaints suppressed in the past, that they should be mistreated and suppressed now?
You get the point. I do, however, agree with some of the commenter’s critiques that the monetary award is skewed, to say the least. It’s not that Ms. Primmer doesn’t deserve the money; it’s that she’s most certainly benefiting from white privilege in this case, while thousands of complaints from black, latina and asian women go ignored and unresolved. (See? And you thought this was going to be a redhead pity post).
One of the redhaired commenters is a good example, deeming her own experience “racial abuse.” Oh my. The fact is, redheads are not considered by any general party to be a “race,” and therefore it is impossible for a redhead to suffer “racial abuse.”** It’s also highly unlikely that redheads experience any form of discrimination: a potential employer might harass you about your hair, but he’s not likely to block you from the job position. Redheads can, however, be subject to bigotry and harassment, which can (and does) exacerbate other forms of oppression such as sexual harassment and class inequality.
And that sucks. Now, who’s up for a martini?