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The feminisation of Hair

I have had short hair for as long as I can remember. I started experimenting with my hair at the age of 18 when I got bored with my long hair, which I believed didn’t fit my personality and made me look mundane. Throughout the years, I have received both compliments and interesting remarks relating to my short hairdos. Several men who were romantically interested in me used to tell me that ‘they normally didn’t like girls with short hair, but that I was an exception to the rule.’ So basically, women with short hair are screwed. In comparison to long-haired women, we are forced to believe that we cannot really compete, because the male community evidently considers them more attractive and sexier.

I always wondered why hair was such a big deal for men, but soon enough I came to the realization that long hair was associated with femininity and men simply didn’t understand why women would ever cut their hair short. When I asked my male friends whether they ever liked women with short hair, they often considered short-haired women too butch and unfeminine. Throughout my life as a short-haired woman, I have received various remarks such as ‘you would be more beautiful with long hair,’ and ‘why is your hair so short?’ Personally, I didn’t care much for these remarks, but it made me realize that we still live in a somewhat shallow society. A society where women are placed in separate boxes, such as feminine versus butch. Even though I felt more feminine and beautiful with short hair, men often didn’t share that opinion.

When I moved to Indonesia, the discourse of femininity revealed itself to me in a much stronger fashion. For many Indonesians hair length really matters. In Europe, numerous women wear short hairdos, but almost all Indonesian women have long locks, which reflects the demand of Indonesia’s male society. In many ways, patriarchy is still prevalent in Indonesian society and when I spoke to several Indonesian women regarding short hair, they replied that ‘their husbands would not agree with them cutting their hair short and they would be scared to displease them.’

One of the most interesting conversations I had about women and short hair was with a young Indonesian man whom I met during a human rights workshop in Jakarta. He was happily married to his wife (who of course had long hair) and was eager to comment on my hair, which he considered too short. When I asked him why long hair was so important to him, he told me the following: “A woman’s hair is like the ocean, it is supposed to flow beautifully. A woman’s hair is her treasure and when she cuts it off, she is no longer a princess.”

However much he made me laugh with his answer, I recognized that most Indonesian men considered long hair to be a woman’s pride and treasure, and this male perspective thoroughly affected the choices made by Indonesian women, including those made by my own sister. She is a happy newlywed and her husband is a big fan of long hair, which he is extremely expressive about. He even told my sister, in a joking way, that he would divorce her if she ever cut her hair short. First of all, it disturbed me that he would say such a thing to the woman he loves and secondly, I knew that my sister, to keep her husband happy, will never cut her hair short.

To both short-haired and long-haired women out there, don’t let any man tell you what you’re supposed to look like or represent as a woman. Ultimately the way you cut your hair is a personal choice and one should not be influenced by a man’s perception of femininity. I strongly believe women should follow their own rules when it comes to expressing their feminine side and women should remember that their hair belongs to no-one else but themselves.

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