Sexism meets Editorial Hair
I'm working on my sci-fi novel and am in the process of describing a 5th dimensional character.
One character, Observer Number Four, has a very particular and editorial hairstyle that I was struggling to describe both technically and artfully. I posted the picture above of a hair model that I was using as inspiration for the look, and I asked a fiction writing group on Social Media to help me describe her hairstyle.
I was not expecting much of a reply, but I thought I would try. I certainly did not expect to get over 120 comments on the girl's hair within 24 hrs. Some of the first descriptions to come in were quite sincere and helpfully describing the hairstyle, it's intricate braids, and blunt cut ends. I went to sleep, not thinking anything more of it, and woke to a slew of comments that were quite frankly very unsettling. I read through them and had a gut reaction to some of the more negative comments. They weren't merely comments saying this style isn't for me; they were derisive, mostly made by men, and the comments seemed to be more projections of what they thought of the women rather than descriptions of her hair. Mind you; I simply posted a picture. I did not give any back story on the character or ask for input on her characterization.
Being an analytical person, I went through the comments and noted how many were made by men and by women. I then disaggregated the comments by negative and positive, noting the exact language that was used for the negative and positive feedback. While the women tended to provide actual descriptions of the hair, a few did react with a judgment, both negative and positive, as the men did, but the women tended to stick to the specifications as I had requested. Of the women commenting, 4 had a negative comment about the hair. If I were to use the negative feedback as a description, my character's hairstyle would be written like this.
"Her hair was madness, a complicated, twisted intestine that was undesirable. She should get a shirt."
When the judgment on the hair was positive, words like fierce, beautiful, warm, and fragile were used.
Moving on to the comments made by men, on balance, many men did make positive comments in the form of judgments; however, it's interesting to note the adjectives that were used were very different from the women. Here is a sample of a description made of up the men's positive comments.
"She was hot. Her style was complicated, mysterious, prim. Her hair accentuated her jaw and her chin. Her hair framed her delicate shoulders. She was a beautiful angel."
So we see that even in the positive adjectives, there is a bent towards stereotypical descriptions of women and their bodies rather than the hair itself.
Now for the men who need to get a hobby and stop being so abhorrent on social media. I identified 10 negative comments on the style, and below is a description of the girl based on how these men view her through her hair.
"She had weird, ugly post-modern hair. It was a broom wreck. Overly fussy, pretentious, complicated, off-putting, high maintenance, ridiculous, intimidating, not practical, transparently showing her insecurities. Her hair was irrational, a pile of cow dump, having zero utility, and no real-world application. Her stoic face did little to sell her not even good at "America's top model" look. It was needlessly avant-garde, and her bedroom is messy.
So my take away is that we, as women, should smile more, not dare to style our hair in ways that are impractical because we haven’t been given permission for that luxury. We should avoid high maintenance hair. It is ridiculous, pretentious and somehow also intimidating, but at the same time it shows our insecurities… interesting Freudian slip there. We are offputting if we have fussy hair. Fussy hair means we are probably fussy in real life and nobody wants a fussy woman. And last and most curious to me is that if we have overly fancy hair, we probably have a messy room. Wtf?! All I can think of is that if we have high maintenance hair, we have no time left to clean up after ourselves or the men around us.
Obviously, each to their own in terms of preference on style and art, but in looking through this simple data, I am again confronted with something that, as a woman, I am all too familiar with. The persistence of the negative male gaze and the projections of their feelings onto the female form as if it were nothing more than an object for them to expel their hatred, their anxiety, and their lust.
As for Number Four, her hairstyle in my novel will be described like this.
“Her shiny ginger hair was braided in loose knots and pinned atop her head asymmetrically. Where the braids ended, the thick blunt cut ends fanned out dramatically, framing her fierce face.”