Hair and Gender: Why Your ’Do Shouldn’t Define What You Can Do

Hillary Clinton once said: “Your hair will send significant messages to those around you… Pay attention to your hair, because everyone else will.”  As a senior who has prepped for a number of interviews this year, I see the resounding truth in Clinton’s message. Though I am a girl who has never devoted much time to her hair, I now find myself spending a substantial amount of my morning attempting to perfect my hair before an interview. However, I think there is a slight discrepancy in Clinton’s statement. She should have addressed women specifically: women, pay attention to your hair, because everyone else will. Men, do whatever you want with your mop, because no one will relate what is on the top of your head to what is inside of it, as is too commonly done for women.

Why is appearance so much more important for women than it is for men, regardless of education or career? President Obama has recently been chastised for his comments regarding California’s Attorney General Kamala Harris: “She’s brilliant and she’s dedicated, she’s tough. She also happens to be, by far, the best-looking attorney general in the country.” There has been much debate regarding his comment and the issue arises because we can quite confidently say that he would not have said it to a man with the same credentials.  The attractiveness of men, especially of men in power, is not given the same emphasis as it is for women in power.

Women are defined by and criticized for their looks, particularly their hair. The rise in chains like DryBar and Blow are proof of the pressure on women to look a certain way in order to make gains in the professional world. These chains specialize in blowouts and the result has been that thousands of women per week pay $40 or more trying to look a certain way.  These chains exist solely for women because there is not the same pressure around appearance for men. In a recent opinions article in Cosmopolitan, Alyssa Kolsky Hertzig notes that “right or wrong, people judge you based on your hair. My wild style had been falsely advertising a disorganized, unreliable mess, when in truth, I am someone who almost always arrives on time and juggles a million things at once.” People judge women based on their hair and style, unfairly believing that an unkempt ’do or outfit that does not match correlates with chaos.

Because we were once an all-women’s college, I would hope that students at Connecticut College defy these gender stereotypes and refrain from judging women based on appearance. This is a small step we can take as we get closer to life after Conn, where, unfortunately, we have far less control over the community we take part in. If we can speak out against gender stereotypes now, we can lessen the discrimination that tries to hold women back as they look towards the future. Curls or waves should not be a measure of a woman’s worth or a distraction from her skills, abilities and performance.