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Valar Qringaomis

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Thursday, December 05, 2013

The significance of male hair: Its presence and removal

Raj Kumar Singh: The Backlash! July 1998

"1. A man's reasons for abstention from hair cutting practices all relate to his assertion, intended consciously or subconsciously, that he is not the servant of other men.
2. When people in positions of (non-religious) authority demand that a man cut his hair or shave his face, their purpose is to require the clipped man to openly demonstrate his obedience and subservience to them.

This paper seeks to provide a multi-disciplinary review of the literature that relates to the significance of the hair presentation of the adult male. Further, it proffers the theory that the extent to which we desire short haired, bare faced men is the extent to which we seek the stereotypically presumed attribute of submissiveness found in the female combined with the assumed strength and dependability ascribed to the male...

Individual men place great value on their own hair as habitually presented, and social-psych research shows that we hold bearded men in more positive regard than bare-faced men. Further, we see long-haired men as being dominant and unbowed, (Kentshmith, 1973 at pg. 579) and religious prohibitions against haircutting and/or shaving are not uncommon among the world's religions.

Yet, on the more practical level, we largely demand that men present with bare faces and shorn cranial hair if they are to obtain life sustaining employment and are to be presumed good, productive members of society; therein lies the proverbial rub...

Do we speak of requiring a man to get a "haircut" if, for example, he is to be considered a good prisoner, soldier, or worker, or should we admit that we are requiring him to "cut off a bodily appendage"?

Do we say that a man can make an affirmative decision to "grow a beard," much as the expert, dedicated horticulturist can grow petunias in the desert? Or do we say that male facial hair growth is the default category and acknowledge that men can only become and remain bare faced when they "scrape off their faces with a piece of steel" on a daily basis?

Our common use of such terms and phrases as "haircut" and "grows a beard" clearly points up the fundamental, societal bias we have against acknowledging positive value in men's hair...

In shaving, a man reduces himself to the status of being "clean shaven," to use a phrase that is firmly ensconced within our lexicon. The corollary, of course, would be to remain "dirty bearded." The phrase "clean cut" takes this concept a step further and implies that if a man does not cut his cranial hair to a short length and scrape his face daily, then he is unclean.

Classically, of course, it's believed that that which is unclean should be shunned...

More specifically, the presentation of cranio/facial hair is arguably our most powerful symbol of individual and group identity. (Synnott, 1987 at pg. 381) Hair has been significant to human beings at all times and in all cultures as a symbol of strength, sexuality and magic and has been treated as a significant part of the body. (Rabinowitz, 1984 at pg. 270) Hair not only symbolizes the self, but is the self in that it is a part of the human body. (Synnott, 1987 at pg. 404) Accordingly, changes in appearance involving hair can be expected to have a major psycho-social impact on the individual who has undergone the change. (Alley, 1988 at pg. 17)...

Males express their ideologies and status in their hair. (Synnott, 1987 at pg. 397) In ancient times, the Teutons or Germanic tribes refrained from hair cutting and shaving in order to clearly differentiate themselves from their forcibly shorn slaves. (Pellegrini, 1973 at pg. 22) This was also the case for the Celts. In this day, long hair and facial hair are often seen to be symbolic of ideological opposition to "the establishment." (Synnott, 1987 at pg. 401)...

The Christian Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians indicates that it is unnatural and degrading for a man to wear long hair. (Paul, 60) Through Canon #67, laid down at the Synod at Elvira in 309 A.D., it was forbidden for a woman to have anything to do with long-haired men, under penalty of excommunication. (Laeuchli, 1972) Thus, any man desirous of recognition as a good Christian, as well as one simply seeking the consortium of a religiously respectable Christian woman, was provided with a motivation to cut his hair...

Military regimes across time and cultures have been well known to require the removal of cranio/facial hair for initiates. For example, new members of the French Foreign Legion had their hair cut down to half a millimeter; allegedly to keep them free from lice - in reality to bestow on them a feeling of nothingness. (Rom, 1973 at pg. 22) When after their basic military training they felt integrated into this establishment, they were allowed to grow their hair again. (Rom, 1973 at pg. 22) Upon subduing the Gauls, who esteemed long hair as a distinct honor, Julius Caesar required them to cut their hair as a token of submission. (Kentsmith, 1973 at pg. 573) For the same purpose, the Chinese Manchus imposed the partly shaven head and pigtail upon the Haun men when their dynasty was conquered. (Kentsmith, 1973 at pg. 573) Forced hair removal was effected against collaborators during the German occupation of France. (Synnott, 1987 at pg. 402) Haircutting was a punishment for adultery in India and among the ancient Teutons, and for other crimes in Assyro-Babylon. (Rabinowitz, 1984 at pg. 271)

Why do those in authority want men to shave their faces and cut their cranial hair short? It has been posited that the hair of prison inmates and soldiers is kept cut as a reminder that "you are not a free person and cannot do as you please with your own body." (Rabinowitz, 1984) Shaving produces effects like other means of fostering a youthful appearance because a "clean-shaven" face mimics the surface quality of the pre-pubertal face. (Guthrie, 1976 at pg. 30) Therefore, requiring a man to shave can have the effect of reducing his status, and his self-perception, toward that of a child. Moreover, we live in a world that has, cross-culturally and over time, viewed men collectively as being cold, aggressive, strong willed, and dangerous. (Martin, 1987; Rosenkrantz et al, 1968; Broverman et al, 1972) Women as a class, on the other hand, have been generally presumed to be warm, submissive, obedient and nurturing. (Martin, 1987; Rosenkrantz et al, 1968; Broverman et al, 1972; Sapadin, 1988) Forcing or coercing a man into daily shaving can be seen as assigning to him the less threatening, feminine role. Most to the point, and as stated earlier, because our facial presentation effects how we perceive ourselves, it can be expected to have a bearing on how we behave whenever others are present. (Alley, 1988 at pg. 2) The man, then, who presents as quasi-boy / pseudo-woman can be expected to act in the submissive, obedient, non-threatening manner that we stereotypically expect of little boys and females.

As to the significance of cutting a man's cranial hair, numerous investigators have agreed on one symbolic meaning: castration... cranial hair removal is intended to make the male an un-man and, in the case of the judicial prisoner, to obtain vengeance or pay-back for wrongs committed.

But how do we account for the men, non-military and unconvicted, who voluntarily maintain their hair at a short length and who shave on a daily basis? First, we must acknowledge that hair removal can hardly be considered voluntary in a society where generating a monetary income and positive regard among one's peers are generally dependent upon it. That having been said, we note simply that people will normally succumb to within-group cultural pressures to conform to an appearance expectation, even at a cost of discomfort or disfigurement...

As to he who is "his own man" and who yet chooses to shave his face and shear his scalp in the absence of any explicit coercion or force, perhaps the best explanation of motive is found in the word inertia. An anecdote (Fadiman, 1985) is told of George Bernard Shaw that relates the time he was approached by an advertising executive of a company manufacturing electric razors. The executive had hoped that Shaw would endorse their new product by shaving off his beard. By way of reply, Shaw explained the reason why he, and his father before him, had chosen not to shave by saying that when he was about five years of age, he had been observing his father shaving one day and had said to him, "Daddy, why do you shave?" Shaw's father looked at him in silence for a full minute before throwing the razor out the window while exclaiming "Why the hell do I?" And he never did again, as the story goes...

The expectation of short hair and scraped faces on men has long since been the norm for this nation's employers in general. In holding the clipped male to be the preferred object of our workplace desire we show, not so much our disinterest in females in our society, but rather our particular interest in submissive men as producers of material benefit. We, as a society, prefer men in the workplace because we perceive men, as a class, to be more dedicated to employment activities to the detriment of their familial or other inter-personal relationships. (Rosenkrantz et al, 1968; Broverman et al, 1972) Further, we see them as being more dependable than females in that we expect them to be medically indisposed less often. But we also presume that men in general are domineering, willful and aggressive by nature, and these are clearly characteristics that are found to be dysfunctional in a production level employee. (Martin, 1987; Rosenkrantz et al, 1968; Broverman et al, 1972) Women, on the other hand, are stereotypically presumed to be more docile, more amenable to following orders and accepting authority in an unquestioning manner. (Martin, 1987; Rosenkrantz et al, 1968; Broverman et al, 1972; Gilligan, 1982 at pgs. 16 & 17, e.g.)

The clipped male seems to present the best of both genders in that, first, he is obviously a man and so brings to the employer the supposed dependability and dedication that we expect of a member of the male sex. Second, by scraping off his facial hair he communicates to the employer that he intends to be as docile and obedient as would a female be presumed to be. (The validity of this hypothesis is lent support by so many of today's business women inasmuch as they are careful to appear for job interviews in clothing that is masculine on top, shirt-like blouse and suit jacket, but feminine on the bottom with a skirt short enough to expose artificially hairless legs.) The cutting short of cranial hair is a further sign of male submission to, and emasculation before, the prospective employer; one needn't be a Freudian psychoanalyst to appreciate the import of the fact that the removal of cranial hair, as symbolic penectomy, has never been required of women by our society's employers, prison wardens, or military authorities."
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