May 23, 2007

Going Out Of My Way To Be Unattractive

In response to my post the other day on the many joys of having a near buzzcut, I got this comment:

Yes because being socially conscious and intelligent means that you should not take pride in yourself (physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually). Good call natasha, it's fine to be content with yourself, but no reason to go out of your way to be unattractive.

Posted by Joe at May 23, 2007 01:24 PM

As I responded in the comments, I look just fine in my very short hair. People I don't even know make it a point to tell me so all the time. All. The. Time. But nice people, which was my original point. The kinds of people I like meeting. People who aren't shell-shocked by their own inner demons of conformity and can see that, in fact, it suits me. I still, if it doesn't blow your mind entirely to contemplate it, Joe, manage to go on dates *with actual guys* who think it looks good and want to see me again.

It deeply offends me that someone would think I don't take any sort of pride in myself or suggest that I'm careless in my grooming just because I've stopped wanting to look like the girls in the fashion magazines. No one who knows me, particularly no one who's ever had to wait for me to finish washing up in the morning, would ever imply that I was slovenly or routinely disheveled. Try looking at this woman and saying the same about her, that she takes no pride in herself. Then I got to thinking about it, and that isn't really the worst thing.

There's also your clueless implicit assumption about what it means to be attractive, to whom I'm supposed to be attractive, and how much I should want to be a slave to it. 'Let's see, she's deliberately gone several deviations away from the long-haired, blonde sex kitten archetype that is the gold standard of feminine beauty, that all men are supposed to want and all women are supposed to want to be, therefore she could not possibly be attractive.' Yeah, and back when I looked more like that, guys, probably guys like you, often got tripped up on their over-engorged presumptions and my girl-pitched voice and too often treated me like a child. Guess how often that happens now?

So what you missed is that I am attractive, in the sense of drawing or attracting others into my company, to exactly the sort of people I have always wanted to bring into my life in the first place. And that doesn't include people who think that women need to have long or stereotypically feminine hairstyles. It doesn't include people who think that the word 'lesbian' is an insult and have unsubstantiated assumptions about their ability to spot one. It doesn't include men who wouldn't bother getting to know me as a person instead of an object, or who don't like to be around women they don't think they can control.

I don't want those sorts of people in my life, but I used to often have to get to know them before figuring out that they were, in fact, those sorts of people. Now my hairstyle seems to set off a synaptic short circuit that prevents most of them from wasting everyone's time. It was accidental, there was a very bad dye job that just had to be shaved off and no mistake, but it's been fabulous. I wouldn't go back on that decision or the circumstances leading up to it even if I could. And really, how many things does a person do in life that they can truly say that about?

Other women are free to look however they please. I try not to be the kind of person who insists on reinforcing the patriarchy by making women who don't look like fashion models feel ashamed of their appearances, or assuming that those who do are mindless sexbots. I was raised steeped in that sort of thinking and it took a lot of work on my part to realize how damaging it was. How it helped make the world a place intolerant of my own quirks, how constraining the humanity of others prevented me from fully exploring who I was. And I will no longer suffer men who think they have the right to make women feel insecure by whipping out their big, swinging disapproval of those of us who either never could or just won't spend the money and time to look like they've been brainwashed to think we ought to.

Which is your biggest problem, Joe. You think, in spite of the fact that you've never even met me and don't have a clue what I look like, that you have the right to insult me so that I'll feel pressured to conform to your beauty ideals. Just a sheepdog keeping the herd in line.

Well, you don't have that right. And your rude comment is just another example of the way societies all over the world are psychotically obsessed with controlling what women wear and how we look. We can be too modest, even offensively covered. Or we're not modest enough. We can be told that we are asking to be raped if we're wearing short skirts, because we're mysteriously too childish to control our own lives and at the very same time possess such power over men that they can no longer control themselves. The crux is that there are too many people who can't grasp the essential point that a society that's hung up on controlling women's clothes and hair, that will single us out for harassment when we step outside traditional gender roles or if we have the gall to be pregnant in the workplace, probably isn't going get on with the important work of preserving our ability to treated like adults in the eyes of the law and as peers by the men we live and work with.

And when women just go along with these often contradictory demands and play by whatever the rules about our proper roles are supposed to be today, we can never win:

... At home, women in mixed-sex couples still do on average more housework* and hold more child-rearing and elder-care responsibilities than men, even if both work full-time outside the home. The parent described approvingly as just “a big kid” is never Mom, and the spouse who only half-jokingly grouses “I have three kids, including my spouse” is never Dad. At work in many environments (and more so with every increased corporate level of employment), women face an expectation of formalism and humorless professionalism that their male counterparts do not. The zany-eccentric-carefree-adventurer-mad genius-prankster CEO archetype that lands Richard Branson types on the cover of Fortune with regularity doesn’t exist for women; Martha Stewart, with her dour reputation and time served for insider trading, is the unfortunate apotheosis for businesswomen. Men who don’t settle down are admirably incorrigible. Women who don’t are pitiably sad. Of those who do, who tellingly get pronounced “man and wife,” the wife of the immature husband is told he’s still young and he’ll grow up; the husband of the immature wife is told she’s told enough to know better and she ought to be left tout de suite.

Neither sex is imbued with an intrinsically greater capacity for responsibility, but our culture, and our respective narratives, don’t remotely suggest that truth. The notion that men are—and should be—kidlike, that boyhood should stretch long into adulthood as manhood is reduced to a euphemism for one’s dick, while women are—and should be—boringly, self-denyingly grown-up, is promulgated (to our collective detriment) with relentless ferocity in American culture. Until, that is, the time comes for a woman to make a decision about her own body, about her own fate. Then, suddenly and not-so-mysteriously, women—arbiters of American emotional life, nurturers of America’s children, cookers of America’s casseroles—can’t be trusted to make the best decision.

Why is it, I wonder, that a woman who can’t be trusted to make the best decisions for herself and her fetus is immediately bestowed with the trust to make the best decisions for a child the moment it’s born? Must be magic. ...

Yep, magic. Women are supposed to be all mature and know better. Except about having babies. Or picking our clothes. Or getting a haircut. Or having jobs while we're supposed to be at home savoring the joys of pregnancy. Or having jobs that intimidate men by making them think we have as much confidence in ourselves as they do, and that if they want our attention, they might have to come up with a better argument for wanting their company than that they can buy things for us. Or anything else that upsets certain people's belief that a woman's every action should be about pleasing some guy, probably one we've never even met before, by our subservience to his ideas about how we should live.

A man who thinks he can dismiss my work, the pride with which I approach self-cultivation (physical, emotional, mental or spiritual), my enjoyment of my accomplishments and social circles, sight unseen, because of how I choose to cut my hair, is attempting the theft of my dignity and humanity. And he can just back right off.

So Joe, if you ever see me rocking a dance club in pristine gothic regalia, or looking like a million in a conservative suit or business casual, all the while sporting my impeccably neat but very short hair, know this: I do not exist for the purpose of furthering your delusion that all women everywhere live only to please you.

Posted by natasha at May 23, 2007 05:17 PM | Women | Technorati links |

You are way too wrapped up in the reasons why some people don't like you. Not everyone who doesn't have an interest in you is going to have some deeply nefarious and socially despicable reason for it. Other than the fact that it's you they don't like, I don't get why you care. Most people have lame reasons anyway. If someone uses too shallow a metric in finding a mate, they'll pay for it plenty without you ever needing to judge them. A gold digger will get tossed aside as soon as something younger and prettier comes along. A player will grow old, lose his looks, and die alone. That's the way the world works, few bad choices we make will ever bit us as hard as a poor choice of a significant other.

Posted by: soullite at May 24, 2007 05:02 AM

What I'm wrapped up in is the fact that someone who doesn't know what I look like feels free to make judgements about my character based on a loosely described haircut. Then to assume that I'm unattractive, and that I should care that he thinks so.

And no, I don't ascribe socially nefarious reasons to people not liking me. Nor would I assume that someone who doesn't talk to me feels one way or another about me enough to describe their reaction as 'not liking.' They may simply not have noticed me, not been interested in what they saw, or have been too wrapped up in whatever concerns them that they weren't going to have really wanted to meet anyone new.

But you not only seem to have skipped right past any of the social points I made, but the fact that out of the new people I meet or who come up to me post-buzz, there's a much higher ratio of nice, interesting and fun sorts and a practically nil ratio of creeps. Which is to say that, as Malcolm Gladwell noticed post-getting long hair and then described in the book "Blink," the way people treat me has changed without my having done much of anything besides shorten my hair.

Posted by: natasha at May 24, 2007 09:06 AM

For what it's worth, without every having seen you or your photo, I find you attractive because of your writing. "Pretty" is nice, but what really attracts me is intelligence, wit, and a good turn of phrase. Our culture is way too wrapped up in Paris Hilton.

Way too.

Posted by: Barry Leiba at May 24, 2007 01:06 PM

jesus christ. blah fucking blah. it's a haircut.

Posted by: steph at May 24, 2007 05:30 PM

Yeah Steph, so you'd think that it wouldn't be worth insulting a perfect stranger over. But apparently you'd be wrong.

Posted by: natasha at May 24, 2007 06:59 PM

At a convention this weekend I told a woman I know about your post. She has had a buzz cut for 10 years or more. "Bigot repellant" she giggled. She just loved the idea.

Posted by: Scorpio at May 28, 2007 10:15 AM