I’m thinking today about gender and hair. A slight leap from my last post about a poem but, in fact, it segues nicely.
In the final verse of September 1913, Yeats offers an insight into the “delirium of the brave” – those exiled hero rebel men, Emmet and Wolfe Tone, Fitzgerald and O’Leary. Bravery and heroism, he suggests, are titles we confer retroactively. The actions of the true-hearted hero are never apprehended in their own time but, rather, they are thought to be reckless and crazed by those who do not understand.
Notice the catalyst of their insanity:
…Yet could we turn the years again,
And call those exiles as they were
In all their loneliness and pain,
You’d cry, ‘Some woman’s yellow hair
Has maddened every mother’s son’…
Proximity to the dangerously alluring female and her intoxicating hair can cause a man to go crazy, do things he ought not to do. His actions are her beautiful fault. How many times a day do we see such line of reasoning offered as justification or defense for some crime or disgrace?
The body is a battleground and hair is a captivating, complex prop in the theater of that war.
All this month in Her Kind (a literary community powered by VIDA: Women in Literary Arts), writers, artists and poets are “exploring the link between identity and hair, as well as its histories, realities and fantasies.”
Thus far: In To Hair or Not to Hair?, Millicent Accardi discusses women’s body hair and shaving, wondering why even the most ardent feminists still succumb to the deeply embedded notion of the hairless female. And in Hair as Storyteller and Reimaginator, Imani Tolliver and Beth Gilstrap converse about why we care so much about our hair and I can definitely relate to this insight by Gilstrap:
“Perhaps hair is the definition of vulnerability, our attempt to control some aspect of our own physicality and external lives when all else is so difficult? Our shapes. Our minds. Our bones. Our diseases. Our losses. All so elusive, but baby, we can hack away at my hair.”
When I was a child, I inexplicably began to pull out my hair. It was many years later before I would know that this compulsion had a name – trichotillomania – and that I wasn’t alone in my often heartbreaking behaviour. It would be many more years still before I would be able to acknowledge or even dream about writing this sentence, here, for anyone to read.
But somehow I find myself in a place where I’m okay with all my quirks and ‘insanities’ and this weird thing doesn’t define me, though it has certainly been defining and determining in the past: I have been shaped by it but now I am trying to shape it in turn, turn it into something else and new.
My short essay – Pull – is now up on the Her Kind website. And I feel like I’m in good company there.