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Gender bias via pixie haircuts

A mom at preschool the other day was admiring my daughter's short hair. She complimented the adorable style and turned to her own preschooler--a daughter with shoulder length hair--to encourage her to get the same cut.

"It's so cute and so easy and comfortable," the mom said. "Don't you want to cut your hair into a pixie cut like that?" Her daughter resisted a bit.

"Yes, it is all that," I told her. "But are you prepared for it?" If her daughter isn't into it, it's not something I'd push. I think I genuinely shocked them with my brief warning about what we've encountered.

My daughter wanted the short hair. We were encouraging and the kids' salon we take her to has a stylist who does an amazing job complete with berry-scented glitter and free hair clips as we leave. My little girl feels great about herself and proud of how she looks...all sparkles and shine. This is the same little girl who frequently refers to herself as a "he" in the third person and wears boyish hand-me-downs from her older brother. You may likely find her playing trucks or digging in the dirt with bugs crawling on her. But she usually can be found dressed in pinks and purples watching a princess story or playing with ponies. She's comfortable in her skin being herself.

No, this is more about me. Because I've asked my daughter how it makes her feel when people in public assume she's a little boy.

"I don't care," she says.

"It doesn't bother you at all?"

"No, I like my haircut," she says. Even while day-after-day the grocery check out lady, the waitress, the stranger at the playground looks at a 4 year old with short hair and assumes things.

Sometimes we let it go. Especially with her older brother along, the concept of brother-sister comes up quickly. Or we're ordering food and a simple "she's going to have the chicken fingers" leads to a realization that the speaker has made the wrong guess. Some people are rightfully embarrassed and say so.

No real harm.

My older, wiser, more experienced brain understands the deeper implications though. You've outwardly judged a tiny 4 year old little person based on exterior features. When in doubt, you defaulted to a list of easy, deeply-held cultural assumptions about the way that female beauty and personhood works. My daughter isn't old enough to comprehend the full insult of how you've reduced her experience as a young woman to the way she comes off to strangers as feminine.

The real shock to the mom who complimented is that we'd all love to think those old backwards attitudes don't exist. We're more enlightened. We live in a progressive community. Many times these are women who are making the error. We never realize how deeply formed these biases, stereotypes, and attitudes are until such a simple, simple mistake happens. Hopefully, it's a mistake that makes us question why we're making any snap judgment about someone's gender, race, etc. We've come to rely on shorthand, but when that shorthand fails us it's a powerful lesson in politely asking if unsure rather than stepping on toes.

My daughter's (yes, adorable) pixie cut isn't going to end our deeply held cultural discrimination. But encounter after encounter does make me realize how hard I'm going to have to work as a father to keep her comfortable in her own skin like she is right now. My job isn't to protect her from all this...my job is to prepare her that it's only going to get tougher from here.

Comments

  1. Great post!

    My mother cut off my long hair just before kindergarten, because she did want to deal with brushing and washing it. Even though I wore barrettes, everybody assumed I was a boy and told me so, despite my protests. It was years before I was allowed to grow my hair long, the way *I* wanted it.

    It makes me very happy to see that your daughter is supported and happy with her choices for herself. Kudos to you and DLP for raising strong, healthy kids!

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