Thursday, January 28, 2010

Boys and Hair, Part 3

I've blogged about Taylor Pugh before. Most recently, the long-haired little boy's parents reached a compromise with the school district, agreeing to secure his hair up before sending him to class. According to his mom, Elizabeth, Taylor "looks a little like Princess Leia" with his new 'do.

Keep that in mind.

In another school district, in another place (far, far away, of course), another boy's long hair landed him in trouble. This time, apparently, the school district was OK with his hair. His teacher clearly was not.

The eleven-year-old's mother has filed a lawsuit alleging that his sixth-grade teacher pulled his hair into ponytails, re-introduced him to the class using a female name and paraded him to other sixth grade classrooms.

The teacher's behavior was clearly over the line. But what intrigues me the most here is:
  1. The amount of time, energy and passion invested in boys' hair
  2. The differing responses

In one case, we have an extremely conservative school district that is apparently OK with a four-year-old boy coming to school with Princess Leia hair. In the other case, a rogue teacher in a more tolerant school district ties a boy's hair up and his parents sue, alleging that the ponytails "caused ... extreme humiliation, embarrassment and emotional distress" and that the school "failed to protect him against gender-based harassment."

I don't mean to downplay the pain experienced by either boy. I just find it incredibly ironic that a "girly" hairstyle is the answer in one school district and the problem in another. And as a woman who is also the mother of boys, I am disturbed by the undercurrent: in both cases, adults are imposing notions of masculinity on little boys. In both cases, the clear message is this: Don't be a girl.

Is it possible that our sons, the younger generation, don't feel nearly as confined by typical sex roles as we did? Is it possible that their comfort makes us uncomfortable? I'm eager to hear your thoughts.


  1. Hi Jenny: Love "far, far away," made me laugh. To your more serious point, yes the message from some parents does seem to convey "don't be a girl." When I was a boy, one of the biggest insults you heard was "Olive, you're such a woman." Didn't realize it at the time, but that's a powerful statement. I had hoped that the 21st century woudl bring more enlightened views.

  2. Eric,
    Glad you enjoyed "far, far away." I was hoping someone would get that!

  3. It amazes me that any teacher or school district has time to bother with these issues. Aren't there workshops on bullying and peer pressure these schools offer that they can attend themselves? It appears that the teachers and administrations are the ones modeling the behavior they are trying to address. Very interesting indeed.

  4. You know, I don't understand why there is such an issue with boys hair. When I look back at photos of my parents and grandparents I see that most boys and men wore their hair longer back then as well. I think we have just been giving our boys buzz cuts for so long that it is expected of boys. Lately the style has been that boys wear their hair a little longer. I would never have my boys wear their hair past their shoulders, but I tend to let them go with what makes them comfortable. I guess I'm a little torn on the subject. I don't see people having problems with girls with super short hair, yet boys are expected to have a buzz cut. Hmmmm

  5. I find the teachers behavior reprehensible. No child should be singled out for ridicule by a teacher. It is bad enough if his/her peers do it.

    I also find the idea of what is acceptable for boys to wear or how they should wear their hair discriminatory.

  6. I always think that when people show such extreme behavior, as this teacher did, they have a problem of their own, that we don't know about. Perhaps this teacher has a gay son and is taking out her own frustration on this kid. Who knows. Anyway, the one who has to put up with negative comments and perhaps teasing, is the boy himself. If he's willing to do that, then he must have a strong personality. If he's forced to wear his hair that way because his parents want it long and he doesn't, then that's a different story.

  7. You have an extremely conservative school district that is apparently OK with a four-year-old boy coming to school with Princess Leia hair.

  8. I have a problem with both situations. Though, my fervor lies with the parading teacher. I have three boys and would love for them to all have their hair long. My husband and I have very thick and curly hair. I think there's nothing cuter than a little boy with a head of curls. My oldest is four and the thought of anyone making him feel bad about the way he looks really angers me. I agree that there is some latent issue that is being acted out on these children. Their long hair does not mean they are gay and it certainly isn't to taunt the teacher...but maybe now it should be...

  9. On the subject of whether kids feel as defined/confined by gender roles and expectations, I'd have to say YES they do, despite our slowly relaxing attitudes in the grownup world (although the hair incidents show just how slow it really is). My son will admit to me that he thinks pink is a pretty color, but that information is confidential "because I don't want people to think I'm weird." He is embarrassed about his beautiful long eyelashes because women are always gushing over them, saying, "It's so unfair that a boy should get those"--as a compliment, of course. Look also at the enormous popularity of hyper-feminine and hyper-masculine characters in kid-targeted media: Disney princesses, Clone Wars (manly men and busty women), Indiana Jones (supposedly a teen/adult movie, but then why the Legos and action figures?).

    Interesting side note (maybe you knew this): it seems that girls tend to co-opt media images and make them their own, re-writing the script, so to speak, to make the media fit their personal worldviews. Boys, on the other hand, just lap it all up and live the fantasy sans revision:

  10. Misa,
    What an interesting link! Thanks for sharing it.

  11. I want to add that as a former high school teacher, I used to see boys with all kinds of haircuts--and piercings, and tattoos, none of which bothered me in the least. In fact, boys with piercings and long hair--especially with long hair--tended to be more thoughtful than most--maybe because it takes a real sense of self to look different in high school. Or something. Sometimes these boys were actually a little lost, but at least they were trying something new instead of just following the herd. (The tattoos, on the other hand, were just as often a macho thing as a statement of nonconformity.) Unless they're gang-related or sexually provocative, I figure that a kid's experiments with his appearance are really the least of anyone's worries. I'm always amazed when people are threatened by something so superficial.

    But I have a friend whose main worry when she learned she was pregnant with a boy was that he would grow up and want to pierce his ear(s) or have long hair. She's an investment banker and they do tend to skew conservative in the appearance department...I should tell her that Barack Obama put a hole in HIS ear when he was young(er) and somehow he managed to become our nation's president anyway. (He seems to have lost all of his earrings during his meteoric rise, however. Hmm.)