Monday, April 14, 2014

The Politics of Washing Hair

I had waist length hair.  Then I cut it all off just a few weeks ago. All of it.

Why?  My hair is difficult to take care of using natural products.

I've tried delicate balances of anything and everything - baking soda, apple cider vinegar, made my own soap, not washing it at all... I feel like I tried everything.  And having waist length hair makes it difficult to manage not using any product.  You might ask, "Girl, why the heck aren't you using shampoo?!"

Like many people, I use natural or make my own products for a lot of different reasons.  In particular, I have allergic reactions to certain substances commonly found in shampoos (sodium lauryl sulfate, found in a lot of soaps, triggers perioral dermatitis for me.  It is a very frustrating skin rash around my mouth and nose).  For someone who does not wear makeup either, this is very frustrating.  At its worst, I've caved to put on some concealer because the rash was a little too noticeable and I felt very self-conscious given my workplaces.  In order to find new receipes and ideas for natural remedies and live a greener life, I follow a lot of natural/organic living blogs.  

One thing that has come up - something of particular interest to me - in these blogs is a clip from the Today Show where Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb talk about Jacquelyn Byers.  Jacquelyn Byers is a blogger (Little Owl Crunchy Momma) who shared her experience of not washing her hair because she wants to avoid chemicals and lead a greener lifestyle.  Jacquelyn wrote into the Today Show about her experience with "no-poo" (no shampoo) and has not washed her hair in 5 years. 

Obviously, being someone who also avoids using conventional shampoos and soaps, I personally felt very shamed by these women talking about Jacquelyn.  In fact, the word among many of the organic/natural living blogs is that Jacqueline was unfairly bullied on TV.  Personally, I'm inclined to believe that.  I mean, I feel like it might be kind of harsh to simply make the assumption that she "stinks" and "does not bathe at all" with her explanation of not using shampoo.  Also, using baking soda and apple cider vinegar to wash your hair is still washing... at worst you'll smell like vinegar for just a little while.

This, for me, begs the question: are there politics of washing hair?

I believe that this topic is loaded with many different opinions from people across the board.  Obviously, when you don't wash your hair it will get oily. This could be problematic in some settings because of workplace standards of appearance.  But, this is temporary. After a few weeks the oil glands will stop producing so much oil (I mean, your scalp has to produce more oil because shampoo has a tendency to strip the oil away!).  Most people who are able to last a few weeks will notice their hair becomes healthier and it is not oily anymore. 

On the other hand, could this be seen as another way to police bodies?  By framing it as someone who "doesn't bathe" - putting someone in a position where they are seen as "less-than," uncultured or inferior in some way - I wonder if a display like this is simply another way to condemn people whose behavior or body does not fit into cultural expectations. 

I could go on and on about this, but I'm curious what others think.  What thoughts do you have about the politics of washing hair?  What symbolism lies behind washing/not washing hair?  Is this mediated by one's hair texture? Culture? Gender? 

Let's break out theories of intersectionality and have fun with this!  I would love to hear what you have to say!

Written by Samantha D. Christopher, B.A. 

Monday, April 7, 2014

It’s All About the “Bossiness,” Baby

Last weekend, I was at a lunch with an amazing group of women discussing feminist issues. At one point during our lunch, Justine Kallaugher (that’s right-it’s a “shout-out”), shared recent controversy over Sheryl Sandberg’s “Ban Bossy” campaign. This conversation led to a spirited dialogue of numerous vantage points and opinions, which I thought were valuable to bring to a larger table.

For those of you who, like me, were late to hearing about this campaign, Sheryl Sandberg recruited numerous prominent women to speak out against describing girls as “bossy.” The core message is that girls are often ridiculed or put-down when displaying leadership skills and are labeled as “bossy.” I began compiling articles, blogs, critiques, critiques of the critiques, and felt inspired by our own discussion to write an additional critique. Out of my search, two to three authors found Sandberg’s points to resonate with their own beliefs, and found meaning in this campaign (, It seems the large majority of writers found some issue with the campaign, while others declared the movement “social idiocy” and “female political narcissism” (Return on the

Overall, several themes seemed to emerge in the writing.

There seemed to be an interesting contradiction that sexism is a “fictional problem” and women should “appreciate” what they have, while also expressing confusion as to why more women do not seize the leadership torch (, Return of the In other words, we can’t expect women to compete at the same level, yet we ask women why they just can’t do better? Why aren’t women happy with what they have? Perhaps women are not satisfied with unequal pay, among other things, but this contradiction is the precise position in which women are left.

Others seemed to blame women and parents for career success, arguing that women spend more time childrearing and thus, have more access to mold children (Return of the  They maintained parents and mothers simply need to “teach their children” more about leadership (Return of the, The Daily, The In short, the issue of girls not entering leadership roles was framed as a woman’s issue, and the author encouraged organizers of the campaign to “narrow this campaign’s scope to women” (Return of the I would venture to say that most parents wish they were the sole influence of kids, particularly in a world where children are flooded with massive amounts of harmful messages. Fortunately and unfortunately, children are also shaped by culture, media, friends, the educational system, parents of friends, spiritual leaders, neighbors, additional caregivers, and so many other sources that can be impactful and difficult to filter.

Another theme emerged, wherein some conveyed frustration with recent movements to encourage and support education for girls. One author expressed confusion, stating, “people want what they want-the heart wants what the heart wants, after all-if anybody needs so much assistance, something is amiss” (Return of the Unfortunately, we tend to want what we are taught to value, and even then, most children can quickly begin to acknowledge that we cannot always have the things we most cherish for a multitude of reasons. In this way, girls can quickly give up dreams for which they may be well-equipped, essentially because they have understood the implicit social expectations.  

Others aired frustration and minimized the movement, citing the “top-down” initiative, wherein successful and prominent women brought awareness to the use of the word “bossy” (, Some argued Sheryl Sandberg has been privileged in many identities and is disconnected from the needs of other women, while others posited that prominent women have nothing to “complain about” (Return of the, The Daily  Others yet, argued that there are “much bigger fish to fry” (The Daily  It seems as though, as has historically occurred within feminist movements, moves to alter the quality of life are framed in opposition to socioeconomic status and race/ethnicity. While these variables and underprivileged identities are undoubtedly intertwined, I argue that progress in one aspect need not be exclusive to progress in others. Yes, there absolutely are larger underlying issues than the use of one word, AND it also does not mean that there is, necessarily, a wrong place to start. Broader change takes place over time, one small step at a time.

Other authors suggested “we can never be defined by the labels others put on us” ( While this idea is awe-inspiring, perhaps it may be more realistic to state that we wish we did not define ourselves by the labels others put on us, but we are social creatures and build our identities in relationship to others. In acknowledging our social experience, other women suggested girls should “toughen up” if they want to survive in more prolific career roles, by utilizing the argument that they were called “bossy” and turned out fine (,, The Daily, By taking this approach, we not only deny that others may experience encounters with being called “bossy” in different ways, but we also revert to identifying the major problem as lying within girls for being overly-sensitive. In a lot of ways, we blame the victim for feeling hurt. Similarly, we are making the assumption that the world will never change around girls, so girls must always adapt to hostile environments.

Several authors suggested that women would experience more success by reclaiming the word “bossy” to remove its power, as banning words is “un-American” and ineffective (,, Huffington,, Washington These authors raised concerns that additional words would be created to take the place of “bossy.” By arguing this point, we remove our sense of responsibility and deny that words do not generate themselves. People create and replace words to fulfill a social purpose. Words, in and of themselves, are not inherently harmful, but represent our cultural beliefs, thoughts, and can trigger judgment. More generally, perhaps the idea of banning words has felt too zealous for some and it may be more impactful to highlight that just because we CAN use words as descriptors, does not necessarily mean we SHOULD.

One author offered the following statement as an argument against Sandburg’s campaign: “Tina Fey is a bossypants and I love her” (The I cannot help but think that claiming to have a friend of a different cultural identity does not automatically exempt one from holding a general bias against that group. Perhaps this point is self-explanatory.

Finally, several authors expressed concern that maybe some girls frankly are “bossy” and unpleasant, and should be able to receive feedback about their interpersonal style (, Huffington,,, While domineering, authoritarian, and dictatorial behavior is absolutely not appropriate, perhaps we can continue to use a variety of other synonyms to describe this behavior using words that are not also used to describe healthy assertive and confident behavior in girls.

In a lot of ways, much of what struck me about the articles I encountered was divisiveness among women. Women seemed to be attacking other women-for not supporting women correctly. Even while numerous arguments were proposed, many authors did not inherently disagree with Sandberg’s desire to achieve equality, but rather with the solution proposed. Perhaps the common goal can be to raise awareness about when we find ourselves using this word, what behavior we are describing, and whether or not the word fits. Let us find the common ground, let us embrace the spirit of the movement, by supporting women who use their voices to reach equality. Let this show of support be the example that girls might need to see, to continue inspiring them to express their opinions and take on assertive roles.

I want to send a group “shout-out” to Justine Kallaugher, Dr. Debra Mollen, Sonia Carrizales, Dena Abbott, and Jennifer Mootz, for sparking this discussion and serving as the catalyst for this blog.

Written by Noelany Pelc

Monday, March 31, 2014

Getting into the Trenches: Staying with the Fight

“If you’re going through hell, keep going,” my best and forever-friend, Sarah, said to me, quoting Winston Churchill.  This woman has been instrumental in supporting me throughout our evolving feminisms together.  The benefit of such a wonderful and intimate friendship is that I never feel guilty about telling her that things are not going well, and it is often the case that I hang up the phone with her feeling much better.  In the context of the conversation in which she quoted Churchill, she was reminding me to stay the course in the multiple dimensions of my life that sometimes feel groundless.  In future posts and right now, I would like to underscore the importance of having woman friends.  I would not be where I am without throwing an estro-jam with other strong ladies!  And, the message I want to send out to the universe today is to keep going.

There’s a documentary out now in select cities about Anita Hill, and she recently did a “Feministing Five” interview with the Feministing blog.  In response to the question of the greatest challenge facing feminism today, Hill explained:

“Now we’ve got to do the real hard work of making sure that bias is not built into our institutions and so on the surface things may look fine but now we gotta get down to the hard work of clearing out all of that old baggage from how decisions are made in ways that favor men and how do we look at how equality or inequality is experienced in our day-to-day lives as opposed to thinking of equality as something abstract.”

Hill warns against getting into a position of complacency in thinking that we can just sue whoever discriminates or harasses us.  Indeed, though there may be policies and procedures based on legislation to address gender-based offenses, the actual practice is a different matter.  We can see this in the myriad of Title IX complaints coming from all over the country of how colleges and universities handle complaints of rape and sexual assault. 

On a side note, I debated with myself for a long time about whether or not to talk about the Title IX complaint I filed this year in this post.  Sometimes the hierarchical nature of academia seems incongruent with the examination of power structures, and I worried that because I had not reached an upper-echelon of my career (or at the very least finished my doctorate), my disclosure may seem “inappropriate.”  However, in truly acting in accordance with my values, my intuition tells me that my transparency is more powerful than my silence.

After a rather disturbing class period, which was preceded by less intense but also disturbing class periods, I submitted a complaint for discrimination and harassment based on Title IX.  Though I will not be going into detail in this post on the nature of the complaint, I want to highlight certain aspects of my journey that have had a profound impact on where I am right now.

First, equality is not an overnight phenomenon.  My complaint was filed in October, and I am still in a back-and-forth on the matter.  When we commit to challenge and change something, we have to be prepared to be in it for the long haul.  Even though we get frustrated that people simply do not “catch up,” our patience and mindfulness allow us to stay in the moment for much longer. 

Second, we have to be aware of and open to neutral and negative reactions from others, even those we feel close to.  Over the past few months, I have fluctuated from being overly argumentative, disengaged, depressed, invigorated, etc.  Most of my friends stayed with me and rode those waves, but the time was not without isolation, alienation, and feelings of betrayal.  Though awareness may not prevent these feelings, it is helpful to know what to expect.

Third, we must use our resources.  I would not have gotten as far as I have without friends who were willing to offer legal advice, legal aid services, and websites catered to this particular problem (  In addition to these more instrumental forms of support, I also had a number of people, men and women, who were in my corner. 

The concept of social support brings me to my next point: thank people for hanging in there with us.  Express gratitude to those who hear and stay up-to-date with what we are going through. 

My final point is to keep going.  One-time protests can have a powerful impact, but staying in the trenches day-to-day and holding others accountable is really where change resides.  Keep checking in.  Keep connecting with people.  Keep filling out the paperwork and forms.  Keep writing letters.  Keep up with your friends.  Keep up with taking care of yourself.  Keep the goal of equality close to you, especially when it feels far away.

Written by Teresa Young