MANISH DUBEY | 20 APRIL, 2020
The Quarantine Haircut
Gender Dimensions of the Quarantine Haircut
On social media these days, people are having fun giving and receiving home haircuts. The need is obvious. Hair grows. Salons are shut. The joy is understandable. It is an adventure and an opportunity to indulge a dear one. For both parties involved. Amidst the tedium of a lockdown. The part I am grappling with is this: why is it mostly women doing the scissor work, and why is it mostly their male partners and sons on the chair?
Haircuts aren’t taken for very complicated reasons. People want cuts that make them look presentable, are easy to maintain, and don’t get them hot, itchy, and irritable. A pandemic is no time to fuss about fashion, but these reasons broadly hold good for both lockdown and normal time haircuts. Also both women and men. Yet, this season, it is men being sheared more often.
Quite possible that the guys, unable to bear the mess and annoyance of their unused-to hair lengths and discomfited by the idea of tying, pinning, and such, are stepping up voluntarily.
No less likely they are being coaxed by women in the family. These women are rightly terrified at the prospect of assuming charge of others’ hair and managing more crankiness than usual, particularly at a time when domestic workload is up. The suggestion that men could soak up these burdens is outrageously romantic and grossly inaccurate.
This still leaves us with a little mystery. Why aren’t women and girls, with hair woes no different from men and boys, taking – or being nudged into taking - the chairs? Perhaps their comfort with hair length, bands, pins, clips, and scrunchies assures that their trims can wait. Perhaps there’s more confidence in their equanimity, that they won’t drive the family up the wall for want of a timely snip.
It can also be hazarded that prospective scissor wielders recognize female hair is tougher to do justice to. Surely it is a key reason why female haircuts cost more than male haircuts, about forty per cent more on an average across the globe as per a 2015 Business Insider report.
Inadaptability, real and imagined, has placed male manes on chopping blocks. Having done their bit to get them in that position and sensing the opportunity to nip a potential problem in the bud, women have lunged at the nearest pair of scissors.
The guys don’t mind. They trust their mums and sisters and wives and girlfriends to do a passable and, this can’t be stressed enough, bloodless job. Unless social media posts are being made under extreme duress, the women haven’t disappointed.
Meanwhile, with dads and brothers, even the gentlest, most stylish of them, one can never be sure about evading a mishap, aesthetic or physical. Men do trust men when it comes to learning shaving. That’s because they have grown up watching other men doing that at homes and on screens, have come to believe it is as a man’s thing to do, a unique area of male expertise. For assistance with another activity involving hair and sharp objects that unfolds barely inches away from the face, the male choice is different though. As if they see other men having skill transferability challenges, as if they sense women can steer unpredictable journeys better.
If all this sounds over-analytical, close your eyes and picture a home haircut scene. Chances are it involves a head-still boy, his focused, lip-pursed, scissor-gripping mum, and a happy outcome for the duo. If you conjured a man who has delivered a satisfying haircut for his partner, daughter, or sister, congratulations on an unconventional imagination. Not many are venturing there in real life. Women because they can manage a hair-y situation, men because they don’t back themselves to handle it.