Friday, July 17, 2009

So, To My...Hair

Watching the recent Senate confirmation hearings of Judge Sonia Sotomayor, I've noticed an particularly important distinction between her and many of her questioners. Most of the progressive world has fixated on the fact that she is Latina, and they are white males. They have also noticed that she is, in fact, female, whereas they are males of the species. These are important differences.

What I notice, though, is that most of the Senators...the men, that is, and that still means "most"...have silver or grey hair. Judge Sotomayor has lustrous raven locks. It's night and day, ebony and ivory, living together in perfect hairmony. I'm so, so sorry. My pending vacation has addled my brain.

Whether that comes from genetics or a product entitled "Lustrous Raven," it...err..highlights...the painful truth about women, power, and hair. To have power in our culture, women must be young, or give the appearance of youth.

We males are permitted to show signs of age. While the gut that I so carefully cultivate is not viewed quite so positively, the traces of white that are popping out in my beard are a different story. Those first streaks of salt in our hair...assuming we have the good fortune to still have hair...indicate maturity and wisdom. They are also, Grecian Formula's efforts to the contrary notwithstanding, a sign of social status. Men who color their hair are trying too hard to be young, and if they're trying to be young, they must not have achieved status now. Silverback human males are at the apogee of their power in the culture.

Women, on the other hand, must be young, because a woman's power in our society is radically defined by her sexuality/nubility. Every image that pours from magazines and screens reinforces this, and women, who tend to define themselves by social expectation even more deeply than men, internalize this. They cannot be Georgia O'Keefe. They must be the Wonder Girls. Or at least Sarah Palin.

Age...the very thing that gives a woman wisdom and depth of knowledge...cannot be admitted. It must be hidden. Even women who have achieved positions of significant leadership feel the compulsion to carefully apply product. Why can't the Speaker of the House have her natural hair color? Why does the Secretary of State feel a societal obligation to wash that gray right out of her hair?

In large part, it's because a woman in our highly sexualized consumer culture is valued primarily by her ability to stir male desire. The depth of knowledge found in our grandmothers? Nah. We never see Grandma. We have Grandma stowed away in Soylente Greene Village, the Organic Retirement Community for FreeRange Seniors. The strong mature woman whose years have been filled with hard-earned wisdom about life and work and the world? She creeps us out, because she's all old and, like, nott hott and stuffz, ewwww.

Way I figure it, America will be ready for a woman as president when we've somehow managed to work this sickness out of our system. We don't appear to be there quite yet.