It’s been awhile since I could legitimately sing, “Give me a head with hair/long, beautiful hair.” But the Cowsills, via America’s tribal love-rock musical, expressed the importance of the streamin’, flaxen, waxin’ locks with winning pop harmonies and frequent radio airplay. What more need be said? Plenty, it turns out. Today we open the UIP vaults to let the sun shine in on Press books that address the meaning of the decorative dead (and in some cases dread) cells that grow on our heads.
Beauty Shop Politics: African American Women’s Activism in the Beauty Industry, by Tiffany M. Gill
The beauty industry played a crucial role in the creation of the modern black female identity. Indeed, the seemingly frivolous space of a beauty salon actually stimulated social, political, and economic change. With a broad scope that encompasses the role of gossip in salons, ethnic beauty products, lucid portrayals, and the social meanings of African American hair textures, Tiffany M. Gill shows how African American beauty entrepreneurs built and sustained a vibrant culture of activism in beauty salons and schools.
And the phenomenon goes back a long way. As Gill explained to National Public Radio:
We see that it’s around 1820 where there began to be sort of growing discourses about how African-American men were seen as dangerous, should not share spaces with white women, and so African-American women sort of transitioned very nationally to that. So we see African-American women in slavery caring for the beauty needs of those that they were forced to work for.
But also we see that, particularly in urban areas like New Orleans, that some of these enslaved women were able to actually hire themselves out and make some money in the process. So the beauty industry does provide opportunities for African-American women to earn a living.
“Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow: Hair Loss, the Tonsure, and Masculinity in Medieval Iceland,” by Carl Phelpstead
Today we venture into the Journals area of the Press, sampling from the Spring 2013 issue of Scandinavian Studies. Let’s jump ahead in the article to contemplate beardlessness, truly a stigma among the manly and oft-berserk men who peopled Medieval Iceland:
Nevertheless, the most famous association of hair with masculinity in the Icelandic sagas is undoubtedly the inability of the chieftain Njáll Þorgeirsson to grow a beard in Njáls Saga.
A great deal has been written, of course, on gender and sexuality in Njáls saga, and there is no need to do more here than recall that Njáll’s beardlessness is noted as remarkable when he is first introduced; that Hallgerðr mocks him for it on more than one occasion; that he is more than once referred to as “Old Beardless”; that the Njálssons, who are known as taðskegglingar (Dung-beardlings) because of their ability to grow beards despite being Njáll’s descendants, kill Sigmundr Lambason for composing slanderous verses on the subject; and that Flosi makes explicit at the Alþingi that Njáll’s lack of a beard casts doubt on his masculinity: “for there are many who can’t tell by looking at him whether he’s a man or a woman.”
Women for President: Media Bias in Nine Campaigns, 2E, by Erika Falk
Hillary Clinton is running for the White House again, and that guarantees one thing: a lot of foolish coverage of her appearance. Erika Falk goes back to the 1870s to show how women candidates have had to deal with this strain of sexism ever since they got the idea they could run the country. This second edition includes Clinton’s 2008 run, when her hair and everything else about her looks became a topic explored in nauseating detail, as if voters could not conjure a clear mental image of one of the most famous human beings on earth.
No doubt Chuck Todd, Don Lemon, and the rest of the media banalosphere is revving up the objectification machine for next year. In the meantime, let’s listen to Falk as she describes what reporters focused on back in the Ocho:
The most widely cited was a piece in the Washington Post by Robin Givhan, who noted, “There was cleavage on display Wednesday afternoon on C-SPAN2. It belonged to Sen. Hillary Clinton.” Despite the fact that Clinton was talking about education policy, Givhan reported, “She was wearing a rose-colored blazer over a black top. The neckline sat low on her chest and had a subtle V-shape. The cleavage registered after only a quick glance.”
The media watchdog website Media Matters noted that following the Post’s article, broadcast television also focused on Clinton’s appearance. Their researchers analyzed news segments on July 30 on MSNBC, Fox News, and CNN between the hours of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. They found that “MSNBC devoted a total of 23 minutes and 42 seconds to segments discussing Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s ‘cleavage.’ .?.?. During the same period, CNN devoted 3 minutes and 54 seconds to coverage of Clinton’s cleavage, while Fox News devoted none.”
Her hair is up here, people.