Going Gray (Or Not)

Gray Hair

Reader Calypso sent us this very interesting article on gray hair. Of course, I’ve been aware of the fact that gray hair is considered more acceptable on a man than on a woman, and I’ve been aware that lots of women dye their hair. But I’d never really thought about just how widespread hair dying must be. Think about this:

of the 16 female U.S. Senators — the highest number ever — who range in age from 46 to 74, not a single one has visible gray hair.

The article makes some rather dubious claims about the cause of hair dying, however:

Ironically, it’s feminism’s success that has driven today’s widespread, virtually obligatory camouflage of gray hair.

The idea seems to be that feminism has led to women in positions of power, and nobody trusts a gray-haired woman in a position of power. Hence, feminism is responsible. But the real question is why nobody trusts a gray-haired woman, when gray-haired men are considered eminently trustworthy, and it doesn’t seem likely you could blame feminism for that one. Also, umm, plenty of women are simply not in positions of power, so the explanation would be pretty limited even if it made sense.

Still, there’s interesting stuff in the article. For example, the author reports a surprising anecdote: as part of her research, she placed personal ads online with photographs of herself with either gray or brown hair, and got far more responses to the gray hair ad. Maybe she just looks great gray, or maybe (as some in the article suggest) gray is beginning to become cool.

Calypso notes (without naming names, so don’t go asking!) that there are many women philosophers who dye their gray hair. Is there the same pressure for non-gray hair in academia as there is in the Senate? I’m pretty sure the pressure is lower, but it may still be there.

Anyway, a really useful example to discuss in classes: Unless you have it pointed out, you don’t really realise just how widespread hair dying must be.

13 thoughts on “Going Gray (Or Not)

  1. Pressure in academia? I have a colleague in the law school who is grey and I doubt it means she’s taken less seriously. In part that’s because she enters rooms with the confidence that a lawyer might display in court. It suddenly and dismally occurs to me that maybe many of us somewhat instinctively realize our mannerisms are quite gendered and, as such, we start out less plausible to begin with in a male-dominated world, and will be taken seriously only if we meet some the dediderata for our gender, which includes having the marks of youth.
    That’s completely off the top of my head (ouch!), but it seems a conjecture that might be worth thinkinng about.

  2. funny…I love my gray hairs and my partner hates them. He calls it “so feminist” of me to not want to dye or pluck them. Of course, he hates his. I figure that I earned ’em so I might as well enjoy them.

  3. I find that, as a man, grey is no biggie because men have to worry about actually going bald (which is many orders of magnitude worse). If I have a thick head of (grey) hair 40 years from now, I’ll consider myself to have come out on top! I’d be surprised if grey men or women were suffered much for their hair.

  4. Interestingly, I know of one male philosopher who dyes his hair gray. Maybe women philosophers should do that as well. I suspect going gray might help with some of the gender issues. Being blond certainly doesn’t help (in my experience)

  5. One interesting thing in the article was an interview with a doctor. She has long hair and dyes it because, she says, if she had long and gray hair, she would look like an “alternative doctor” not a regular doctor. Maybe in academe there’s enough emphasis already on being “alternative” that gray hair is more permissible. Certainly in my experience, students comment far more on personal appearance of women teachers in their faculty evaluations than on that of male teachers. My evaluations have frequently commented on my hair, clothes, boots, and/or weight.

  6. There was a similar article in the New York Times two weeks ago (I just checked, and the article features the same woman who wrote this one (Anne Kreamer). I found it interesting, too. While I’m certainly troubled by the implication that feminism is somehow to blame for this trend (!), the overall sense I had was that the author wants to call attention to how widespread this is, perhaps as the first step to changing it. (Then again, the problem isn’t really us–it’s how society perceives us, but the practice of getting rid of all our grey does perpetuate it…)

    Another thought I’ve had is that it’s more common for younger women (ones too young to be worrying about grey) to dye their hair now than it used to be. I’m not sure how this figures into the trend of getting rid of grey, but it might play a role.

    I’d be pretty surprised to find that there are “many” women philosophers who dye their hair grey! Do they tell people that they do this? I’ve never heard of such a thing (and I actually have quite a few women philosophers as colleagues–I don’t think any of us need dye to look grey!)

  7. Oops! I hadn’t noticed that “dying their gray hair” was ambiguous. I *meant* dying their gray hair so that it is some other colour. I don’t actually know of any philosophers who dye their hair gray, though Mr Jender has been known to dye his hair gray on occasion (for which he was called “a fucking poof” by someone in a locker room).

  8. how delightful to read this just a mere week after my hair has gone from steel grey to the color of the tail of my chestnut horse! (his tail and my mane are now an incredible combination of four colors – deep, dark brown, auburn, true copper and light blonde). the color looks perfectly natural – except that it took three hours to get it there.

    why? after years of doing nothing at all?

    i’m donating my hair to locks of love and they don’t take grey hair fo the kids – but they will take dyed hair – thus, the time well spent.

    now, the reason for the post here (aside from saying hi to jj…) – within two days, i received a job offer to sell hondas – and within another two days, the mazda showroom manager offered me yet another opportunity. i was not seeking either (yet, i’m seriously considering the honda one) – had gone in with pearls to sell as i have done for years now with nary a nibble for hire.

    i don’t think this has to do with feminism or ego as much as it does our society’s perception of age. in academia, the wise “old” professor is cherished as a mentor, but in corporate america, in sales america – in most every other profession (save teaching), age implies useless – out of date, out of touch.

    to be able to keep the stamina of the “race” in politics and survive the elected term of four/six or more years, voters want to see both men and women able to make it to the finish line while brawling over our pet issues.

    to qualify here, i was a makeup artist (did wigs and some hair as well) and costumer for 30+ years in nyc.

    image is the first means we have to “judge” those we meet – and for that reason, since we are very visible creatures (moreso with the advent of the media), that image we first encounter forms our first unconscious impression.

    thus, the success of the dye and makeup industry as women and men try to present the most viable lasting image in the work place.

    when it comes to personal time, the hair and makeup aren’t so critical for many – but to “fit” the image and compete with an ever increasingly younger work force, especially with the human resource personnel ALSO becoming younger, age and signs of aging are a detriment to initial hire and promotion.

    all this said, if anybody needs a new honda – just look for the flaming chestnut maned saleslady (with long hair for two more weeks – then with short and funky hairdo!)

  9. Edrie,
    So nice to see your name!
    Really interesting observations. Please get some sort of contract from the Honda dealer before you revert to your usual self via a funky stage!

  10. what i like about the honda dealership is that it pays a base pay that is NOT a draw on commission – of course, with commission (they DO expect us to sell cars…duh!) the pay is even better.

    but that isn’t the reason i’m interested. i am seriously considering going to work on a campaign full time for pay – got two in mind – and if i do, i want a job i can leave without repercussions – and car saleswoman is one of those jobs!

    i like hondas – would have fun selling them – could add “used car sales(wo)man” to my list of fun jobs i’ve done if i sell any old ones… and… did i mention the pay is good?

    horses are settled, i’m working on that now – want a pay check that isn’t self generated in the dying throes of bushco – and people DO need to get cars…

    and… heh heh – after selling three managers $400 worth of pearls, they DID offer me the job! (it is really the hair…. looking like a horse’s patootie works for me…)

    all said and done, the color did make a difference – i actually got “carded” for my senior discount the other day – and this is from a woman who automatically got them at 52!

    glad to see you, too – jj – hope all is well!

  11. I am leaving my gray hair and I love it, but I know that there is a lot of prejudice about it in our society. I think that if you keep your hair neat and nice it doesn’t have to look bad. A friend of mine said that an older woman that dyes her hair is just an old woman with the hair dyed. I agree. You are who you are no matter what you do. So be natural and that is it.

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