Feminist Fridays: I wrote an entire essay about hair?

Yes, you read the title of this post correctly: I recently filled an entire eight pages with an essay about hair. Since it has a decidedly feminist perspective, I thought I would discuss it with you all in this week’s installment of Feminist Fridays.

For my English Literature 1910-Present tutorial I was asked to read Not So Quiet… by Helen Zenna Smith, a WWI novel published in 1930. Helen Zenna Smith is actually the name of the protagonist– the author, a journalist named Evadne Price, wrote under a pseudonym. The novel follows a group of ambulance drivers from England working on the front lines in France. These women are volunteers from mostly upper-class families whose parents want their children to be bestowed with the honorable “glory” of the war effort. As I read the novel I couldn’t help but notice the plethora of references to the women’s hair, from when bold Tosh cuts hers to get rid of disgusting lice infestations to when Helen ultimately decides to cut her hair after being kissed by a soldier, suggesting a connection between short hair and overt female sexuality. Why was the mention of hair such a repetitive occurrence? I decided to do some investigating.

My concluding argument ended up being that although the women are able to cut their hair short on the Front because it is a liminal space where women perform masculine acts (such as driving ambulances), the Victorian ideals of virtuous femininity lingering in British society prevent women from fully deconstructing these traditional gender roles. In the literature of the Victorian Era, there was a clear link between long hair and proper womanhood. In Christina Rossetti’s poem “Goblin Market” that I discussed in a previous Feminist Friday post, a lock of golden hair is actually used as currency, rendering woman’s body a sort of commodity in the masculine economic sphere. As much as we would love to believe that the dawn of the twentieth century saw the immediate and pervasive rise of the “New Woman,” Smith’s novel shows that the transition was much more gradual.

Why is this important or relevant in the slightest? I think we’d be amiss to believe that these traditional Victorian ideals of what it means to “be a woman” have escaped modern society completely. In actuality, the stigma surrounding “unfeminine” things like short hair still exists today, albeit in less overt ways. If you perform masculine behavior as a young girl, you’re often labelled a “tomboy”…. but why can’t you still just be called a girl? Why must we distinguish between those who perform more masculine behavior rather than feminine actions? And who decides what is “masculine” and “feminine” anyways? This very discussion demonstrates that the lock of golden hair used in “Goblin Market” still hangs over our society’s head.

What are your thoughts on Helen Zenna Smith’s Not So Quiet…Have any recommendations for other works I should read? Do you feel as though hair is an important marker of gender? Let me know in the comments section below!



12 thoughts on “Feminist Fridays: I wrote an entire essay about hair?

  1. I love feminist Fridays! It was pointed out to me once that one of interesting ways you can link women’s hair to their sexuality is the way that older women very rarely wear their hair long. Obviously there are exceptions to this, but generally speaking very long hair is associated with youth and all the garbage that comes with that.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Sounds like a really interesting essay! And I agree. Long hair is still considered feminine and women with short hair are considered more masculine or less attractive.

    In response to the comment above: I’ve often wondered why older women all have short hair. But my stylist once told me that short hair makes people look younger. So it may be that long hair is considered sexual and feminine when you are young. But, of course, looking young is the ultimate factor that apparently makes women sexually attractive. So older women will sacrifice their long, feminine hair in order to look younger and thus try to fit into societal definitions of attractive?

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I know this is not Victorian, but with all the hair references I couldn’t help but think of Pope’s “The Rape of the Lock.” It’s been a while since I’ve studied it, but I recall a lot of themes of what defines femininity and how women ought to operate in a male-dominated world.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. You should! It’s a mock epic and quite funny. Yeah, it’s something I never thought much about before, but it certainly is a strong theme that can reveal a lot about gender politics.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. This post was so thought-provoking! I recently cut my own hair shorter than it’s ever been, and I have definitely felt my self-image shift. I feel like it has roots in the “long hair = feminine” myth you discuss. Hmm…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oooh that’s so interesting that you feel that way personally! I’ve been thinking about cutting my hair short lately, but I’ve had it the same length for such a long time… maybe in the summer! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Ohhh this is so interesting! I definitely think hair is a marker of gender, still nowadays unfortunately, especially for women. A lot of women, especially lesbians, are seen as masculine when they cut their hair short, which is so ridiculous! I mean it’s just hair?? Great post Holly!


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