As you may or may not have read, Britney Spears recently shaved her head, got a new tattoo, and checked herself in and out of rehab a couple of times. The tabloids and random Britney-watchers are flailing around in shock and awe now because they don’t get it. Men, especially, don’t get it (as I will illustrate below). It’s as though this is the last straw for all who love to hate Britney Spears, especially. Being pimped out by her parents and the music industry as a teenage sex symbol wasn’t the last straw. Getting married and divorced within 24 hours wasn’t the last straw. Having two babies bing, bing, wasn’t the last straw. Driving with the baby on the lap wasn’t the last straw. Over-indulging in various very public ways wasn’t the last straw. Kissing Madonna wasn’t the last straw. A night on the town in a short skirt without underwear wasn’t the last straw. Filing for divorce wasn’t the last straw. Hanging out with Paris Hilton wasn’t the last straw. No. Shaving the head! That’s the last straw! ZOMG, CALL 911, Britney Spears has shaved off the penultimate signifier of white heterosexual womanhood, her long, flowing, shining, Rapunzel-like blonde locks! What can it me-e-e-e-e-e-a-a-a-a-a-n?! 😛
The reactions and responses, everything from, “She’s totally lost it!” to “Yet another bid for attention, sniff, what a shameless floozy!” to “She’s headed for a breakdown!” are interesting and illuminating from a feminist perspective.
I think Britney Spears shaving her head is a very positive statement. I love it. I think it confirms what I believe to be true about her: that she is beginning to come into her power as a woman. I also think it is a hearty and resounding “fuck you” to everybody who has used her, exploited her, fetishized her, idolized her, objectified her, worshipped her, hated her, despised her, whacked off to photos of her (real or fake) *, sprained their fingers in their mad searches for the infamous “Britney crotch shots,” dismissed and trivialized her, made fun of her, violated her, mocked her, and attempted to humiliate, degrade and silence her. It might be a big fuck you, too, to the ex she is currently divorcing, who, in true asshole fashion, has announced he’s going to fight for custody of their kids. She’s letting the whole world know she is her own and she knows it; therefore, she will do what she likes, and she doesn’t care what anybody thinks. She’s becoming her own woman.
Throughout history the way the hair is worn has had tremendous social significance, especially for women. It has been central to the mythologies and religious traditions which have shaped our lives. In Christian and Jewish tradition, we have Samson, who took the Nazarite vow not to cut his hair and who was betrayed by his lover Delilah, that shameless hussy, who tricked him, then cut all of his locks off in his sleep, the story serving as a warning to all men that they must never trust a woman, especially a woman they love. We have Rapunzel, imprisoned in a tower, who had long hair like “spun gold,” which was sheared off by an enchantress when Rapunzel made her own independent plans to run off with a suitor. Nuns and other religious women throughout history have been required to shave their heads as a sign of devotion to deities of various kinds or in submission to various male authorities, while those deemed to be “prostituted” or “loose” have had their heads shaved as a punishment. Most patriarchal religions have, at least at some point, required women to cover their hair with veils or hats, the reasoning usually being that women’s long hair is “sensual,” should be reserved for her husband, or might be a source of temptation to random rapists, sexual assailants, or even (in Christian tradition) angelic entities of various kinds. Inconsistently, the same religions which require women to cover the hair have often forbade them to cut it, viewing long hair as integral to the enforced femininity which patriarchal religion requires. Shaving of the head has often also been used to punish “wayward” women. In World War II Europe, thousands of women had their heads publicly shaved before cheering crowds because they were believed to have collaborated with the Nazis.
In the United States, long hair, again, particularly if it is blonde, is still the gold standard for femininity, and therefore it has rightfully long been a site of feminist resistance. Feminists in the U.S. have a proud history of refusing to accommodate patriarchal dictates around women’s physical appearance, including hair, urging women not to comply with the ongoing patriarchal insistence that our bodies should be all but hairless, while our goal for the hair on our heads should be long, longer and longest, and that we should be willing to spend endless amounts of time and money shaving, waxing and depilitating our bodies and faces, along with grooming, coloring, bending, or otherwise attending to the (preferably long) hair on our heads. As such, feminists have been the rebellious women, uppity, defiant, scary, and none quite so scary as those who spit in the eye of patriarchal beauty standards by shaving their heads, which many, many feminist leaders have done or come close to doing, and particularly lesbian feminists, the penultimate rebels, who really just don’t for one moment care what men think about the way they look.
It’s pretty common for a woman to cut off her head hair and grow out her body hair once she comes into her power, during times of her life which are crossroads for her. Far from indicating mental or psychological instability, to cut off the head hair and grow out the body hair indicate strength and soundness of mind and character, integrity, courage, courage of conviction, qualities patriarchy cannot tolerate or abide in women, and so the reversals, the rush to label any woman who, in her appearance, defies patriarchy, as “mentally ill” or “nearing a breakdown” or “(gasp) trying to get attention.” When in fact, bottom line, such a woman is more likely just very busily fucking everyone’s fascist beauty standards and letting everyone know what they can do with their opinions and judgments of her, which is a beautiful sight to behold for those of us who understand such things.
Same thing with the tattoo. While fine feminists I deeply respect have made completely persuasive arguments against all body modifications, including tattoos, and while, in fact, I agree with their critiques, I still view someone like Britney Spears — forced into the blonde princess/blonde girlie girl/blonde, always blonde, sex symbol role from puberty, basically — getting a tattoo as indicative of her coming into her power, despite the fact that being tattooed has become somewhat trendy and fashionable. Having tattoos is still a no-no in corporate America, even at Starbucks and other theoretically “progressive” companies. Having tattoos will keep a woman from getting good jobs. For women, tattoos are still associated with independence, with opposition to traditional feminine streotypes, with defiance, with doing what women are not supposed to do, like riding Harleys, playing rock guitar, or loving women instead of men. I found it telling that in describing Spears’ most recent tattoo, a pair of lips on her wrist, the tattoo artist described the tattoo she received as “dainty,” as though to head off at the pass any suggestion that Spears was moving away from stereotypical femininity. I doubt Spears would describe her own tattoo as “dainty,” regardless its size. She sure made no attempts to conceal it, in that she asked that it be placed on her wrist in bright red and pink, where it would be highly visible and almost impossible to cover up, ever.
I received this e-mail in my inbox this week from Tei Tua, who had commented to one of my earlier Britney Spears threads.
She seems to be getting more and more strange. Are you still calling what she’s been doing “gutsy”? I continue to believe that she’s showing the effect of
having heaps of money which came her way just as she reached adulthood, so since she became responsible for herself (and now 2 little kids) she’s never had the concerns of a regular person. And at this point, she’s pretty much facing the world alone. Oh, her good friend Paris Hilton, well…
Not to hassle you enormously, but I wonder if you’d say the same things now that you did a few weeks ago. Any chance that you’ll write about Ms Spears again?
“Poor little rich girl” indeed.
I trust this blog post serves as a response, Tei Tua. I also trust that with other readers, your letter serves as evidence of what I wrote above, that men, especially, just don’t get it. Britney Spears is getting free. Like I say, it’s a wonderful sight to behold.
*As an experiment, do some google searches on Britney Spears images (not at work) and make note of the fact that most of what comes up is pornography (which does not actually include Britney Spears). A public which loves to hate her has made her to be pornography.