Time lost to blow-dries makes hair a feminist issue
The world’s most successful business women have impeccable hairdos
Everyone has commented on how smart the new leader of General Motors, Mary Barra, is and admired her delightful plain talk in saying “no more crappy cars”. But no one has yet praised her hair. Photograph: Earl Wilson/The New York Times
Last week I discovered that I am a feminist, after all. Until then I had thought that women who did professional jobs were a privileged group who should stop complaining. But now I’ve had a slight rethink. What brought this on was neither hard evidence nor personal experience, but something entirely shallow: a 62-second advertisement for Pantene shampoo.
The new ad is set in a modern office in which we see men and women doing the same things, only with different labels attached to them. So the man is a “boss”. The woman is “bossy”. The man who works late is “dedicated”. The woman is “selfish”.
Written down, this sounds crass. But when you watch it – which you must do, if you have not done so already – you will find yourself singing along to “Mad World” and thinking: yes, double standards still exist. And yes, they still matter.
The ad was made for the Philippines, and might have stayed there had it not been noticed by Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, who declared it to be a top-notch example of “leaning in”.
Now it has gone viral and I keep watching it over and over again, forcing my male colleagues to watch it too. But as I saw it for the fifth time, I stopped liking it quite so much. It is feminist – which is good – but it is also hairist – which is less so. All the women have lovely, luscious hair that they toss about – thus discriminating against those of us working women who have no lustrous locks to toss.
You could say that as it is pushing shampoo, it wouldn’t do to show people with visible roots and fringes that stick up. But then I thought: as Dove used oldish and largish women in its “Real Beauty” campaign, why can’t Pantene use real women with real (ie problem) hair?
Only then I thought about the world’s most successful business women. They don’t have problem hair, or, if they do, they have found a solution to it. Take the latest corporate female superstar: the 51-year-old engineer from Detroit who last week became the first woman to lead a car company. In her photos, Mary Barra has long, shiny, glossy hair falling prettily to her shoulders. Everyone has commented on how smart the new leader of General Motors is, and admired her delightful plain talk in saying “no more crappy cars”. But no one has yet praised her hair.