Sunday, February 21, 2010

Hair

This picture from the visit of an Argentinean writer to our campus appeared at the blog of a fellow blogger and colleague Kola. The woman with the crazy hair who is standing with her back to the camera is the author of this blog.

Since the picture is so readily available, I wanted to take this opportunity to explain once and for all why my hair is so crazy and what is the ideological message behind it. Once, students asked me why I don't do anything to control my hair, and my explanation even inspired one of the students to dedicate his final essay to the exploration of the ideological dimensions of hair. A good teacher can turn anything into an educational opportunity. And a good blogger sees everything as an opportunity to write a post. :-)

As I mentioned before, I grew up in the Soviet Union. The Soviet system had a complex and far-reaching network of measures aimed at breaking the will and the individuality of every citizen so that they would be compliant and malleable from the earliest moments in their lives. Female hair was seen as ideologically dangerous. There is, of course, a long history of imagining long and unruly female hair as symbolic of unbridled and uncontrollable sexuality. The more repressive a religion is, the more it strives to mess with female hair. The Soviet system of repression was especially dedicated to destroying female sexuality as one of the most dangerous forces to any totalitarian, repressive, patriarchal regime. (Maybe I'll write a post about that some time if people are interested.)

When I went to school, I discovered that hair was the main site of a battle between female students and school authorities for the control over our bodies and our self-expression. We were constantly berated for letting our hair loose (in the literal sense that in the minds of the Soviet people would eventually lead us to do it metaphorically). We were endlessly told to braid our hair, put it in a pony-tail, or controlled in some way.

Since then, I practice faithfully my freedom to have my hair in as wild a state as it can get on its own (and you should see it when the weather is wet and rainy). It's my own way of saying that I have the exclusive and inalienable right to do whatever I see fit with my own body and everybody else should just accept it.

23 comments:

Anonymous said...

I have developed such a liking to your anecdotes on your early life in the Soviet Union. It is indeed interesting to know the ideology behind female hair.
I always have my hair braided (by choice) - different expressions of the same perspective I guess.

Clarissa said...

Thank you! I'm happy that you find these stories relevant. This gives me an excuse to continue them. :-)

Anonymous said...

I love your hair.

What is the difference between the control of bodies in the Soviet Union and capitalist countries? Violence over and repression of bodies (especially female bodies) always stroke me as a phenomenon that cannot be circunscribed to a certain political regime.

And that picture is perfect for the university website, or your department website!

Ol.

Clarissa said...

Thank you, my friend!

Your question can be rephrased as: is there a difference between the Soviet totalitarianism and the US totalitarianism and do these totalitarian systems repress bodies differently?

V said...

My answer would be that for all those years, while SU authorities were practicing more or less direct and brutal suppression of things not fitting the mainstream ideology (in that sense oppressing the hair is a second-order consequence - authorities repressed sex and then sex-deprived middle-aged teachers repressed young girls), the US authorities practiced brainwashing and propaganda and "political technologies".

Thus, although many things are formally allowed in the US, it is quite easy to manipulate the population and achieve the same results which were achieved in SU. That's what happened with the war: first one creates the pseudo-patriotic hysteria, then TV stations get afraid to voice any anti-government opinions because that may result in losing advertisement money. Which they will lose if patriotically brainwashed population refuses to watch them for their lack of patriotism. Formally, nobody is oppressed by the government. But anti-government stuff is shown only at 1 AM on the channel nobody is watching.

Clarissa said...

V.: I totally recommend Chris Hedges's books to you (if you haven't read him yet). He makes a very similar (and brilliant) analysis of direct oppression as opposed to the indirect methods of propaganda seen in the US. The results are largely the same but in the US model people never feel oppressed.

Kola Tubosun said...

I think your hair looks great in this picture, and I like your perspective about the Soviet Union too. I will link this post as an addendum to my "Good hair" post. This discussion is bound to be a very robust one.

Clarissa said...

Are you saying it only looks good in the picture? And not in real life??

I'm kidding, Kola. :-)

Thank you for the compliment and let's keep discussing this important topic.

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Clarissa said...

Приятно вас здесь видеть, Сережа.

А я то все думаю, что это народ повалил в мой блог из русскоязычного пространства. :-) :-)

V said...

Guys, do not pay attention... Or do you want the person in question to be summoned into your blog? :) :)
Of course, if Douthat does not provide enough entertainment any more - it is a different story...

Clarissa said...

Never fear, I can erase all the trolling comments completely. :-)

Kola Tubosun said...

LOL. You know I like your hair whether with its "crazy" look in a photograph or in its flowing state all around the department. :)

Clarissa said...

Thank you, Kola. In this case, I'll keep floating it all over campus. :-)

Anonymous said...

damn mama youre thick in all the right places

Joy-Mari Cloete said...

Your hair rocks, Clarissa!

Clarissa said...

Thank you, Joy-Mari!!

Kola Tubosun said...

I don't know why, but I love this picture. :)

Clarissa said...

I love the pciture too but the Russians have gone into such fits over it that I'm sorry I even posted it. :-)

Kola Tubosun said...

What is their problem? :(

Clarissa said...

They are Russians? :-)

They think the hair is ugly and I'm fat. :-) There have been endless discussions about it amongst them. :-) :-)

Kola Tubosun said...

I think they're just trying to get on your nerves. They should be resigned to the collapse of the Soviet Union already :P