Why do we continue to discriminate against men with long hair?

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When I saw this story in the SMH this morning – Long-haired Virgin steward wins back his job – I thought to myself, yes, finally a win for men with long hair. As a man who likes to wear his hair long, I’ve long fought against any form of male hair discrimination. Unfortunately, when I came to read the article, I realised there was a twist to the story. It seems the reason that Mr Taleski won his case against Virgin Airlines was because he felt compelled to wear his hair long because he was suffering from a body-image disorder.

JJ's sleek and practical  ponytail...

JJ’s sleek and practical ponytail…

Now I don’t want to dismiss this as a valid reason for a man wanting or needing to wear his hair long. Body image issues are complex and understandable. But for once, I’d really like to read a story where a man with long hair wins an anti-discrimination case simply because it’s wrong to discriminate against a man who chooses to wear his hair long.

As I’ve written before on KiKi & Tea, all men have long hair. In our natural state, there’s no difference between men and women in this regard. If we all stop having our hair cut, we all end up with long hair. That’s a simple fact. I also understand and acknowledge that there are valid reasons why long hair isn’t allowed in some workplaces, especially for safety reasons. All I’m asking is that when there are rules about how people should wear their hair in the workplace, that they are applied equally to both men and women.

Virgin Airlines has a personal grooming manual called The Look Book. In the section in The Look Book for females it describes a ponytail as ”sleek, practical and shows off healthy hair to its full advantage“. So why can’t this description be applied to men as well? Why one rule for men and a different rule for women? I don’t get it! This is discrimination, pure and simple.

A page from Virgin's The Look Book, which dictates hair length, general grooming and dress code.

A page from Virgin’s The Look Book, which dictates hair length, general grooming and dress code.

In the court case, a Virgin manager said The Look Book “simply reflected how a typical guest expects a male employee to look”. The manager conceded though that the manual ”reflected the most conservative interpretation of what the typical guest would expect”.

Well, I don’t care if this is what the most conservative opinion is. Any form of discrimination based on gender is wrong and should be stopped. If it is appropriate for women to wear long hair in the workplace – even if it must be worn in a sleek and practical ponytail – then it should be equally appropriate for men to do the same. Why the gender-specific difference in your grooming guide, Virgin Airlines? Sounds like discrimination in my book!

Do you think it is unfair for men and women to be treated differently when it comes to personal grooming in the workplace. Or do you think its OK for different rules to be applied to men and women?

Image via The Sydney Morning Herald.

  • Mitchell Osmond

    I’ve worn my hair long (varying lengths of longer-than-typical-male length) for 9 years now and have worked across a number of workplaces in that time. Not once have I ever had a comment regarding it being inappropriate. One of these jobs was in a public sphere, interacting with customers. This workplace did have rules about hair: ‘females should wear their hair tied up’ but nothing for men. I simply followed the rules applicable to women in this regard and I was never questioned about it (I worked at that place prior to growing my hair long).

    I’m proud of my long hair (my mother is even jealous of it), so thank you JJ for continuing to lead the long hair renaissance!

    • http://explore.johnanthonyjames.com/ John James

      Right on brother!

  • Hayley Ashman

    I also don’t get why beards are an issue in some workplaces. If men didn’t shave they would grow facial hair. It’s natural.

  • Melissa Savage

    This a particular kind of discrimination where men get punished for doing traditionally feminine things way more than women get punished for doing traditionally masculine things. It’s got to do with things being associated with the feminine being seen as bad. I think it’s femmephobia (http://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/femmephobia-girls-are-gross-writ-large/) and it’s ridiculous.

    • http://explore.johnanthonyjames.com/ John James

      Exactly! (Thanks for the link)

  • http://tamsinhowse.com/blog Tamsin Howse

    I can see the need for such tight restrictions on appearance for practical reasons (no beards in food production unless covered, no long hair to grab for police officers, etc) but a lot of our deems “acceptable” and “unacceptable” appearance standards are quite bizarre constructs when you think about it. Why a suit? Why is denim less professional than cotton? Why are some skirts appropriate for offices, and some are deemed “too casual”?

    It’s the same problem I had with maths in high school (“I know 2 + 2 = 4 but WHY?!”)

  • Jess88

    I do think its unfair that theres a different set of personal grooming rules for each gender in the workplace, and I feel its sad the gentleman in this story had to claim a medical reason for having long hair. The only exception is the obvious – health and safety.
    A sleek, tidy ponytail can look professional on any gender in my opinion, just as a greasy, unruly, split-ended mess can look unprofessional.
    I’m a bit partial to men with longer, healthy looking hair and you’re rocking a great ponytail there JJ!

    • http://explore.johnanthonyjames.com/ John James

      Thank you! :)

  • Maree Talidu

    It’s not fair. Would I care if the male flight attendant serving me had a neat, clean ponytail? No. I wouldn’t look twice. Hair should only be an issue in industries that involve safety or hygiene and even then, hygiene can be dealt with by wearing hair nets etc. I think t’s a dodgy double standard. Also- my dad has had a beard my whole life. My mum has never seen him without one. We only have black and white photos to prove there was a time B.B (before beard). I don’t see how facial hair (such as in the look book above) can be an issue. Really?

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  • http://26yearsandcounting.wordpress.com Vanessa Smith

    I’m glad he won his case, but I also agree that you shouldn’t need to have a disorder of any kind to win. Obviously we don’t know his case so I’m not commenting on his personal situation, but the general circumstance.

    I remember doing an assignment in my uni days about men with long hair – until the 60s when hippies ‘took over’ it was acceptable for conservative men to have long hair and was viewed as a sign of wisdom.

    I feel discriminated against often at job interviews as I don’t wear makeup. I’ve never liked the stuff and resented as a teenager being pressured to wear it to work. So I simply don’t wear it at all these days.

    I can’t say I’ve ever faced discrimination that would be note-worthy because of this but it is clear some interviewing managers notice it, even if nothing is said. It was implied that it was a factor when I got fired from a job once.

    In all honesty, I make a point of avoiding conservative workplaces if I can. Not only for dress standards but because I know they won’t suit me in other ways if they have such dress standards.

  • O T

    I went for a job interview yesterday, it went really well up until the point they expressed the need for me to remove my 3 piercings (which I’m fine with as they can be put back in at the end of the day) and cut my hair short. I wore my hair in a neat and tidy bun, as I would do everyday had I got the job but this wasn’t acceptable.

    I’m a software programmer so typically not client-facing role, yet they still had a problem with my hair. I argued the usual ‘this is sexist’ argument but it didn’t help.

    In all fairness, the interviewer expressed that they didn’t have a problem with it, but the business as whole did.

    Maybe I’m being an idiot refusing an amazing job opportunity for the sake of my hair length, but this IS discrimination and I personally won’t bow down to it.

  • James

    My mother was diagnosed with a very aggressive cancer and began losing her hair when I was a teenager. As a man, I’ve gotten into the practice of growing it long enough to donate it to Locks of Love. I believe it’s a good cause, and I think it’s unfair to the people who benefit from this program to exclude men who want to have good jobs because they are forced to cut their hair.

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  • Jenny

    I find this article really great because it looks at social constructions, and the idea that men are supposed to have short hair and girls are supposed to have long hair. This guy that I really like had a ponytail and for some reason he cut his hair really short. I almost didn’t recognize him. The first thing you notice about a person is their hair: blonde, red head, curly, short, Mohawk, etc. It was his defining look, it gave him his edge, he was the guy with the ponytail and the leather jacket and now he just looks like any other guy. It takes quite a long time to grow your hair long and it is a conscious decision for a guy. For them to just cut it changes them. They lose a part of their identity. And I feel that if it was for work, or to blend in with everyone in university or college or to look more professional, then that still isn’t right because you are conforming to society. :(

  • IcarianX .

    It really depends on the type of position and environment, In academia and research, generally nobody cares of a man has long hair or a beard, it’s irrelevant, the persons abilitiy, work ethic and intelligence is what counts. In the corporate environment, we’re still stuck with 19th and 20th century conservative male values. Many women are also opposed to men having long hair and/or beards, despite it being a natural and often very nice looking thing, and their ability to have long or short hair. Unfortunately, an employer can reject us and they don’t have to tell us the real reason. I hope when the conservative old guard die off, we’ll have more liberal people in charge, but in all likelihood, there’s another generaation of conservative people ready to take over the corporate world. It’s a shame, personally I think i, and many other men look much better with longer hair and beards. I’m not religious, but conervative people worship images of Jesus with long hair and a beard, so why discriminate against ordinary men from presenting themselves similarly?

  • daTruth13

    Discrimination against men with long hair is a global social issue. In modern Western and Eastern culture short hair is the proper “business/work” look. Long hair is typically associated with laziness, dirtiness, homelessness, and counter cultural elements of society. Male hippies in the 1960s wore long hair as a statement against the norms of their parents and “the establishment,” just like “flapper girls” in the 1920s chopped off their hair to do the same. Until “the establishment” and the institutions of our society change their negative perceptions regarding men with long hair, the discrimination will continue. As for me, my only care is that I don’t have to hold my breath when I’m working around you. That goes for both sexes.

  • Dominic Psy

    I don’t think different rules are acceptable, but changing social perceptions is like turning the Titanic (or like turning it with wind alone). Should we assume a short-haired woman is a lesbian? Of course not, just as we shouldn’t assume a long-haired man is a rebel, druggie, or bad guy. There are reasons though why these perceptions might jump into people’s minds and they often get reinforced through certain media. There are so many reasons that we all discriminate against others and many of these are subtle and below the surface. I imagine that’s often the case with men’s long hair, though it is interesting to see (as with the post below) that sometimes it’s actually in-your-face discrimination.