[caption id="" align="alignright" width="180" caption="Image by Getty Images North America via @daylife"][/caption]
Hair. It's so weighty, so important, so central to our presentation of self in the modern world. For years I have dyed mine radically different colors as a sort of social experiment- trying to disrupt the notion that anyone has "naturally" bright blond hair by dying it dark brown the next time, or red, or strawberry blond. What I've learned is that if my hair is blonder than "dark blond" people treat me differently- as if I'm stupid or a child. Men in hardware stores are much more likely to help me. Men on the street are much more likely to make comments. If I'm a brunette or a dark red, people act as if I'm smart. People in hardware stores ask me for help. A dark blond or light brown make me nearly invisible- neither sexy nor smart- just a blank slate which I must fill out with sartorial signifiers and actions.
I like to think that my unwillingness to commit to the central lie of American femininity- that we "naturally" look this way- without the aid of cosmetics, hair dye, razors, tweezers, and increasingly Botox- marks me as a heretic (or, for those of you who enjoy a bad pun, hairetic).
That's why the recent political brouhaha over Barbara Boxer's hair is so interesting- because hair is a weighty subject, full of social rules, class status, race, gender embodiment, and sexual desires. The political hairball started when Senator Boxer's GOP opponent, Carly Fiorina, got caught on an open mic saying
Ms. Fiorina has her own issues with hair as the result of chemotherapy. She has talked about her hair publicly as something she "misses" now that it is cropped close to her head. Barbara Boxer, to my knowledge, has made no public statements regarding her hair.
But let's take a close look as these women and their hair and think about what social signifiers are twisted into it.
Ms. Fiorina is the former Chief Executive of Hewlett Packard and her hair says as much. It's not just short (obviously she lost it during the chemo), but it's also kinda butch (there are ways to cut short hair to signify "femininity" if one wants or needs to). There's a no nonsense feel about it, especially because it is also undyed. Honestly, I like Ms. Fiorina's hair. Like President Obama's closely shaved locks, her hair says "really, I just have way more on my mind than my hair." It also signifies an unwillingness to look "younger" or "softer" because she's a woman.
Senator Boxer's, by contrast, is a veritable rats nest of white femininity. It's dyed blond, to signify "youth" and "innocence." It's clearly marked as feminine, but also feminized- not the practical hairdo of the hardworking, but the sort of hair that gets in the way, has to be tied back, slows one down.
Don't get me wrong- my hair at the moment is more like Senator Boxer's than Ms. Fiorino's. It's longish and kinda girly and is always in my way. And I far prefer Senator Boxer's politics and policies to Ms. Fiorinio's- who quite honestly scares me a little. But Senator Boxer 's hair says "young girl" when in fact she's one of the most accomplished politicians of our time. It's time to lose the little girl blond, the come-hither messiness, and show that a woman in charge need not try to look as if she's not.
[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="240" caption="Image by raveller via Flickr"][/caption]
Is there a breaking point for hypocrisy? Some point at which all these self-righteous, God-fearing, sinner-hating types have one illicit affair too many? One homosexual fling too many? One fall from grace too many so that suddenly all these Americans who really think politicians should help regulate morality rise up and say enough?
God, I hope so.
Maybe the breaking point will be Mark Souder, Indiana Republican Congressman and the most recent "upright" politician to get outed as a hypocritical bastard. Despite being a strong defender of the "traditional marriage," Souder was getting a little on the side with a staffer (unless what he meant by traditional was polygamy- which is, of course, the real traditional form of marriage?).
According to Souder's resignation statement, we should not use his own hypocrisy to judge whether or not politicians ought to use their religion to regulate our morality. Indeed,
THE IDEAS WE ADVOCATE ARE STILL JUST AND RIGHT.AMERICA WILL SURVIVE AND THRIVE WHEN ANCHORED IN THOSE VALUES.HUMAN BEINGS, LIKE ME, WILL FAIL, BUT OUR CAUSE IS GREATER THAN INDIVIDUALS.IT IS BASED UPON ETERNAL TRUTHS.BY STEPPING ASIDE, MY MISTAKE CANNOT BE USED AS A POLITICAL FOOTBALL IN A PARTISAN ATTEMPT TO UNDERMINE THE CAUSE FOR WHICH I HAVE LABORED ALL MY ADULT LIFE." (AN: capitalized by Souder)
I hate to differ with someone as full of the Holy Spirit (or is that Holy Shit?) as Souder, and verily I do respect that the man still has the energy and sex drive to fuck around on his wife at the age of 59, BUT his case can and should be used as a political football. Why should any of us allow the state to regulate our morality, tell us what sort of relationships we must have in order to gain full civil rights, and generally make the majority of us Americans (who are not married) feel as though the only righteous life is a married one? Even more to the point, why should we allow our lives to be regulated by a string of self-righteous and pompous men who are themselves completely unwilling to abide by the rules they set for the rest of us?
Souder's sham family values are just the latest in a long series of hypocrites wagging their fingers at the rest of us. Just a couple of weeks ago, we had the wonderful morality tale of George Rekers, homophobe extraordinaire and co-founder of the Family Research Council. Despite developing therapies to "cure" homosexuality, Rekers couldn't cure himself of homoerotic longings and got caught with a male prostitute on a recent vacation.
The ensuing scandal led Rekers to pronounce that he is not gay. No, he's not, but he is a hypocritical son of a bitch who would happily make gay peoples' lives miserable in order to make his own homoerotic practices invisible. For instance, Rekers has spent much of his life trying to make sure gay couples cannot adopt. Or, as Frank Rich pointed out in a recent column about Rekers,
For all the farcical shenanigans they can generate, they do inflict real casualties — both at the micro level, on the lives of ordinary people, and at the national level...
Rich is onto something here. The culture wars are damn amusing- a farce played out on a national scale, full of groans and knee-slapping guffaws. And the culture wars also do real life damage. Perhaps the biggest damage done by all of this is what I will call "Daddy Damage."
Daddy Damage is what happens when we the People elect politicians who look and act like "Daddy"- think white men in suits with a tendency to lecture us for not living up to their expectations. Luce Irigaray, a post-structural feminist, would call this willingness to submit to Daddy the result of living in a symbolic system that always rewards those who can act as Daddy/possess the Phallus. This Phallogocentric system makes it impossible to exercise power without being Daddy/or like Daddy.
At a level of "culture," it means we let these pompous men (and women) run our country and our lives in terms of sex laws, marriage policies, and all matters related to our hearts and minds. But at another level, the level of the economy, it means we let people who can do Daddy talk- who look like they know what they're talking about- be in charge. Watch the Gulf Oil disaster hearings and you get a sense that all these guys have been bullshitting from day one- telling us that "It will all be fine" and knowing damn well that there was a good possibility it wouldn't be. Watch the hearings around bank regulation and you get the same sinking feeling that the people in charge have NO IDEA WHAT THEY'RE DOING. And that's a scary feeling. If there's no Daddy, no one to lead us and mold us, who will tell us what to do?
But perhaps the hypocrisy on display at the cultural level and the hypocrisy on display at the economic level (greed is good, we deserve our salaries, what can go wrong?) will be a breaking point for Americans. Perhaps it's just too much hypocrisy condensed into CEO bonuses, broken oil pipes, mining disasters, homoerotic homophobes, cheating family values politicians, and a general sense that it's time to stop waiting for Daddy to tell us what to do and take power into our own hands.
A Haitian court has now officially charged the ten (white, Christian) Americans who tried to take 33 Haitian children to the Dominican Republic last week with child abduction. The group of Christian missionaries from Idaho say they were just trying to help orphans. Of course, the orphans in question all seem to have had parents and the parents were told their children were being taken to a school to be educated. Ah, the twists and turns of the White Man's Burden.
When Rudyard Kipling wrote the poem, "The White Man's Burden" in 1899 it was in response to the American colonial invasion of the Phillippines after the Spanish American War.
Take up the White Man's burden...Send forth the best ye breed...Your new-caught, sullen peoples,Half-devil and half-child...To veil the threat of terror Take up the White Man's burden- The savage wars of peace--Fill full the mouth of Famine And bid the sickness cease; silent, sullen peoples...Shall weigh your gods and you.
Kipling seems to have truly believed in the White Man's burden, as do the members of the Idaho group who came to save the children from their "half devil, half child" ways. Of course, the Imperialism of America and England has always been layered with the Imperialism of a militant and nationalist Christian Evangelical movement.
The leaders of the American group, New Life Children's Refuge, Laura Silsby and Charisa Coulter, are members of Central Valley Baptist church in Idaho. Atlhough New Life Children's Refuge never quite got their website up and running, the Central Valley Baptist church website as well as other Christian websites give some insight into what the hell these white people were doing taking children out Haiti and lying to their parents about the fact that they were going to be adopted to American "Christian" families.
New Life Children’s Refuge is a non‐profit Christian ministry dedicated to rescuing, loving and caring for orphaned, abandoned and impoverished Haitian and Dominican children, demonstrating God’s love and helping each child find healing, hope, joy and new life in Christ. We will strive to also equip each child with a solid education and vocational skills as well as opportunities for adoption into a loving Christian family.
Note that it says "impoverished" children as well as orphaned and abandoned children. Already the plot thickens. Apparently poverty in and of itself is reason to "save" these children by placing them into a "Christian family."
From the Church website, we learn that it is a Christian obligation to go forth in the world and convert others to their Evangelical beliefs.
It is the duty and privilege of every follower of Christ and of every church of the Lord Jesus Christ to endeavor to make disciples of all nations. The Lord Jesus Christ has commanded the preaching of the gospel to all nations. It is the duty of every child of God to seek constantly to win the lost to Christ by verbal witness undergirded by a Christian lifestyle, and by other methods in harmony with the gospel of Christ.
I’m not sure whether kidnapping is in harmony with the gospel of Christ, but according to the church’s website, a family is clearly defined as the marriage between one man and one woman with children (adoptive or biological) and a wife who willingly submits to her husband as leader, protector, and teacher.
Ah, the white man’s burden, being carried out by white men and women in Haiti. Over a century after the birth of the American Empire, as Kipling warned, the burden of whiteness continues to weigh on us all.