Stacy Fearnall had been working as a waitress for Nathaniel’s Restaurant for two years when she was sent home for arriving at work with a shaved head, and refusing to wear a wig. According to the Niagara Falls Review, Nathaniel’s owner and chef Dan Hilliard defended his decision, saying the restaurant has certain standards. He prohibits male staff from wearing earrings and requires employees keep their hair at a reasonable length. Fearnall is still on the payroll and she can return to work once she grows her hair back, he said, adding she was offered the summer off to spend time with her kids. Fearnall had shaved her head to raise money for the charity Cops for Cancer. For shaving her head Stacey earned $2,700. Hillard claims that he made it clear to Fearnall in advance that the restaurant would not be pleased with her if she shaved her head.
According to the Toronto Star, Fearnall agrees that her, “employers had previously “made it very clear” that they had concerns about the haircut plan, but said that they had never explicitly told her that she could not have it done.
“Even when I asked them point blank if I would still have a job if I had my head shaved, they didn’t give me a direct answer, so I thought it was okay,” she added.
While part of this issue involves the right of an employer to dictate appearance standards to an employee, the larger question is why are bald women unacceptable. Hair is significant in the social discourse of femininity. In some cultures it must be covered at all times, as it is considered a womans pride, and in some it must be grown to very long lengths, to represent the difference between masculine and feminine roles. When we look at the women from the Texas sect of FLDS, physically what they all had in common was long hair. Styles have changed over the centuries, but it has never been socially acceptable for a woman to be bald. It is always viewed as something that is counter culture, or somehow a radical denial of what constitutes femininity. We have much invested in maintaining gender binaries as it helps to support a patriarchal power structure. If women are allowed to take on the physical characteristics that have been assigned to men, they might then decide that they want male authority as well.
Hillard was taught a harsh lesson by her employer. One must always perform their gender, or there are penalties to be paid. Don’t want to play by the male rules, then back into the kitchen for you. For some women the consequences of not correctly identifying and performing can be quite sever, for example the case in which songwriter Tanya Wright was referred to as an “it”, threatened, and escorted out of a Beverly Hills hotel, simply because to the male gaze she didn’t present as female. Another example is the murder of Sakia Gunn as reported at Ebony Intuition. The oppressor must always be able to quickly identify the oppressed. You see the body is encoded with behavioral standards that we have normalized. Each time we refuse to perform any aspect of our gender, as women we are challenging male hegemony. That is the heart of this issue. Who decides what roles are assigned to each gender, and what value is assigned to these roles? We claim in Western society to privilege the individual, but these examples prove that individuality is not a sacrosanct concept. As De Beauvoir theorized, “one is not born a woman but comes one.” It is in the becoming that agency and the physical autonomy of the body are squashed in the name of social good, as though women do not make up a significant number in society. Whether or not we shave our heads, legs or pubis the female body in a male hierarchal system is meant for male pleasure. This is why shaving of a female head is considered a radical act, men have not declared it sexually attractive. Though it cost Stacy Fearnall economically what she did was assert the privilege of physical agency. For women like Sakia Gunn “non conformity” would cost her, her life. What seems like a simple case of following the instructions of an employer has larger implications in a world where the ultimate punishment – death, is often meted out for deciding that the category ‘woman’ is multi-dimensional and autonomous.