Wednesday, January 27, 2010


I missed the Octobeard boat. And then, halfway through November, someone told me about Novembeard. I must assume that there is also a Decembeard. And now, The Boston Globe ran this article on Manuary.

I will set about learning the other verbal tricks that grant men permission to embrace the beard Furbruary? MarchStache? -- but that's beside the point. Manuary is upon us, and a Boston publication took note. Huzzah. I will scrape my own blog entry out of the discarded trimmings of this timely clip; that is, I will now proceed to troll through readers' comments.

The most interesting point they raise is the notion that the beard is a traditionally masculine symbol in an effeminizing culture. I have always considered this in terms of the workplace-- men who work in sales tell me that customers find them "intimidating" and "less approachable" if they have a beard. Likewise, many company dress codes require men to save. It is the fourth piece of the three-piece suit.

No doubt, a beard is an external display of male gender, a "look at this testosterone" activity. But masculinity, in the culturally constructed sense, is chock-full of good business practices. "Men" are competitive, calculating, aggressive. Especially in a society that ostensibly subscribes to capitalism, promotes bold leaders, and markets "thinking outside the box," innovation, risk-taking, etc.
So corporate America -- even plain old professional America -- wants its workers to have some "masculine" qualities, but it doesn't want them spelled out on its employees face. Why not? My theory is that it has something to do with the idea of a "civilized" man. A man with an untamed beard is powerful, but shaving that beard is a symbol of control. Freud argued that shaving was a symbolic act of self-castration. I wouldn't go that far (sometimes a cigar is only a cigar, etc.), but I do think that employers, the business world, the Man, if you will, has an interest in constraining raw displays of "masculinity."
I had never considered this gender repression in terms of schools, but some commenters did. "Firsttimeposter" wrote: "It's nice to see boys being allowed to be boys in school. My son's elementary school is like a sorority. Run by women for girls. Any boyish behavior is considered a diagnosable disorder."
I take issue with his [assuming it's a male] definition of a sorority (please, explain the women/girl distinction), but I follow the sentiment. Gender-display away.
But, assuming Firsttimeposter is correct, isn't it a limited victory? Is the freedom to display gender as important as the freedom to perform gender, to "be a boy", without being considered "disordered"?
PJ1 chipped in with a superior comment, by which I mean, one that takes most of these rhetorical questions into account. "The reason that they [Needham High Schoolers] did it [participated in Manuary] may differ slightly from my opinion, but this is a nice reaction to the current feminized school systems that boys are put through. They can demoralize you, but they can't take your beard away...sweet."