We’re getting a little bit political in this blog today – but never fear, reader, it does all relate to school leaders.
Some of you might have seen the recent reporting and public commentary surrounding an article about the estimated cost of American politician Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s (AOC) haircut, which a writer estimated to be around $300 (with a tip included). This number didn’t surprise me in the slightest, nor (I imagine) would it have surprised many women. If you aren’t familiar with the story, you can read more about this here, here, and here.
The article written about AOC’s haircut was written with a point of comparison included, which contrasted AOC’s hair with a prominent American male politician who would spend $20 on his own haircut – this is comparing apples and oranges at best.
The cost of looking ‘right’ is something we’ve talked about in the past and it’s something that keeps coming up as being a really significant issue for women leaders – clearly, regardless of their field.
This is also not the first time AOC has been put under intense scrutiny for her style – she’s a young, powerful, progressive politician who has certainly ruffled a few feathers in the political landscape. Indeed, her political achievements are incredible – she is the youngest woman ever elected to congress and as a leader, she has become one of the faces of the progressive political movement in the United States (and watched closely by people worldwide).
There are ongoing comments from the media, the public, and other politicians about her clothing and appearance. Previous efforts to stir up outrage have included complaints about a specific blazer of hers, as well as a cover story where she wore clothing from the magazine’s stylist (as would happen in the majority of cover stories).
Attacks often include the notion that she is supposed to be progressive and fighting for progressive causes, which she does while still meeting the standards of appearance that she’s held to. (Examples also abound of other political women being attacked and criticised for not meeting these standards as much as for meeting them.)
Ocasio-Cortez is deliberate about her wardrobe and styling choices, and uses her clothing to convey parts of her identity, and to convey messages. For example, she comments on why she wears what she wears or how her hair is styled when it’s interwoven with meaning.
So why does this matter for school leaders?
The good thing to come out of this is that it has really sparked a more open conversation about the standards of appearance, wardrobe, and dress that women leaders are held to. It has also reinforced the inequity faced by women in these positions in terms of financial cost and the time it takes – I myself am often overdue for a haircut because I can’t find 4 hours to sit in the chair at once. Some great articles have been written that highlight these issues, and they do reflect comments from our participants as well that spoke to the frustration they felt in relation to these issues, and the ways women are held to certain expectations about their appearance (and the associated financial implications of those expectations).
Finally, another issue has been addressed in some of these ongoing articles, when the cost of hair and beauty treatments are criticised (let’s not forget that these are highly feminised professions). Hairdressers are trained and highly skilled professionals and, as I have already mentioned, I’m rarely in the chair for less than 4 hours when I have to get my hair done. They deserve to be paid fairly for their work.
I’ve been really pleased to see the articles that are arguing for recognition of this as an important part of the cost of living – we need to shift the conversation away from these costs, towards a discussion about WHY people feel the need to meet these costs if they don’t actually want to. The implicit and explicit expectations to have the RIGHT hair, to look RIGHT, continue to have financial implications for women.
Do you think this is comparable (perhaps not quite on the same public scale!) for women leaders in education? We’d love to hear your thoughts.