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Gender Roles and Bad Hair Days

March 25, 2016 The Wine Time Dad 4 Comments Category : , , , , , , , ,

Throughout my daughter’s toddler years, we often ran into epic hair tangles (she decided to cut it short several months ago and we all had an epiphany). My biracial wife, who tirelessly took on the worst of it, wasn’t always a reliable hairdresser mornings before work. Sometimes she had to leave early, or “on time” as it’s usually known. Being the stay-at-home parent, and general go-to guy for parenting tasks, I was often left with many unholy messes on top of my daughter’s head.

As a white guy, who’s been shaving his preternaturally straight hair for the past eighteen years, the learning curve on hair brushing was steep. I still can’t perform complex arrangements of hair without explicit, onsight instructions from someone with experience and knowledge.

One particular super tangle was the indirect result of a week of sickness, which meant that the kid had been staying home and hanging out in her pjs. Getting cleaned up and dressed for her regular playgroup, or “school” as we called it, fell to the wayside — all schedules were postponed.

While taking a bath the night before returning to the outside world, her hair was a veritable bird’s nest — complete with twigs and live animals. I privately hoped my wife would do something about it before the kid went back to school the next day. She didn’t. She ran out the door with a barely audible apology about needing to hurry.

Whatever. Super “regular dad” has got this.

Sitting my daughter down in her hairbrushing chair, complete with barbershop-like towel, I stared at the the back of her head and thought, you’ve got to be *expletive implied* kidding me. Not one strand of hair was left free and untangled. It was like someone had rubbed their hands into her hair for hours, aiming for a poodle effect.

If only I could shave it off.

I sprayed detangler in, teasing out the tangles and occasionally yanking on her hair, earning an “Ow!” from the toddler. After furiously working on a tiny section for almost 15 minutes (hours in toddler time) and barely making any progress, I started sweating profusely.

I picked up a hat and tried that.

Yes, it looked acceptable to me but society might disapprove. Then I wondered what the other parents at the group would think when she inevitably took off the hat. She was only three. All the kids were 3ish. Did it matter how a 3 year old’s hair looks? Would people balk if I shaved her head? Would CPS come for me for not properly caring for my child’s hair? It’s not like she was filthy or anything.

Thinking back on my own life, I was never one to just follow rules, dress codes, social etiquette, or even stereotypes. I had a Rainbow Bright doll when I was 5. I wore different colored socks to school because, in my mind, they had all matched at some point or another. I even went through a period of going commando.

Pertinent to my predicament with my daughter’s hair, I never brushed my hair in elementary and junior high school (I did wash it, though). It was just hair, right? No one would think ill of me for having perpetually messy hair. What mattered was on inside, right? This was until I heard that several parents, and a few teachers at my school, thought I was a slacker and and pothead — because of the way I looked.

Still, no one really said anything to me and I was allowed to get away with my disheveled appearance for years on end. Most of us boys were. We rarely got criticized for looking un-presentable. Even when teachers did take notice, it was usually a half-hearted admonishing — perfunctory.
Our friends didn’t care. Girls would give us a pass, depending on our social status, or just completely ignore us.

We could openly fart, too, and generally be gross.

As boys, a certain level of grossness was in fact expected, but woe to the girl who came to school looking less than "immaculate". People would most definitely talk about her. People would talk about her even if she came to school looking presentable but that presentation wasn’t the status quo.

Boys didn’t have much of a status quo to live up to when it came to dress and hygiene. From jocks to preps, to goths to wannabe whatevers, jeans and t-shirt have always been acceptable for most casual occasions. You could even wear the same thing a few days in a row, so long as it wasn’t too dirty. we got passes. Girls were disciplined, forced to conform to their gender roles, or ostracized for not fitting into the right stereotype.

Once again, staring down at the back of my daughter’s head, I contemplated the inequity of old-fashioned and current gender roles. A few glaring realities immediately became obvious to me: Neatly brushing out her hair wasn’t gonna happen but neither was it my time to make a stand against sexist ideologies via my daughter’s tangled hair. It was just an epic tangle and compromise was the only way.

I pulled her hair into a sloppy ponytail, then threw some jeans and an ugly t-shirt on her. She and I were both satisfied with the outcome.

Hurray to me — the lazy social justice warrior dad.



  1. Love it! Invest in a "wet brush". That's its name. Revolutionary for any hair type. Seriously. I have 2 1/2 feet of hair and this brush is the shit. No pulling, super fast, and can be used on wet hair. Mind was blown.