I’ve been wondering lately if grey hair is a feminist issue. In Caitlin Moran (my go-to feminist)’s book How to be a Woman, her litmus test for deciding if something is sexist is as follows: “You can tell whether some misogynistic societal pressure is being exerted on women by calmly enquiring, ‘And are the men doing this, as well?’ If they aren’t, chances are you’re dealing with what we strident feminists refer to as ‘some total fucking bullshit’.”
So. Are ‘the men’ doing this? By ‘this’, I mean fretting about whether they should continue to dye over their grey hair. I mean feeling like they have to dye over their grey hair in the first place. I mean worrying daily about their root length and how grey it looks on any given day, and whether people are staring at them in the street and judging them about letting their beauty regime slide. I mean feeling like they’ve let the side down because they’re flying in the face of social convention. I mean having to seek validation from their friends, or via a blog [ahem] or on a forum that they are, in fact, doing the right thing and don’t look like a sack of shit. I mean having people judge them to their face about their decision to simply refuse to stop putting chemicals on their head in order to cover up a perfectly natural and normal change in their hair colour.
Some men clearly are, otherwise Just for Men wouldn’t be a thing. However, given that Just for Men is the only hair dye for men that I can name (and I bet you can’t name any others either), whereas I could name approximately 15 hair dyes aimed at women, I’d say we have a little bit of a problem here. There are no women in my life that are my age that have grey hair (apart from my readers, obvs), but plenty of men that do. A generation up, my dad is grey, my boss is grey, my uncle is grey, my friend’s fathers are grey. Their female counterparts, in general, are not. Let’s look at some famous couples. Prince William and Kate Middleton: he’s grey and bald, but when she went out sporting grey hair not so long ago the press freaked out. David and Victoria Beckham: he’s grey, she’s not. George and Amal Clooney: he’s grey, she’s not. Brangelina: he’s grey, she’s not. Meryl Streep and Don Gummer: he’s grey, she’s not. You get the idea. Of course, most of the women that I have mentioned are fairly young and may not have any grey hair at all, but statistically they would at least have some, as the average age for going grey is 33. Of course there are plenty of women of advanced years that are grey – Helen Mirren, Judi Dench, Mary Beard, The Queen. But if you try to find any women under the age of about 60 in the public eye who are naturally grey, things get trickier. We all know why this is. It’s because women are constantly scrutinised for their looks, and judged if they show any signs of ageing. It’s why the anti-ageing business is so big, and why hair dye companies are raking in millions every year. Women are injecting poison into their faces and going under the knife just to delay the inevitable. As Sali Hughes points out in her recent column on The Pool, women are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. I’m in no way criticising women who cover up their grey for whatever reason, but it does point to a level of inequality that I’m not comfortable with.
I’ve interviewed several women for this blog, and one of the questions that I ask them is what they think going grey means to women vs. men. Invariably, the word distinguished is used. Men are distinguished when they go grey, and get bestowed with the term ‘silver fox’. It lends them gravitas and enhances their attractiveness. Not so for women. We are bombarded with adverts daily telling us to cover up our grey hair, and if we don’t subscribe to this we’re made to feel like we’re letting ourselves go. To steal a few quotes from Sherry, an early interviewee and all-round erudite and fabulous woman:
‘Men are distinguished when they turn grey and for the most part don’t let the grey get them down by stressing about their appearance, as women often do. It seems to be more acceptable for men to grey and let it show. Sadly, women go grey and they freak out. Letting one’s grey hair grow out is a big decision for women. It completely affects our identity! Our society has put so much pressure on women to stay young forever with hair dye, make-up, Botox, face lifts, breast implants, moisturizers and on and on….It seems more and more women are gaining the confidence needed to step out from society’s norm and break the chains of bondage that hold them down from letting their authentic selves shine through and of these ways is through their silver locks! It’s exciting to see this movement among women. Gray is now the new blonde! I love it! Becoming 100% natural has been freeing and liberating and I hope my journey can be used to inspire and encourage other women!’
I couldn’t have put it better myself.