I have had it rather strongly ingrained in me in college that while a person’s sex is biological, gender happens to be a social construct. So there is nothing inherently masculine or feminine about a behavior, a dress color or anything. But socialization plays a role in everybody’s behavior and it is sometimes a constant struggle to de-socialize myself from these expectations.
I would like to recount a recent experience of defying these expected gender roles. I have very short hair, I sport what is conventionally called a ‘boy cut’. And I have had lots of problems finding a good place to have it cut.
Ideally, of course I should be going to a men’s salon and getting it done, because they have the best experience with this. But something stopped me. In Bangalore, my home town, I knew a ladies’ parlour who did a fantastic boy cut and though she was a bit expensive, I chose to go to her. But in Ahmedabad, I could not find such a place. The ladies’ parlours I went to either gave me very bad boy cuts or told me outright that they couldnt cut my hair since they would do a bad job of it. So I was forced to go to one of those high end hair salons.
Now high end salons are all very nice, if you like to style your hair and all that. But if you just want someone to regularly trim your hair and keep it neat and cant be bothered with all the styling tips they give you, then it is fairly pointless. And any tambrahm (or any south indian for that matter) will know that you are practically ‘untouchable’ after returning from a haircut (no matter how fancy your parlour), and therefore need to go and have a bath and wash your hair right after returning. So whatever fancy style they give you lasts for about 10 minutes only.
Despite all this, I went to the fancy salon, because I somehow couldnt bring myself to go to a men’s salon. I had gone once, and although the place advertised itself as unisex, its clientale was almost fully male. Since someone kind of made fun of me for going there, I got conscious and stopped.
But finally when the fancy salon started charging 500 rupees for cutting my hair, I decided enough was enough. That was simply a waste of money for someone like me, who does not like to invest too much time in acheiving a perfect hair style. So I decided to go back to the supposedly unisex salon.
Now, in the interim, they had removed the term unisex from the name board. It was now simply hair salon. Of course, it did not explicity say men’s hair salon, but I guess the message was clear. I hesitated right outside the door. Then I braved myself and pushed it inside.
I see lots of men there. I ask, do you also cut for women. One guy stares at me and says no. I say, I need a boy cut. Do you have a problem if I am a girl. Can’t you cut. He still says no. But there is another guy in the background. Perhaps the owner. He sees potential in the situation. He says, mam, actually my father can cut your hair. Then, he immediately says, but he is not around. I am getting a bit impatient. Is he likely to be around, I ask. Yes, but it may take 10 minutes, he says. He clearly he thinks I am not willing to wait for that 10 minutes. I look around. Actually, no one is staring at me any longer. They are all busy with their own work. I am still very conscious, and feel people are judging me. But I want to get this done. Can you find out if he is really going to be here in 10 minutes. Then I will wait. He calls. Yep, dad will come in 10 minutes.
So I wait. Again I am conscious. Though, as I said, beyond the initial curiosity, no one is openly staring at me. It is a salon, I am there for a hair cut, so actually no one cares. It is just that I expect that people will stare or snigger that I am feeling all perturbed.
The daddy came in less than 10 minutes. He gave me a pretty good haircut and also gave me some general styling tips. And he told me to come to them regularly for a haircut.
They charged me a slight premium for the cut. They charge 60 bucks to my husband and my daughter, but for me it was 100 bucks. According to my husband, I should have argued with them over the premium. But I didnt. I paid the money and got out. And I feel happy I have found a good place for a haircut in future also.