Approximately 6 months ago I took on a lot of responsibilities and minimized my social outreach. For several months prior I would slick my hair back into a ponytail everyday because spending 30 minutes to make the “natural” curls behave was too much trouble. I quickly decided it was time for a change, and cut off my shoulder-length hair. During this project I decided to look at how media portrays other woman with short hair. In my research I discovered that women with short hair in action films are masculine, victims, or sexual deviants. The three films that I watched were V for Vendetta, Catwoman (2004), and Mad Max: Road.
The first film I watched was V for Vendetta. I chose this film for my research because when it came out in there was a lot of news about film star Natalie Portman and her on camera head shave for the role. I have included a link to the scene in the film for anyone who is unfamiliar with it. The clip shows the haircut scene of her and the other female character that has their head shaved during the film.
It is very clear that Natalie Portman’s character, Evey, is portrayed as a victim during the time of her haircut. During the scene she is in prison scrubs, she is in a very muted environment with a faceless individual shaving her head. During the entire time Natalie Portman’s head is being shaved she is crying and looks terrified. The second woman getting her head shaved, actress Natasha Wightman, is having her head shaved for the same reason; removing the identity of the individual, and psychological torture. The difference is that Natasha Wightman’s character, who only has a brief voice over, is a person who has grown up facing severe diversity. She is a lesbian who was disowned by her parents, and was disowned by her first love. She was different in a society that demanded normalcy. Although her head shave is to victimize her, her character is calm, and collected because it is a non-issue comparatively to the events she has previously experienced in her life.
I was frustrated with the attachment that Natalie Portman’s character had with her hair. After being water boarded, and starved, and beaten. The first comment she makes after having her head shaved was “You cut my hair”. For cinematic reasons I want to give the film the benefit of the doubt because she lists the terrible things that were done to her in the order they happened, but if someone tortured me I could not care any less about how much hair was on my head. Below is a clip from an interview that Natalie Portland had after her role in V for Vendetta, specifically about the head shave experience, with IGN. She doesn’t talk about the societal opinions about women with shaved heads, but about how “cool” rain feels on a shaved head and how that experience was of note to her.
The second film I watched for this project was Catwoman (2004), starring Halle Berry. As a teenager when this film came out, I was SOOOO excited for it. Look at this film with a badass chick in it! How cool is it to have a superhero/antihero film starring someone who wasn’t white and blonde. The adaptation rocked my world, and I felt like I wanted to be just like her when I grew up. Fast forward through High School and my early 20s and just generally a lot of personal growth. When I re-watched the film for this course, I was extremely uncomfortable. It was honestly hard for me to get through.
With new eyes I saw a film that touched on an adaptation of an antihero that was, in my opinion, distasteful and embarrassing. Halle Berry’s character starts out as a shy meek, presumably uninteresting woman with long limp curly hair. She wears oversized sweaters, and risks her life to save a cat. Later after seeing something she isn’t supposed to see, she is murdered, and the cat she saved returns the favor and brings her back to life. This time though, she is different, she is confident, she is poised, and she is all about being sexual and sassy. During her transformation, the first thing she does is cut off all of her hair. See the clip below for her transformation. Like the first film, this was a real haircut that was caught on film.
Catwoman as a character in this film is very sexualized. I think out of all the adaptations that I’ve seen of Catwoman in a film or a show, this one fell short. The Film Review Article in The New York Times by A. O. Scott tells viewers that they are more likely to be entertained by the Garfield film that came out around the same time, than they are to be dazzled by Pitof’s interpretation of Catwoman (2004). Scott even goes to say, “Watching [Catwoman] is like paging through a fat European fashion magazine at high speed in the lobby of a sleek hotel. Through the haze of moody color, you can occasionally glimpse the flicker of an idea about female sexuality or the manufacture of beauty, but these themes are ornamental flourishes in the pretty, kinetic emptiness”, and I couldn’t agree more. When films have shots like the gif below of female characters with ample cleavage and see-through panels of mesh everywhere, including their butts, it is hard to take the films, or its message seriously. In the end this films felt more like soft porn than a cinematic masterpiece about powerful women.
The third film I re-watched for this project was Mad Max: Fury Road I picked this film originally because I knew that Charlize Theron had been nominated for, and won several awards for her role in this film, and also because she is my favorite actor. When the film began I remembered the premise and felt justified in using it as one of the three main sources for this blog post. For those of you unfamiliar with this film, Theron plays a character named Furiosa, who is the only female soldier under villain Immortan Joe. She ends up betraying him and stealing his war-rig in order to free his 5 slave-wives. Unlike the first two films, we meet Furiosa with a short buzzed haircut. She wears masculine clothing and wears war paint on her face much like the “war boys” she is in charge of. Later in the film we get to find out a little bit more of Furiosa’s past, and can make assumptions of what she has been through and why she was willing to give up her leadership under Immortan Joe in order to save other women. Below is the clip of Furiosa reuniting with the people she originally belonged to before being captured by Immortan Joe as a child.
From what we know about Furiosa in the clip above, we can formulate that she fits in two of the categories listed in the beginning of my post. She is a victim. She was captured as a child with her mother. Her mother died within 3 days of their capture and she survived, losing part of her arm along the way, and gaining the trust of the leader of the ban of men that captured her as a child. We can assume that her masculine appearance might have to do with this broken upbringing. It might also have been the reason why she outlived her mother. She is clearly a fighter and is in it for the long hall. I included a clip below that includes part of Theron’s experience with shaving her head, and how it affected her. I think it is important to note that the director of the film was speechless when Theron offered to shave her head, further proving how interconnected our values of female hair length is.
After watching all three films to get a perspective of how women with short hair were portrayed in the media, I took the time to read articles that related to real life women who have short haircuts, in order to relate it to the pop-cultural representations of women with short hair. I was especially touched by this article in Cosmo by Leah Carroll, a woman who went through a few years of her life with short hair, and then started experiencing cat-calling once her hair started growing out again. This article felt relevant to me because like Evey in V for Vendetta part of the reason Carroll cut her hair in the first place was because she was a victim of a crime. Her head was not shaved in part of a systematic dehumanizing process by a vigilantly proving a point. She chose to get it cut after a man had used her long hair to his advantage to mug her, pulling it to keep her from getting away. Carroll discusses the traps she fell into when first deciding to cut her hair, and the guilt she felt when she finally decided to start growing it out again. She discusses the real social anxieties that are created when a woman cuts her hair, and with this I related quite deeply. “I walked back to the office feeling 10 pounds lighter and like I had lost a limb. I stared at myself in every reflective surface” (Carroll 2015). It is a huge change, to cut your hair and stop caring what others think. At first it felt like I was sacrificing my femininity for the convenience of short hair.
I read an article today that I am sneaking into my final blog post about a haircut that Katy Perry recently shared with the world at the IHeart Radio Music Awards on March 5th 2017. The article is titled Katy Perry Reveals a Radical New Breakup Pixie Cut on Instagram.
The article goes on to say that Perry’s haircut was purely in correlation to a break-up she had earlier that week on multiple occasions, the article is very leading and doesn’t give room for any other reason why Perry chose to get a haircut. “What better way, then, to mark a fresh start than by cutting a past paramour (or, for that matter, fried ends) right out of her hair? Perry’s shorn undercut, which was finished with choppy side-swept bangs and captioned “I wasn’t ready till now,” is a punkish followup to her bombshell bob, offering the hair equivalent of an extra stroke of suddenly-single eyeliner” (Schulte-Hillen, 2017). I decided to include this article in my research because I thought it was important to add in a piece that was extremely relevant and recent. It is another example that a woman is depicted as cutting her hair due to some sort of mental instability; coping with a break-up. I think she looks killer, and it is important to note that not all haircuts are because women are upset with boys.
I think that women in action films with short hair meet very specific criteria. This is clear by the films I studied in order to come to this conclusion. One thing that I do not agree with though, is that these action film norms are anywhere close to why the majority of women with short hair decide to make the cut. This is a pop-culture identity that is vastly stereotyped and I think it is damaging to women with short and long hair alike, by placing expectations of what having short hair will be like, and why it is done. Thanks for a wonderful term all.
V for Vendetta, Lily Wachowski & Lana Wachowski, James McTeigue, Grant Hill, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0EWnPG_yKYk
Catwoman, Pitof, Denise Di Novi, and Edward MCDonnell, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fV26YLAHza8
Mad Max: Fury Road, George Miller, Doug Mitchell, P.J. Voeten, https://youtu.be/hEJnMQG9ev8
“No sex for women with short hair?; Talking Points.” Sunday Times [London, England], 7 Dec. 2008, p. 12. Academic OneFile, go.galegroup.com.proxy.lib.pdx.edu/ps/i.do?p=AONE&sw=w&u=s1185784&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CA190172318&asid=3a8688e75e55abc86d5cf919f7cdc508. Accessed 25 Feb. 2017.
“Why Women Choose to Cut Their Hair Short.” UWIRE Text, 17 May 2015, p. 1. Educators Reference Complete, go.galegroup.com.proxy.lib.pdx.edu/ps/i.do?p=PROF&sw=w&u=s1185784&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CA414228760&asid=30ad0178b6de7a15f6c97a4138541c29. Accessed 25 Feb. 2017.
“My Short Hair Made Me Feel Invisible” Cosmopolitan, 10 September 2015, Leah Carroll, http://www.cosmopolitan.com/style-beauty/a46100/short-hair-pixie-cut-invisible/
“Katy Perry Reveals a Radical Breakup Pixie Cut on Instagram” Vogue, March 3rd 2017. Sophie Schulte-Hillen. http://www.vogue.com/article/katy-perry-haircut-blonde-pixie-chris-mcmillan-instagram-orlando-bloom-breakup