I am a 26 year old woman, and yesterday, I went to the hair salon for the first time in my life. As a kid, I was always more interested in playing soccer and getting dirty than in fashion or playing dress up, so having my mother cut my hair for the past 20 years seemed appropriate. However recently I decided to step outside of my comfort zone and do something different; I’ve officially entered the world of ombres. Although I love how my hair turned out, the experience was one I won’t soon forget and brought up many thoughts for me on the topics of feminism and sexuality.
My appointment began how, I would assume, most trips to the salon do: I was greeted with a smile by my hairstylist and invited to read a magazine while I waited. It was clear to me that this salon had taken several steps to make its consumers feel welcome: I noted a warmly decorated waiting area with magazines (although all appeared to represent a narrow population in terms of gender, race, and class) and complimentary refreshments.
When I was invited to my stylist’s chair she began to engage me in what I assumed was her typical conversational topics with a new client. She asked me about my career, my age, and how I had learned of the salon. As the conversation continued the topic moved to my relationship status. When she learned I was single, my stylist’s jaw dropped, “No, no, no, this just won’t do!” She immediately began to list several names of young and available men she knows describing their looks and how much money they each make. I considered all the other women whom have sat in this very chair, having this exact same conversation. I was filled with sadness (and a little anger) when I thought about how narrow and biased her assumptions had been. I became flooded with questions:
Will the day ever come when I am not assumed to be straight?
· Living in a heterocentric society causes us all to make assumptions that may invalidate those around us. As members of the psychological community we are taught to identify, challenge, and change these thoughts before they cause us to act in ways that may harm others. I suspected my stylist had no idea just how hurtful she was being. I suspected that if I explained her mistake, she would undoubtedly apologize and change her behavior. But would she? And should I have to?
Will I ever not be expected to rely on a man?
· Marsha Linehan would likely agree that I am never more compelled to act on my “emotional mind” than when a person assumes a woman needs a man to make her happy or for support. I feel a fire in my soul that urges me to immediately correct anyone whom makes such an error. Although, “I am quite happy with my current situation,” said in a harsh tone stopped the conversation from progressing, I constantly struggle with when, where, and what to say in reaction to these situations. I struggle to find the balance between standing up for social justice in a way that is professional and willingly perceived by others. (In other words, I have to fight the urge to embarrass or cause physical harm when I feel discriminated against).
The worst part of the experience occurred when my stylist insisted I allow their make-up artist to touch up my makeup so that they may post a “before and after” photo. As I sat down and began the experience of having to explain my life story, now to a woman named Vida, I made a conscious (but failed) effort to provide only vague responses. The only words she needed were “psychology student” to unleash the uneducated wave of discrimination and prejudice that was to follow:
Oh I went to school for psychology too! I currently work at the women’s prison as a recovery coach. I am so proud of the work we do there, 3 women have come to us and we have helped them realize God does not want them to be gay. So now we are helping them come back to God!
After immediately asking her to stop touching me, and collecting as much identifying information as possible, I informed our uneducated friend that her “work” was not only unethical and immoral, IT’S ILLEGAL! I proceeded to explain that my work with LGBTQ individuals would be the opposite of what she does, and would likely focus on undoing much of the guilt and shame created in programs such as this.
Later in discussing the situation with my mother, I questioned my reaction. She discouraged me from speaking up, insisting that my words would have little to no impact on this woman’s life and asking if I respected her right to have her own opinion. After processing this, I stand behind my actions. While I respect a person’s right to opinion, I lose that respect when the beliefs cause harm by discriminating against an entire population. As a clinical psychologist in training I feel it is my duty to protect social justice. As a woman, I feel it is my responsibility to speak out against discrimination. And as a human being, I feel it is my obligation to identify and challenge harmful acts fueled by prejudice beliefs. For these reasons, I will always speak up!
- Written by Samantha Brustad