Annah Anti-Palindrome is recounting a tearful tale to readers of Everyday Feminism:
I remember being ten years old and grieving my girlhood – that short period of time when I was allowed to exist without a preoccupation of my physical appearance constantly looming in the front of my mind – a time when my self-esteem wasn’t rooted in whether or not I was pretty enough, skinny enough, busty enough, sexy enough. Time passed and the more unattainable and oppressive heteronormative femininity felt, the more I grew to hate myself and everybody around me.
Hence, of course, the feminism. One mustn’t let all that hatred and self-involvement go to waste.
I let my leg and armpit hair grow long, and I let the hair on my head spiral into a nest of cords, matts, and tangles (a hairdo I would later ignorantly and appropriatively refer to as dreadlocks).
Bad dog. Minus ten points.
I ran away from home – started hitchhiking all over the country, going to feminist music festivals, entrenching myself amidst the company of other (mostly white) grrrls who were shirking their feminine hygiene routines (shaving, bathing, hair combing, general beauty maintenance regimens of all types).
We must warn The Patriarchy. Some woman hasn’t washed.
In navigating through a predominantly white, feminist punk subculture, I never gave a second thought to whether wearing my hair in dreadlocks was offensive — at least to anyone other than The Patriarchy.
Because if there’s one thing The Great Patriarchal Hegemon™ fears, it’s an unwashed woman with pretentious hair.
Having dreadlocks was part of what allowed me to stop obsessing over my appearance.
Yes, of course. Self-imagined radicals with ostentatious hair – hair intended to be “offensive to The Patriarchy” – give no thought at all to how they wish to seem. Who could possibly think otherwise? However, despite this selfless, fearless attempt to provoke The Patriarchy and render it a-tremble, it seems that in the real world no-one gave a shit:
I wasn’t followed around by security guards every time I went into a store. I wasn’t hassled by the cops for hanging out with my friends on street corners. I wasn’t hauled off to jail on the presumption that I was a gang member just because of my non-conventional appearance.
All that effort to no avail.
Being a white grrrl with dreadlocks, as well as someone who wore clothing scrappily held together by safety pins, dental fIoss and band patches, I was still considered employable and trustworthy.
Imagine her dismay. The beast isn’t biting. What’s a grrrl to do?
Despite my rebellious appearance, I enjoyed a level of tolerance from authority figures and society at large that can only be attributed to my whiteness.
There we go. Another windmill at which to tilt.
Everything changed when I stopped travelling, started investing in local activist projects, and began building a broader, more multiracial community. For the first time, my peers had lots of questions and critiques about my choice to wear dreadlocks.
Finally, someone has noticed her hair. And better still, new frontiers of outrage have opened up:
I learned to identify the ways that white colonist mentalities show up in our contemporary everyday lives. I realised that I was participating in the shitty reality that, for centuries, white people have felt entitled to taking pretty much anything their hearts desire – entire continents, human bodies, land resources, and, yes, whatever cultural trappings of the communities they colonised that were thought to be intriguing at the time.
Crackers be stealing the Sacred Black Essence. We’ve been down this road before, I think.
I finally cut them off – and when I did, I felt (literally and figuratively) a dozen pounds lighter.
And anyway, oppressing all those dark folk with one’s hair is so exhausting.
Though I am still pretty “alternative” looking, I’ve learned to stand up against systems of oppression by doing the actual footwork in my daily life. I no longer naively expect my physical appearance (on its own) to do that work for me.
Not that she ever cared about her appearance, you understand. Being so terribly alternative.
Annah Anti-Palindrome is “a Bay Area-based writer, musician, optical sound-smith and queer/femme antagonist.”
Spotted by Greg Knapp.
Update, via the comments:
On visiting Everyday Feminism, the first thing to appear was this:
Feel free to tickle my button.