Is United States Air Force sexist? Truth behind backlash over new rules for women's hairstyles

The old policy for women stated that they had to have their hair tied up with no loose ends, should their hair be longer than their collar

                            Is United States Air Force sexist? Truth behind backlash over new rules for women's hairstyles
Air Force service member Selena Garcia loads food and supplies into a family's car on May 27, 2020 in Huerfano on the Navajo Nation Reservation, New Mexico (Getty Images)

A decision by the United States Air Force on new grooming regulations for women has sparked questions on whether the force is sexist with their policies. As of new rules, women will be allowed to wear braids, have bangs, and sport ponytails. This change in rules was brought out after women had reported they had experienced hair damage after they had to wear their hair in buns. They also complained of migraines and hair loss as a result of that hairstyle. But, men will still have to keep up with the strict grooming requirements meaning that unless for medical or religious reasons, beards will not be allowed. The old policy for women stated that they had to have their hair tied up with no loose ends, should their hair be longer than their collar. 

Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force JoAnne S. Bass said that this was "long overdue". "Not all women have the same type of hair, and these standards need to reflect the diverse force that we are. In addition to the health concerns we have for our Airmen, not all women have the same hair type, and our hair standards should reflect our diverse force. I am pleased we could make this important change for our women service members.” The new policy will allow the females in the force to were up to two braids, or one ponytail, should they have bangs, it should not cover their eyes.

A member of the United States Air Force presents colors during the national anthem before the game between the Chicago Cubs and the San Francisco Giants on May 27, 2018 at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois.

The press release also added that the bulk should not exceed "the width of the head and its length not extending below a horizontal line marked by each sleeve inseam at the under arm through the shoulder blades." This new policy although announced now will take effect only next month in February as per the press release that has been released by the military. The Space Force is also set to adhere by this new policy. Lt. Gen. Brian Kelly, Air Force deputy chief of staff for manpower, personnel, and services said, "We remain committed to removing barriers to service. In an all-volunteer force, we want fully qualified volunteers who are representative of the nation to see us as a great opportunity to maximize their talent and serve."

Is this new policy sexist?

A Quora article titled "Do you think it is sexism that female soldiers are allowed to wear long hair, but male soldiers are forced to wear their hair short?" had mentioned their thoughts on it in an old thread. "Technically, yes it is. After all, if there was a practical reason to force men to keep their hair short, then that reasoning should apply to women as well," wrote one user. "Current military hair regulations in the US are absolutely both racist and sexist," wrote another. As for recent reactions on Twitter, people seem to have embraced the new policy.

One Twitter user wrote, "SMA, females with long hair need more hair options as longe their also creates stress on the head and hair will eventually fall out too. Ponytail or braids would reduce the tension while still presenting a professional appearance. The US Air Force just allowed this too." Another on the other hand had an opposite view, "I was in the Air Force in the 1980s. Short hair and buzz cuts were not cool, so all of us men wished we could have long hair, but we couldn't and shouldn't have. Same for the women then, and it should be the same now. It's the military, not a school or work dress code."



"It is absolutely sexism. Whatever pretext the Military has for mandating hairstyles is wholly couched in gender norms. I have discussed this on a few occasions here, and will continue to bring it up as long as these questions are around," a user commented on a Quora thread, while another said, "Yup. I’m a male metalhead with metalhead AKA long hair which I worked really hard on growing and military service is mandatory where I’m from. My service starts in a few years and I just find it unfair for me to have my hair all cut and shaved off for me to have to wait even longer to grow it back out just because of my gender, whereas women with hair my length or longer get to keep it under certain standards. I don’t get why men with long hair get to follow female hair standards".

A user on Twitter commented, "We made amazing AR 670-1 changes for women of diverse backgrounds! Has the Army considered letting men grow our hair into reasonable ethnic styles? v/r". Some people also asked that since the Air Force has made this rule, if the Army will follow through. One user said, "This should be the goal for the new Army hair standards for women. I can get behind this ALL DAY LONG!!!!". Another asked,"@ArmyChiefStaff Will the Army have the same regulations regarding women’s hair?"



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