Wednesday, December 15, 2010

From African hair to babies.


I had an appointment to cut M's hair today, and I learn more about African hair everyday. This is the time of the year when lots of African girls start to wear caps, hats and wraps and I was wondering why until I found out that it's time to take off their false braids. Supposedly they can only wear them for about 6 to 8 weeks, and seeing that it's a few months into the school year, understandably they haven't had the time to go and get their hair braided again.

What is remarkable is how so few African girls (with the exception of Ethiopians/Eritreans) choose to wear their hair naturally. By natural I mean either in an afro, in cornrows, or dreadlocks. The reasons they give me are that their hair is too kinky and requires too much upkeep in terms of applying relaxer, using a straightening iron, and applying hair oil.

No, I meant, naturally, like in its kinky glory?

Without fail, the girl I'm talking to will laugh at me, as if it's an idea too ridiculous to consider! After some more attempts on my behalf to find out why, we usually end up on a half-agreement that their hair is too hard (the most common analogy is to steel wool) to comb and oil everyday. So those that wear their hair naturally often keep it very short, or hide it under beanies/wraps.

The exception? Ethiopians/Eritreans. Somehow they've got a genes for slightly less curly hair, which allows them to have large curls in their afros. They've also got genes for high cheekbones and good skin, but that's another story.

This actually leads to another point. M is expecting, and she found out about her pregnancy only a few weeks before this September. I didn't ask directly, but I realised she's not married but apparently it's not a problem because she's educated and has the means to raise her baby.

The social shame of having a daughter past 30, unmarried, and highly-educated is greater than the shame of having a baby out of wedlock. People start to ask if she is fertile, or if there is 'anything wrong' with her. If a girl doesn't want to get married, having a baby is one way to lift that shame from her family.

This only applies to educated girls, who are also called 'enlightened women', because especially if they have a good job and a home, they don't need a man to provide for them. There's still stigma to in having a baby out of wedlock for an uneducated girl, who will be a source of shame for her parents since they will be the ones providing for her. In this case, they will force her to marry the father of the baby.

This made me think of intersectionality. This is a concept in social science where you consider several factors or identities at once. Here we see that educated and uneducated girls have very different realities even though they are going through the same event i.e. having a baby. Intersectionality is the buzzword of ISS (:

4 comments:

adeline said...

very interesting. we need more social science lessons from you, for those social science deprived but hardcores :)

Sya said...

Haha! I was trying to not make my post sound so academic. But the stuff I learn is so interesting, I wish everyone could also understand it! And I started writing down notes in class on things that hit a nerve so that I'll remember to blog them too (:

n said...

sorry i keep on leaving comments but i just stumbled upon your blog. you should read Susan Bordo's writing on hair

Sya said...

Sounds interesting! Is there a specific article you recommend? (:

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