As an Art History major, I have seen one too many female nudes in art. Although many of these works, like Jean-Auguste Dominique Ingres’ Grande Odalisque (1814), for example, place the female as the main object of the male gaze, several artists chose to represent a different version of the woman; a woman that is strong, confident, and potentially dangerous in their sexuality. Known as the femme fatale or “fatal woman” to art historians, some artists decided to portray a woman that was so overtly beautiful that she stood as a symbol of power and danger to all her male viewers. One of the better-known representations of the femme fatale is Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s Lady Lilith (1868). In this painting, you see a beautiful woman sitting on the left hand side of the work, staring at herself in a hand-held mirror with vanity in her eyes. She combs her unusually long, golden, curly hair with her other hand, making it the focal point of the painting. The myth of Lilith, states that she was Adam’s female counterpart also created by God, who chose to refuse him and eventually went out to be the destroyer of children and men, with her consuming beauty. Lilith’s hair, as we see in Rossetti’s work, has been portrayed as the symbol of her overpowering femininity and sexuality.
When I first encountered Rossetti’s painting there was something terrifying yet something very familiar to me about the image of Lilith. Although I would not consider myself to be a woman consumed with her own looks, I realized that, just like Lady Lilith, I too had a connection with my hair that defined my sexuality and my gender as a female. For as long as I can remember, I have always had long curly hair and until this day I have never allowed anyone to convince me to cut it short (which for me would be should length or even shorter). As we have been discussing gender and the notion of gender identity, or the gender you identify with and how you understand yourself in terms of that gender, in my current Ecofeminism class, it pushed me to analyze the parts of my body that I identify with my gender. Even though for some women female genitalia and other more overtly sexual parts of their bodies stand as symbol of their gender, for me it is my hair. For me, my hair is the ultimate symbol of being a female, and cutting it short would leave me insecure and incomplete. My hair, of course is not the only gendered part of my body, but to me it is the most important of them all. Ironically, I have always said that it takes a truly beautiful woman to go bald and still look stunning and I truly respect women with short hair, but for me my hair makes me female; it is my strength, confidence and my sexuality.
The attachment to my hair probably derives from my Colombian culture, where femininity and sexuality are very important to women. To put this into perspective, I must introduce you to my life-long idol and beautiful Colombian icon, Shakira. Known for her beautiful looks, peculiar voice, but overall her unstoppable hips, Shakira is the ultimate Colombian woman, a woman that I have looked up to imitated my entire life. Shakira’s physical attributes, which of course her long hair and her hips, make her the ultimate symbol of the female gender in my eyes. Like the artist, I think of my hips and my love for dance as gendered aspects of who I am. When I dance, I feel my femininity and I am completely comfortable in my body and its relationship to the people around me.
However, I am fully aware that there are people out there who do not feel completely comfortable associating with one or either gender. During my junior year of high school, I read the novel Middlesex (2002) by Jeffrey Eugenides, a book about a transgender man named Cal that struggles to define their his identity as well as make sense of his family’s socially “unacceptable” past.
Through this book, and again through reading Julia Serano’s piece, “Boygasms and Girlgasms: A Frank Discussion About Hormones and Gender Differences,” I realized just how frustrating and confusing life can be for people that identify as being transgender or are unsure of their gender. Although I have never questioned my gender, there have been many times when I’ve said, “God, I wish I was born a guy and I would not care so much about anything.” Thus in Serrano’s piece where she states, “In retrospect, when testosterone was the predominant sex hormone in my body, it was as though a thick curtain were draped over my emotions…but on estrogen, I find that I have all the same emotions that I did back then, only now they come in crystal clear,” I realized that I too had been informed by social assumptions of gender that cloud the truly biological differences between the female and male genders. It was refreshing to know that many of the emotions that males and females have are not actually different but that they are just experienced differently. This distinction, among many other things, has made me even more proud of being a woman.