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How do you tell a colleague that she needs to do her hair? – The attacker

How do you tell a colleague that she needs to do her hair?  – The attacker


A Bintel memoirin Yiddish for a packet of letters, has been solving readers' dilemmas since 1906. Send yours by email, social networks Or this form.

Dear Bintel,

I work with a lovely woman in a high-level position. She is smart, kind and good at her job. The only problem is that she is beautiful but not at all vain, so much so that she never combs her hair!

This impacts his credibility in our professional community and I have been tasked with telling him so. How can I do this without hurting her?



Dear Dalila,

Here's how to tell others what to do with their hair: You don't do it.

And here's how you deal with the office junta, or the mean girl squad, or whoever has charged you with enforcing an imaginary workplace code for acceptable hairstyle: You say you've reconsidered and won't You are not willing to implement this plan.

For what? Because it's sexist, it's none of your business and you could even be sued.

If another coworker is determined to control your coworker's appearance, let them do the dirty work. But be sure to tell them: Not in my name.

Your letter suggests that you already know, to some extent, that controlling other people's hair is unacceptable in 21st century workplaces. That's why you can't find the words to do it. You rightly recognize that no matter the intention or manner in which this advice is delivered, it is sure to stir up bad feelings. Your colleague will be hurt, humiliated or enraged. And it's hard to imagine anyone suggesting having a similar conversation with a man in a high-level position.

People have also filed lawsuits over things like this. Is it worth the risk of being publicly accused of contributing to a hostile work environment?

Besides, do you really think that telling a grown woman to brush her hair is going to bring about the change you're looking for? I doubt. Perhaps she deliberately went for a bedhead or grunge look, as many other successful people have done. I think of former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, as well as many actors, rockers and models.

You don't mention his ethnic or cultural origin. But it's worth noting that uncut hair is prized by Rastafarians, Sikhs and Pentecostals, while one branch of Hinduism associates matted hair with divinity. And there are countless examples of black students being punished for wearing braids or dreadlocks at school.

I happen to have unruly, frizzy hair that is common to my Ashkenazi Jewish DNA. No amount of product can give me straight, silky locks; I've spent a small fortune over the years on blowouts, only to have that sleek look dissolve into a damp, windblown mess within minutes of leaving the salon. I admire women who say to hell with conventions, let my hair be natural.

Your letter also made me think about all the ways religious authorities and others attempt to control hair in order to curb self-expression or sexuality. Islam and Orthodox Judaism, for example, require women to cover their hair out of modesty. The 1960s counterculture rock musical was called Hair because long, unstyled locks at that time symbolized resistance to conformity. Today, men who wear their long hair into buns and women who shave their heads are flouting gender norms.

Hair can symbolize power, and removing or controlling it has long been used as a way to emasculate, punish, or humiliate someone. Remember the biblical story of Samson and Delilah? Delilah cut Samson's hair to take away his strength. In Greek mythology, the gods punished Medusa by replacing her hair with snakes. After World War II, French women who associated with the Nazis had their heads shaved.

Sexism is also at play here. If your colleague called him Sam, in honor of Samson, if he was a man with a terrible comb over, would you suggest he get a toupee or implants? Thank goodness we've already thrown out many other rules about women's appearance in the workplace. Remember the tyranny (and expense!) of tights? Ugh! I'm also old enough to remember when girls and their teachers couldn't wear pants to school (and I'm not that old).

You and your colleagues need to decide which side you want to be on: the side that says women have to look a certain way to succeed, or the side that says it's what's in a person's head. not on it, it's important.

Do you have an opinion on this Bintel, or a question of your own? We would like to hear from you. E-mail [email protected].


Chana Pollack, the BeforeThe archivist of, contributed to this Bintel.

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