All Rights Reserved © 2004 Thomas W. Day
The older I get the more I notice idiotic little things popping up in my psyche. Thirty years ago, I watched “suits” march off to work and marveled at how robot-like they seemed. While I was not exactly a freak, I was confident in my safe distance from the average working man. I had hair over my shoulders. I wore sandals to work. I played guitar and wrote stories and read science fiction. I was cool. Thirty years later, I was a minor league suit. Monday through Friday, I wore a tie and shoes that are less comfortable and more socially acceptable.
More than the tie and dumb shoes, I think a sign of my sellout is that I sometimes caught myself thinking another man’s long hair is “unprofessional.” You know the guys I’m talking about. The lawyer with a ponytail. The computer programmer doing a Jim Morrison imitation. The dreadlocked engineer. It only passes through my mind for a moment before I snuffed it out, but it irritated me that it was there, ever.
I admit that a lot of the origin for the thought comes from my work environment. I’m was an engineer in a medical devices company. There is probably no more stodgy, uncreative, mindlessly, conservative business in the world than those companies producing products for doctors. No one with half a talent world ever work for an established medical devices or drug company, because those places are so stifling that ideas slip out of their hands like a bar of buttered, wet soap. In a medical products company, “unprofessional” means anything from not being properly dressed to discussing screwed-up products out loud. You can stumble into more “career limiting mistakes” in that business than you can on a battlefield. People are judged by microscopic social errors and inane business traditions and surviving every workday is a painful test. So we get really critical of diddly, unimportant things.
But that isn’t what the hair thing is about. Long hair is a completely different “professionalism” issue. Being successful and letting your hair grow flaunts male modesty. It’s a way of saying, loudly, “I don’t give a damn what you think. I don ‘t have to kiss anyone’s ass. I’m talented enough, or rich enough, that don’t need this job.”
Men don’t mind brilliant or rich men who conform, like the rest of us, to robot-ness. But it really annoys us to have our own menial, gutless, slave status thrown back in our faces. Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Ross Perot, Arnold Swartzenegger, and the majority of rich, famous guys respect this ritual. They wear uncomfortable, geeky looking clothes. They cut their hair so short that their ears protrude from their heads like microwave antenna. While we might resent their wealth, we never have to resent their freedom. For some of these guys, the richer they get the more enslaved they look.
That’s comforting, from a sick, pack animal kind of logic. That’s the way it should be, as far as the herd is concerned. Don’t show off your wealth and your freedom, pick one and keep the other hidden from our view. We can deal with a long haired dude flipping burgers or pushing a broom. A pony tail and a Mercedes is too much of a blow to our pride. Success and freedom are so far out of the reach of the average working stiff. We don’t want to think about what we’ve given up to be useful corporate fodder. So keep your hair under your hat if you don’t want to be called “unprofessional.” Like you’d care.