For women, wigs are pretty much no big deal. Black women have always considered a good weave an option for changing up their natural hair, even if the hairstyle is tied to Eurocentric standards of "good hair." But now wigs are so ubiquitously trendy that they have ceased to be a trend. They're just another part of the mass machinery that makes up a beauty routine. Kylie Jenner, of course, isn't the only celebrity who conspicuously wears them (and sells them). "I haven't seen [my real hair] since 9th grade," Gwen Stefani once happily told ET.
Men, however, rarely cop to wearing wigs. Perhaps with good reason. In an on-going lawsuit, a Long Island man named Andrew Greene claims his wig-wearing was made the butt of silver screen jokes about his sexuality.
*Read more: How Masculinity Is Killing Men*
Greene is suing Paramount Pictures because he says the studio used his likeness for a character in The Wolf of Wall Street. The 2013 film is based on the life of Jordan Belfort, the controversial founder the investment firm Stratton Oakmont, who was subsequently indicted on fraud charges in the 90s. Greene led Stratton Oakmont's Corporate Finance Department until 1996 and says the studio based a fictional character in the movie named Nicky "Rugrat" Koskoff—who wears a truly awful toupee—on his image without permission. Last week, a federal judge ruled that Leonardo DiCaprio must testify in the case.
According to the suit, Greene has taken issue with the way he is allegedly portrayed as "criminal, a drug user and a degenerate." Greene, whose real life nickname was "Wigwam," also just does not like how the film characterized his toupee, according to court documents. "In multiple scenes in the movie, Rugrat's use of a toupee is accentuated and mocked in an egregiously offensive manner," the lawsuit claims.
The film is certainly not kind to the character's wig. "The motion picture introduces Rugrat by referencing his 'piece of shit hairpiece.' In another scene, investigators ask whether his hair is real. Characters are also seen attempting to grab the toupee in a scene. Upon information and belief, in another scene, the character Donnie Azoff says, 'Fucking Rugrat, that wig-wearing faggot. I can't believe that fucking guy. I want to kill him…,'" the lawsuit continues. Greene is asking for $50 million in damages, and it looks like he no longer sports a toupee.
The way Rugrat's wig is harshly portrayed in the film exemplifies how boundaries around masculinity are policed, Dr. Tristan Bridges, a professor of sociology at the College of Brockport and the author of Exploring Masculinities: Identity, Inequality, Continuity and Change, explained to Broadly in an email.
We can also look at men's wig-phobia from another angle, Bridges said: That of the man who defends his hair to the death. Consider the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, Donald Trump, who has fiercely protected his mane against accusations that it's not entirely real. His coiffure may move in impossibly strange ways, but swears his hair isn't fake; it's just the elaborate result of a combing technique that he perfected, he says. Trump even derailed a press conference in front of almost 2,000 people to discuss and demonstrate the true nature and integrity of his hair. But having fake hair is not a scandal; there's arguably very little need to be defensive about.
"Part of this has to do with balding being emasculating—as though masculine virility is tied to the amount of hair on one's head. But, at a larger level, I think this is a really simple but powerful illustration of the fact that men are fearful others will see through the façade of their gender identity," Bridges said. "A toupee is one small way that men can let on that they're actually invested in their performance of gender. My sense is that [men] are acutely aware of the fact that concern over appearance is popularly understood as a "feminine" preoccupation. It's an open secret; but men's anxiety about fake hair lets it out of the bag."
While attitudes about what is considered masculine have become more inclusive over the years, there's still a long way to go. "So much of what we think of as masculine in relatively recent history, from the start of the 20th century on, has to do with actively avoiding the appearance of having a vested interest in appearance. All sorts of contemporary masculinities challenge this (metrosexuals, hipster masculinities, lumbersexuals, etc.), but most of these are also popularly teased," Bridges said.
So for now, one can dream of the day when men will be able to wear additional, luscious locks openly and in peace—or when we're all just cool with being bald.