Advertisement
Identity

Bearded Men Are Sexist, New Study Says

In light of this troubling news, we asked men with beards what they think about their facial hair.

by Gabby Bess
Dec 10 2015, 10:30pm

Photo by Boris Jovanovic via Stocksy

The relationship between men and beards is a complex one. And the relationship between a man, his beard, and everyone else is even more fraught. Beginning in the 19th century, men made great efforts to physically distinguish themselves from women. "Men's clothing styles shifted from a corseted, curvaceous look—one not dissimilar from a female figure—to the boxy silhouette of the three-piece suit. Men also began donning another distinct physical feature: facial hair," writes historian Sarah Gold McBride, in a paper titled "'Power is on the side of the beard': Masculinity and Facial Hair in Nineteenth-Century America."

During that time, the beard existed as a symbol of men's distinct difference from and superiority over women. Clearly, the logic went, a human who can produce such bountiful facial hair is of higher status. "This points to the broader theme of 19th century life," Gold McBride told Broadly over the phone. "They believed that the physical body can be examined to reveal important information about a person. Racial difference and phrenology, the examination of skull shape, are classic examples of this." But now that we're, thankfully, out of the Victorian era, do hirsute jawlines still indicate as much in the 21st century?

According to a new study, the answer is yes. The study, titled "The Association Between Men's Sexist Attitudes and Facial Hair," examined the beliefs of 500 American and Indian bearded and non-bearded men (to reduce the likelihood that the link between facial hair and sexism wasn't culturally specific) by asking them to fill out a questionnaire. Australian researchers Julian Oldmeadow and Barnaby Dixson posited that "men with relatively sexist attitudes would be more likely to allow their facial hair to grow than men with less sexist attitudes" due to the fact that facial hair has been traditionally associated with higher levels of perceived masculinity. The survey included prompts like, "'Women are too easily offended" and "Once a woman gets a man to commit to her, she usually tries to put him on a tight leash'' to gauge what the researchers called hostile sexism. It also included items to measure "benevolent" or what's colloquially referred to as "white night" sexism (''Women should be cherished and protected by men''). Subsequently, they found that men with facial hair scored higher on the hostile sexism scale than men who are clean–shaven.

Read More: Toward a Unified Theory of the Cat Man

Men, I've learned, do not like to be generalized. "Not all men with facial hair are sexist!" I hear a chorus of men faintly shouting in my nightmares. So I asked a few men what they thought about their facial hair in light of this troubling news.

Gene Morgan, 34, copywriter

Recently, a study came out that concluded men with beards tend to have more sexist attitudes toward women. How does that make you feel about your beard?
The same? I mean, I've had a beard for the better part of a decade, and at this point it's like an old tattoo or something. I don't think about my beard. I just think shaving my whole face is terrible, and I like not doing it.

If anything, [my beard has] given me more respect and understanding when it comes to women and personal grooming. I don't expect my partner to shave anything because, knowing how much it sucks to shave my face, it must really suck to shave armpits, legs, a vagina, and pretty much everything else.

When did you start growing your beard and what motivated you?
I grew my first beard in my mid-twenties, and it was one of those things where I just wanted to see if I could do it.

I know you as a writer. Do you feel that beards are a particularly literary of facial hair?
Yeah, totally. I remember reading The Old Man and the Sea at a very young age and seeing a picture of Hemingway on the back. As a boy, I saw men with beards as wise and scholarly, which in some ways seems true. Older people are typically wiser, and men do have to have some age on them before they grow a beard (unless they're that one kid with a full chest of hair in junior high).

Read More: Was Ernest Hemingway Hot?

(If applicable,) how does your partner feel about your beard?
My partner thinks I look like a "baby" when I have a clean-shaven face.

Have you ever altered your beard at a partner's request?
I trim it down when she says something. She doesn't like to "eat it" when we kiss, and that seems like a pretty fair request.

Do you think that you perceive men with beards as more masculine? For example, do you think, in a fight, your odds would be better against a bearded man or beardless man of the same height and weight?
I might, at least on the surface, see men with beards as more masculine, which feels silly to say since I don't view myself as particularly masculine.

As for fighting, I'm not worried much about perceived masculinity when I'm in a violent situation. However, I will say that I'm really scared of guys with shaved heads. "Strength" and "manliness" aren't as scary as "crazy" is in a fight, and guys with shaved heads seem like they have crazy on lock.

Some men aren't able to grow a beard. Do you feel like you have a certain beard privilege?
I do. My beard privilege comes with the ability to hide a double chin.

Would you ever shave your beard?
Yes, if I lost thirty pounds I'd give my clean face a try. Until I'm thin, I'll be hiding under all this hair.

Stephen and duck. Photo by Caroline Tobin

Stephen Kosloff, 45, editor

Recently, a study came out that concluded men with beards tend to have more sexist attitudes toward women. How does that make you feel?
It does not change my feelings about my beard, and I'm a 5000% pro-feminist guy. I also know a lot of guys with beards who are not remotely sexist, although that's just anecdotal evidence, of course. I would be curious to see what the study's inclusion criteria were and [I also] wonder about the methodology. It does confirm other studies about peoples' perceptions of guys with beards.

When did you start growing your beard and what motivated you?
2009. I had always been curious about how I would look with a beard, and thought it would suit me. Deep background: most of the time as it started to grow in it would feel "scratchy" and be a bit of an irritant, but that fall, for some reason, it grew in and felt fine.

How does your partner feel about your beard?
She loves it and even expressed a preference for beards in her online dating profile.

Do you think that you perceive men with beards as more masculine? For example, do you think, in a fight, your odds would be better against a bearded man or beardless man of the same height and weight?
The short answer: no. Beards do different things for different guys, and not all beards are created equal.

Would you ever shave your beard?
Yes.

Christian Dixon, 23, start-up guy

I wanted to speak with you, specifically, because you told me you can't grow a beard, and have settled on a chinstrap. Is there a reason why you don't just forgo facial hair altogether?
Sometimes I'm just too lazy to shave. Other times I enjoy being able to stroke more than just my baby–butter smooth chin while I'm plotting my next move. It makes me look more devious, when in all actuality I'm probably the least mischievous and risky person (purely speaking outside of financials) of all time. It gives me an illusion of an edge.

How have your partners felt about your facial hair?
Most of my partners have liked it, but they've also asked why I'm growing it since it wouldn't fully connect into a "beard" within a reasonable amount of time.

Have you ever altered your beard at a partner's request?
Yes and no. I had dreadlocks until my junior year of college. My ex was a smart lady, still is. She helped me see how white people wouldn't take me seriously if I had dreadlocks, so one day I woke up and cut them off myself. I was bald and not quite able to pull off the Boris Kodjoe look, so I shaved off my chinstrap too. Besides that, no other instances

Do you think that you perceive men with beards as more masculine?
Not at all. My best friend can grow the craziest of beards but listens to Justin Bieber's "Sorry" on the regular. The track is absolute flame, don't get me wrong, but there's no correlation. Also, masculinity is a played–out term.