2020-09-27 10:21:32

Are girls with short hair better students? School administrators in China sure seem to think so.

Social media reacted with indignation this week to the news that a high school in northern China’s Hebei province demands that girls wear their hair short, echoing similar responses in recent years when schools reopened and female students had to lop off their summer locks.

Regulations at Hebei Xingtai Foreign Language School say girls’ haircuts need to be short enough to “show eyebrows in the front, ears at the side, and collar at the back.” A school staff member told Sixth Tone’s sister publication The Paper on Friday that the rule, in place for three years, helps students earn higher grades because they spend less time worrying about their appearances.

One father told The Paper the rule had the opposite effect on his daughter. “My child was very upset after cutting her hair, and now she is unable to focus on her studies,” said the man, surnamed Fan.

Earlier this month, a video of parents cutting their daughters’ hair to regulation length in front of their school entrance went viral on Chinese social media. The school, also located in Hebei province, said the rule is to ensure that female students avoid wasting time on grooming and competing for the best looks.

Although China’s education ministry has specified no nationwide rules on student hairstyles, many middle and high schools make their own regulations. Some specify length, while others require girls to tie their hair neatly or do not allow dyeing or curling. Boys, meanwhile, are also often required to keep their hair short. And with many Chinese schools requiring all students to dress in loose-fitting, unisex uniforms, classes can be starkly homogeneous in appearance.

The policing of girls’ hair has long been a source of complaints from students, and sometimes even tragedy. In 2012, a 14-year-old girl reportedly killed herself after her school told her to cut her hair short.

Liu, a high school student in Cangzhou, a city in Hebei province, told Sixth tone her school also has rules like those at the Xingtai school: Students with hair deemed too long are barred from entering.

“I think the hairstyle rule is too much. Everyone has the desire for beauty. High school students are in their youth. I think girls with ponytails can also be youthful,” said Liu, who only gave her surname to avoid retribution from her school. “Why do they want us to all look like boys?”

Schools in other Asian countries such as Thailand and Japan also have haircut regulations that have been challenged in recent years on grounds that they violate students’ rights.

Xiao Meili, a feminist activist, told Sixth Tone that such regulations deprive students of their bodily autonomy and reflect the pursuit of collectivism in China’s education system.

“Middle and high school is the stage when people search for their identity and values, and resist authority,” said Xiao. “It certainly greatly limits the growth of these students, and is not conducive to the development of their self-esteem and independent personality.”

Editor: Kevin Schoenmakers.

(Header image: Students do outdoor exercises at a school in Huizhou, Guangdong province, Nov. 5, 2018. People Visual)