At night, after my son has had his bath, I sit, patiently combing the knots out of his hair.
But I won’t ask him if he wants a haircut, because he’s told me he’d rather cut off his leg than his hair. He’s been growing it out for more than two years now, and it hangs down well past his shoulders. Why does he want long hair? Apparently it’s “a rock-star thing”. OK.
It is still a big deal for a boy to have long hair.
“When are you getting a haircut?” people ask him. Even his grandparents can’t resist bringing up the question.
Anyone meeting him for the first time automatically assumes he’s a girl. There’s confusion and apologies when I say he’s not.
At least no one is forcing him to cut his hair – not at his public primary school, anyway. It’s a bit different in the US, where there’s been a string of high-profile cases involving long-haired lads.
Last month, four-year old Jabez Oates from Texas was told he wasn’t allowed to start school because his hair was too long. His mother Jessica started a petition on to protest the sexist dress code.
“My family is Cocopah Indian and hair has always been a sign of strength,” she wrote.
Elsewhere in Texas, nine-year-old Habib Abunijmeh was told he had to cut his hair, which he had been growing to donate to an organisation that makes wigs for kids with cancer. His mother Faye also started a petition, pointing out the lack of logic in the rule.
“So how is a girl’s long hair any less disruption or safer than a boy with long hair?” she demanded.
In Australia, it tends to be private schools where boys get in trouble for growing their hair. Earlier this year, in the Victorian town of Mildura, 14-year-old Caleb Ernst had to leave his Catholic school because he refused to cut his dreadlocks. For him, the dreadlocks were his way of connecting with his cultural heritage.
Meanwhile, last year, Texas Reeks, a student at Mandurah Baptist College in WA, started a campaign to change his school’s sexist policies after being told to get rid of his man bun.
It’s kind of ironic that it’s Christian schools that have a problem with boys’ hair length.
As Reeks pointed out, “Jesus had long hair, did he not?”
For boys like my son, it’s just an ongoing process of explaining that no, he doesn’t want to cut his hair, and yes, he is a boy. It’s tiring.
It’s hard for a boy to keep doing something if he’s constantly being reminded that it’s a girl thing.
LISTEN: Holly Wainwright and Andrew Daddo shares their imperfect parenting advice on the latest episode of This Glorious Mess (post continues after audio...)
If we’re serious about smashing sexist stereotypes, we need to encourage the long-haired boys as much as we encourage the gumboot-wearing, science-loving, football-playing girls. That means not asking a boy when he’s going to get his hair cut, and not assuming that any child with long hair is a girl.
Personally, I’ve never been a huge fan of long hair on young kids of either gender. I’ve always thought it seemed like too much hassle. But through my son, I’ve discovered the joys of long hair.
I’ve actually come to like the process of gently combing out the knots, despite the “ows”. How satisfying is it when you finally work through the last one, and you have a long curtain of shining, silky hair in front of you?
I’m obviously slightly biased, but I now love long hair on little boys. My son might think he looks like a rock star, but I think he looks like a hippie child, running free, hair blowing behind him in the breeze.
Do you think boys should be allowed to grow their hair long? Why/why not?
For more from imperfect parents doing their best, try these stories on for size.
You can find more stories from Helen Vnuk right here.