Shaving My Head: Oppression, Privilege and Power

Yvonne Nguyen

On March 17, 2017, St. Patrick’s Day (or St. Baldrick’s Day), I shaved my head with the aid and support of friends. Naturally, people have asked me, “Why did you shave your head?” 

One: Over the past few years, I would cut my hair, but each time I was told by others that I didn’t look like a “true girl” until my hair was long, straight and silky. Small and constant comments about how to play the role of my gender were burdensome. I never felt like I would be fully accepted for being my true self. Throughout my life, I was told how to look, think, feel, act and be a girl in order to “fit in.” Society’s oppressive gender norms bound me. Shaving my head enabled me to be reflective of the ways society forces me to conform to labels that I didn’t choose. Shaving my head liberated me, as I allowed myself to be faithful to my values and genuine self. 

Two: Generally, it has been easy to forget about my privileges, or my unearned access to resources due to my membership in advantaged social groups. However, as a privileged Villanova student, I have the ability and responsibility to recognize my privileges and how I oppress others. Shaving my head allowed me to be in solidarity with people undergoing cancer treatment and take time to identify the privileges that I take for granted. Some of these privileges include food, water, shelter, safety, social support, freedom of speech, education and hair. 

Three: I have wanted to shave my head for over two years, but giving up my hair was something I genuinely feared. Society’s gender oppression paralyzed me. I didn’t know if I would be able to feel beautiful or societally accepted. But, after the Villanova’s Service and Justice Experience that I embarked on this semester, I realized more now than ever the imperative need for social justice as I’ve encountered people who endure living on the margins of society. Shaving my head permitted me to focus and recognize  not just my oppression and privilege, but also my power to change the circumstances for me and others. Even though unshackling the chains of oppression and giving up unjustified privileges was a daunting task, I was forced to choose who I wanted to be. Would I fully commit to the fight for human rights or tend to my own superficial appearances and status? I chose the former, to be a woman for others.

In order to fully utilize  power, one must understand the ways in which systems maintain advantages and disadvantages based on social group memberships and operate, consciously and unconsciously, on individual, cultural and institutional levels. For example, people are oppressed and privileged for their race and ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation, socioeconomic class, physical, developmental and psychological ability, and citizenship. However, using one’s power comes with a caveat. One must forgo some of their undeserved privileges to provide justice for others. Are you willing to shave?