President Donald Trump, he of the uncategorizable hairstyle, has called out a protester because of the man’s hair.
At a rally in Duluth, Minnesota, Wednesday night, Trump’s speech was interrupted by a protester carrying a sign, who happened to have his hair in a bun. After first exhorting his security staff to “get him out of here,” Trump then said, with sneering contempt, “Was he a man or a woman, because he needs a haircut more than I do ... couldn’t tell, couldn’t tell.” He also said, “Go home to your mom, darling.” His supporters in the crowd cheered.
Some outlets and tweets referenced Nixon-era hippies to put the comment in context. During the Vietnam War, hippies grew out their hair to protest the war and rigid societal rules. Many veterans also grew out their hair after being discharged from the Army as a form of protest.
But the more obvious subtext here is that there is no worse insult you can hurl at a man than calling him a woman, at least in Trump’s mind. It’s just the latest in a long history of Trump mocking people for their appearance and affectations, particularly men he deems effeminate or not traditionally masculine enough for his taste, like “low energy” Jeb Bush or “little” Marco Rubio.
And it’s another example of his well-documented contempt for women. A recent poll confirmed that white men definitely think Trump respects them; only 35 percent of women ages 18 to 49 think he respects them. So calling a man a woman? Hoo boy, the worst insult ever.
This comment was clearly meant to be emasculating. Trump likes what he perceives to be strong men, like dictators and oligarchs (short hair, all of ’em). He’s said many times he likes men out of “central casting,” i.e., tall white men who could play the important guy in Hollywood.
But drilling down even further, it highlights the president’s complete disdain for accepting or exploring other definitions of sexuality and gender, as evidenced by his transgender military ban and his questionable record on LGBTQ rights thus far. His policies have been pretty black and white in that regard, so implying “men have short hair; women have long hair” is consistent with his view on gender.
Whether we’re talking about soccer hair or mom hair, the truth is that hair often has a deeper meaning beyond trends and fashion. And men and long hair have a rich history. It’s even been a way to portray hypermasculinity (think: Samson and Fabio). It’s had varying levels of acceptance through the years but is now more about personal expression than anything else. In the words of the founder of a community for men with long hair called “the Longhairs”: “You should be able to grow your hair however long you want and no one should give you a hard time about it. That’s our position.”
As Trump preps his base for 2018 (and beyond), he’s setting the groundwork for another culture war election, playing on anxieties around the status of women in the era of #MeToo and immigrants in an era of an increasingly connected world.
In the context of Trump’s immigration policies and the families who have been ripped apart at our borders, mocking someone’s hair seems like a very minor infraction right now. But it’s just one more data point about what kind of person is acceptable to our president and what that person looks like. That field seems to be narrowing daily.