For some years now, I have been noticing colleagues at my law school gradually darkening up their graying hair. Grecian formula? Whatever!
I had thought I was in the last stronghold where it did not matter, or in fact, might be a GOOD thing to be GRAY! I watched my younger sister struggle with dye. I listened to people moan about how once you started dying, you were trapped because of the ugly problem of the roots growing out gray with the dark ends. I really, really felt so lucky to be in academe where there just wouldn't be any of those commercial pressures to dye my hair.
So, why am I seeing all my colleagues dying their hair? Men as well as women?
Ageism is rearing its ugly head here, I fear.
There has been a problem with deadwood on the faculty. And then sloppy thinking has begun to equate deadwood with age. This is patently not the case. We have several older faculty who are paragons of ultra-high quality and output in all three: teaching, scholarship and service. And, like a bell curve, we have a number who are quite good quality. But the perception in some quarters has been that it is only younger faculty who are teaching and doing scholarship!
I also think that the murky politics of this place play into the mix, because Old Hands seem threatening to Current New Hands in some ways. It doesn't have to be that way, IMHO. So, old seems bad in that way, too, and that gets mixed up in people's thinking and then gets slopped into the mix of how everybody gets judged.
I am, by the standards of my school, a relative new-comer. I am, by the standards of the Social Security Administration, not near retirement.
And yet, I have a great deal of white and gray hair. I really like how it looks by the way. I would say my hair was silvery if it didn't sound twee. I am very fortunate in the way my hair has grown and the way it has come in gray. I have no intention of dying it, and I very much resent what is beginning to feel like pressure and prejudice.
If people were to be as judgmental about peoples' skin color as they are being about people's hair color, that would be racism. What is this about the pressure to color over all the gray in our hair?
I began to think about this when I had a very interesting conversation with a student who had an internship in Cambodia. He ended up having a conversation with the Justices of the Cambodian Supreme Court. I asked if they wore wigs. He said no. That the way they denoted their wisdom in that culture was that they had moles with hairs growing out of them. And they just let them grow really, really long, and that was a sign of how old and therefore how much wisdom they had accumulated.
I thought "Wow!" Would that not be a more relaxed culture to age in?! Wouldn't that be more accepting and actually really honor age as accumulating wisdom!?! I do think I am wiser now than I was at 20, 30 and 40. My reflexes are slower. But I know a lot more about how the world turns. I know a lot more people, too. I have contacts all over the law library world! That should be worth something to my law school as well.
At any rate, I will not dye my hair.