Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
"Savant" for Solaris, Wild's End, Further Associates of Sherlock Holms, more Wild's End

Tuesday 13 August 2013

Beards and Sexism

This is why The Queen, Margaret Thatcher and Germaine Greer never changed their hair styles.

It’s just not worth the media attention, and with Twitter all a flutter, ready to respond at less than a moment’s notice, things can only get worse.

I have long been a fan of Jeremy Paxman.

There hasn’t been a newscaster as serious as he is, in my mind, at least, since Robin Day graced our screens.

Paxman is a proper journalist, a man who knows what he thinks and why, and who is fearless in the face of... well... just about anything. He cut his teeth reporting on the Troubles in Northern Ireland in the early/mid 1970s, and there wasn’t a much sharper sharp end than that, not then, and not since, in domestic journalism. Just to prove it wasn’t some sort of fluke, he also reported from Beirut and Uganda.

It’s not hard to see why the likes of Michael Howard and George Galloway among a whole raft of politicians found him a tough interviewer. He’s well known for taking no prisoners.

Why then should the condition of Mr Paxman’s facial hair be of any interest to anyone? It’s a nonsense, isn’t it?

a bearded Jeremy Paxman
The Twitterverse was all agog, last night, when Jeremy Paxman read the news with a beard, one that we haven’t seen before. Predictably, some people liked it and others didn’t. Some thought it distinguished, others compared Paxman to Santa Claus or a castaway.

Personally, I never met a man I didn’t like more with face furniture, if all I cared about was the way a man looked. That isn’t all I care about, though.

I do wonder, however, whether this doesn’t represent the leveling of that old playing field, the one us women have been banging on about since... well, since forever for most of us, and certainly since the advent of the women’s liberation movement and the move towards what we believed would become a more equal society.

Women have, forever been judged by their appearance. We don’t like it, but at least we can claim we’re somewhat used to it.

Something else that was trending on Twitter yesterday was a panel discussion by the young things that put together the YouTube channel Becoming YouTube. I watched Episode 7 of Becoming YouTube, which posed the question ‘Why are there more Boy YouTubers than Girls’. The answer went like this, and I’m paraphrasing:

Telling a bloke he’s funny is roughly the same as telling a girl she’s hot, and If you’re a girl and you’re ugly you can fuck off, and if you’re hot, you don’t need to be talented... You will, of course, be abused regardless.

These are kids, young people working in a young, hip medium, and I honestly believed that things had changed, that the horrendously sexist double standards that women have put up with for generations, simply didn’t apply any more, that we’d got over all that nonsense.

It turns out, sadly, that I was wrong.

Worse than that, it would appear that we’re now treating middle-aged men pretty much the same way that we’ve always treated young women, and if we’re treating Jeremy Paxman that way, surely we’re well on the way to treating anyone and everyone that way.

Some women might argue that it’s about time, that men should get a taste of their own medicine, that it’s time they learned what it is to be objectified. 

I couldn’t agree less. 

Why would we lower ourselves to a standard that we have been fighting for decades? What do we have to gain by objectifying anyone? By demeaning Jeremy Paxman, we only demean ourselves. Trust me, the man rises well above being affected by a flurry of nonsense of this sort on Twitter. He’s not going to dash off to the loo for a good cry. 

Another slew of women will claim it was all just a bit of fun. Well, for them, maybe, but objectification wasn’t funny when men were doing it to us, so why should it be fun the other way around? And for those who were negative about the beard, well they were basically just being insulting, and since when was that fun?

As women, we don’t help ourselves and we don’t help each other. Men want us to look good, but they lose nothing if we’re not clever or funny, and they gain plenty if we choose not to compete with them where there’s money to be made, and that includes new media outlets for our creativity like YouTube.

It seems to me that women don’t encourage each other to be clever or funny, either. They don’t encourage each other to take risks, to participate, to be controversial or to compete. They don’t seem to me to take pride in each other’s efforts, whether they succeed or not.

It’s past time we girded our loins and put our best feet forward. It’s past time we cheered for what is good and clever, and creative and funny, whoever it’s produced by. If someone’s pretty, well, I guess it’s OK to celebrate that, too, for a moment, but can we please move on and applaud clever, creative, engaged boys and girls, and men and women, and put aside all that pointless harmful negativity? Can we please move past the idea that girls are made of sugar and spice and all things nice, and that everything else belongs to the male of the species?

Can girls start to believe that, please?


Jeremy Paxman has since had this to say about his beard, sensible man,

"I have grown a beard for the last few summers, and suddenly wondered whether I really needed to shave it off. I may keep it or I may shave it off, but I think I'll make my own decision."


  1. Appearance is one of the most decisive factors in both male and female minds and thus behavior. I mean, the saying "I can't smell you" for not liking someone literally comes from exactly there: the smell.

    Pretty much everyone in a civilized society will react more positively towards a well groomed person than someone who just doesn't care and is a slob. Is it discriminating? Sure is, but every single one of us discriminates basically 24/7. Even parents discriminate other children in favor of their own.

    It's how society works, has always worked and will always work.

    From experience at work I can say that it's significantly more likely for someone in torn clothes, unkempt hair, etc, cause problems than someone who actually takes care of him- or herself. And yes, that includes weight, too. Being fat, to me, means that a person is lazy. Slow metabolism? Yeah, I have that too, but I work against it.

    I've heard the infamous "everyone is beautiful" a lot of times and I have to snicker at the ignorance of such statements all the time.

    No, not everyone is beautiful. Character matters more than looks? Not for the initial encounter. Beauty is actually a mathematical factor as has been proven in numerous experiments. And it's there for a reason: survival of the species. At least for the initial contact. On the long run it's true that character and personality matter, but to get there it all depends on the first encounter. I know, never judge a book by its cover, but funnily enough, 99% of the time I'm right.

    Even now we're basically cavemen, monkeys. That Alpha types tend to get a lot of partners is no surprise. There's a simple evolutionary mechanic behind it. Any higher developed animal that forms herds or packs operates like this and humans are exactly like that: pack forming higher developed animals.

    It's our instinctive behavior to seek the most healthy one, the most powerful one, or the one that fits into what our mind considers to be ideal, and that image in our mind is shaped by a multitude of influences.

    1. As for men getting a taste of their own medicine... Please, women have been doing that for centuries, just like men. Men objectify women, women objectify men.

      I was once training as a nurse (a long, long time ago, in a galaxy far away), as such I spent a lot of time in environments that were predominantly and even exclusively female. And from that experience I can say that women are just as bad as men. Oh the things I've heard there. I was somewhat taboo, because, well, I was young and the trainee, but male doctors and other men these girls encountered? Oh boy.

      Then again, men and women are basically monkeys. And monkeys will behave like monkeys.

      I think you're right with women not encouraging each other. I mean, whenever I see parents with a daughter (including friends of mine), who is the one pushing the little princess image on her? It's usually the mother. Of course some companies jump on it and try to make profit from it. But if there was no demand then pink clothes and wallpapers for baby girls and Barbie dolls wouldn't sell anymore (I admit that I have played with my cousins' Barbie dolls as well, Barbie + Masters of the Universe = awesome; I tell you, Skeletor in pink dress = fabulous, and no, I'm not kidding).

      Take my niece for example. She's now 13 and I'm the one who's pretty much responsible for turning her into a "tomboy". Her mom and the women in the family aren't too pleased. Her dad doesn't care that much, because as long as she's happy and has fun everything's fine. So I taught her to track and build a fire, wilderness survival, stuff about wild animals and such shenanigans. Her dad, her grandfathers, they're fine with it. Her mother, and especially one of her grandmothers, oh boy... Once she's 16 I will take her out to shoot... Oh dear, that will cause some issues with the women in the family.

      Now my niece wants to become a park ranger. Yeah... The grandmothers scoffed at that idea, a lot. I would understand it with the grandmothers, who're old enough to have grown up in a different society with different norms, but her mother's riding that train as well.

      Things like this happen because in the minds of many women such behavior is not womanly. They learn this kind of thing form their mothers and then pass it on to their daughters.

      See, I'd love to have daughters. I'd honestly prefer them over sons. I could teach them all kinds of things, many of which would be considered to be exclusively for boys (though, I can also teach them plenty of traditionally womanly things, but I'm really not a standard example of the male specimen, I can shoot, ride, fence, hunt, survive in the wild, sew, dance, cook, etc). Of course society would scoff at them and me for it, even in Europe.

      And there I was thinking that knowledge was power and that one could never have enough of it...

      As for Paxman's beard? AWESOMESAUCE!

  2. Hello, ok, reply with bigger keyboard! :) as i said, i had some trepidation with the title, given the beard, but i understood once i read more. :-) your blog was the 1st i knew of Mr JP's beard. I thought it was fine and it was his choice. But as somebody has mentioned, vision is most people's prevalent sense, and as such, judgement, protection, discrimination can all come to the fore as natural byproducts of that prevalence. I guess you can almost say there's an ancient imperative driving us to make assessment on what people look like. However, I totally agree with you in your hopes and despairs. Despite knowing that sight is so ingrained into our psyche and helps form judgement of others, there is a deeper ability within us to be able to change our behaviours towards others if we want to. I thought a lot of bad things were being left behind at one point, but now, I don't think that they are. I'm not sure they're getting worse, but they don't seem to be getting better. Attitudes between men and women will probably always be complicated. I don't think continued attack is good or helpful. I think, at this juncture, it's going to happen though. I'm sure Mr JP was prepared for the reactions. Maybe we need longer to evolve, I don't know, but as I mentioned in my tweets earlier, I think the best way you can approach these things is just treat people decently, and with respect yourself, I try to (i'm not perfect by any means though) and hope that your example might see some return or some happiness in others. It may invoke some different thoughts in others, it may not. But ultimately each of us is responsible for our own actions and reactions. I do see a side of judging by sight that maybe not all others do. I do have a different style, not always consciously sought to be different, just I liked my beard, and some others do too, and I've stuck with it, and more importantly, it's stuck with me :) In the main, reactions are positive and my family find it very funny if we're together and we're out and about. The amount of people who stop and stare, weird looks; it's usually really amusing . :-) I do get negative responses, but I know that it will happen, so I generally ignore it or try to chalk it to experience. I've never really understood discrimination on any level to be honest. We're all people, we're all in this big ol' pot together, so I've never understood it or subscribed to it. I think, I'm sure, there's an element of competition to it, an element of self security and I'm sure there's a damn bit of meanness to it as well and sometimes I think people think it's easier to attack rather than to understand. I have friends (of both sexes) who judge and criticise others on all things, including and primarily on appearance, and they can be cruel in their observances and their actions. I don't like it, but I cannot tell them how to behave, only offer a different thought or opinion. I have had a friend tell me many times there are no rewards for being good or decent or acting well to others, that there's no medal and no judgement at the end. I tell them there is always judgement. I judge myself primarily and I try to think of others, and how they feel is important. Even with positive influence, I don't know whether attitudes will change wholesale, I think there will always be differences in the way people treat others, depending on what they want from life depending where they see the lines, but there are always possibilities and always some fighting for themselves or each other, some just trying to be decent. I have so many thoughts on this subject, but suffice to say I agree with your stance, it would be great to see change, but for now the pockets of decentness are there and remain good to see. :-) thanks for the thought provoking and for the writing encouragement! :-)

  3. if anything this just underlines how uncivilised "civilised" society is. it's bad enough that people swallow force-fed stereotypes on what is "good" and what is "bad" in terms of looks (I recently came across an article that had decided that all men must now look like extras from Mad Men, and if not, well they're not men), but worse still when they perpetuate the stereotype or denigrate those who don't conform without realising why it is that they think something is "good" or "bad".

    myself, I will use these schema against people to shake up their preconceived notions. I'm happy to show up to anything in torn jeans or casual clothes knowing full well people will think less of me. I want them to. it's so amusing to see how people behave when they think they know, and all it takes is for me to dress in a certain way. because I'm interested in intelligent people who can think for themselves, and look beyond whatever clothes I happen to be wearing at the time to see a person there.

    needless to say those who are willing to judge me by the way I dress aren't the people I want in my life, so it serves me well. see, I prefer the saying "First impressions are for those who want to think about something once." As such I employ a more "open book" approach, where I will never rely purely on one incident or event to judge what kind of person someone is. never underestimate the power of the situation! problem is, people tend to be lazy, accept things without really thinking of them, and unconsciously confirm to a majority view without (again) really thinking about it.

    these people don't interest me, I'm interested in thinkers. because much of this stems from attribution, in particular, external attributions, leading more often than not, to attribution errors. you might think I stumbled on a step because I'm clusmy, or uncoordinated, or just not watching what I'm doing, perhaps a lazy person with a lazy mind. I, on the other hand, know that my stumble was due to the fact that the edge of the stair has become loose, and moved when I put pressure on it, leading to the unexpected loss of balance, and my reaction to prevent myself falling.

    now you might think, well so what? so, this stuff makes a difference. when police carry out video interviews, they are (or should be) required to film from the side, showing both the interviewee and interviewer at the same time from the same angle. why? because it makes a difference. studies discovered that if the camera was solely focused on the interviewee, it biased the judgements made by those who watched the video.

    you'll also find that the same people who will likely judge you by your looks without thinking about it further, will also likely judge you for other meaningless shit. the car you drive, the coffee brand you drink, pc or mac, etc. etc. it doesn't stop with just looks. because they've tied meaning to things that don't contain meaning, and if they stopped to really think about it, they'd realise that too.

    because schema and stereotypes are heuristics, and no replacement for objectively thinking something through. so next time someone judges you because of the way you look, don't feel bad about yourself. just recognise that they're responding just as they've been programmed to, and encourage them to think instead.

    p.s. for who are interested, a crash course in such matters starts with and then I'd recommend,,