Originally published in Barber Evo, USA Edition #1
Close your eyes. Imagine yourself in a barbershop: the clippers buzzing, the conversations and music in the background, the sound of water rushing as the last remnants of hair are washed away. Who do you see? How do you imagine a Barber?
This was the first question I posed when I created the website for Her Chair His Hair, and one that I still ask almost 5 years later to this day. The barber that comes to mind will vary based on a plethora of descriptors: old or young, new or advanced, Latino or Russian. However, that Barber you imagined is likely a man and that doesn’t make you wrong, but it does show how far we have to go as an industry.
Every day since I graduated school, I have had the same, eye opening conversation. “Hi, my name is Cassie and I’m a Barber.” Most people, men and women alike, will blink confusedly and ask a simple question, “Oh, you’re a stylist/lady Barber/Barber-ess?” It used to bother me so much until I realized that it is not their fault because we all have been conditioned to think of a barbershop as a place for men. Women have salons and men have barbershops, right? As we lovingly say in Brooklyn…“nah.”
Women have played an integral role in the barbering industry longer than most people are aware. In 1924 the first “women barbers” were admitted into the Barber Union and in 1985 women constituted for 50% of Barber school enrollments. These statistics are only applicable to the United States in the 20th century and yet, without proof, most people will brush them off and say that it is a new “trend” or “fad” for women to become barbers. So why is there so much pushback? In my years of doing research, networking and developing relationships with women in the industry, the consensus is typically the same: nobody believes us when we tell them what we do for a living.
Recently, I had a conversation with a fellow barber, platform educator and brand manager at the International Beauty Show in New York. We spoke about a recent event she participated in as a featured judge and how it lead her to realize something very strange about the structure of the battles that were hosted. Full disclaimer: I think, to a degree, “female” categories at Barber events are great because they’re a way to dip slowly into the water. With that being said, the active separation of men and women at these events are a complete disservice to all professionals. This woman told me that the “female” category was not only priced less, at the same price as the student category, but that the cash prize plus physical trophy dwarfed in comparison to the other categories.
Some will read that last paragraph and yell out, “But Cassie, at least there is a female category to represent women in the industry.” I ask you to hear me out. Why at least? From my perspective, it’s indirectly sending a message that women are not on the same playing field as men when it comes to competitions and we all know that’s simply untrue. Well, some of us do at least. This is not an attack on those who have good intentions and are attempting to include or attract women to their events. Historically, most Barber events are geared toward men and any good marketing course will tell you that diversity is key, especially when there is an 18 trillion dollar “female” economy to tap into.
So where do we go from here? We move forward in unison as an industry while respecting that we all have strengths and weaknesses in our personal path to success. All events, for both stylists and barbers, can actively create an inclusive environment so that any professional looking to enhance their skill set feels welcomed. Most importantly, in my opinion, when someone tells you who they are or what they do, you can believe them and skip the 21 questions about how their gender magically affects their title or license.
Oh, and you can stop calling me “lady.”
Founder of www.HerChairHisHair.com
Master Barber, State of New York