I'm a female barber—here's what I wish people knew
I am a barber. There are people who argue with me about this. I once had a man who was sitting in my chair getting his hair cut argue that as a woman I couldn’t be a barber. But, well, since I was the one cutting his hair, he was clearly wrong. Men can be hairstylists. Why can’t a woman be a barber?
The definition of barber is, generally, someone who specializes in cutting and styling men’s hair, and often is also trained to do facial shaves and facial hair grooming. And you don’t have to be a man to do men’s hair well, just like you don’t have to be a woman to do women’s hair well. Still the barbershop is traditionally a sacred male space and, like most fields, barbering itself was once the exclusive province of males.
Luckily, in my career I’ve been fortunate to get encouragement more than anything from the men in my field and the men in my chair. As a woman working in a male-dominated field, I often find myself outnumbered in the spaces where I work—that includes the barbershop and the online barbering community, which is increasingly becoming a very real support network where barbers seek encouragement and inspiration from one another. Now that I work independently in a one-chair salon studio, I rely on these networks to learn new techniques, stay current on trends, and see what’s happening in the barbering game. Even though I’m outnumbered, these networks are one of the great advantages of being a female barber these days.
That’s not to say that it’s always easy. Shelly, a friend of mine and a barber with over 19 years experience in the field who just opened her own shop, frequently gets questioned about whether or not she can cut men’s hair. “You go into an old man barbershop and they don’t take you seriously, they just look at you, like, ‘no’. And then there are some of these young guys coming up now who just feel you shouldn’t be there.” Clients also feed into this sometimes by requesting a male barber because they reason that a male barber knows more about men’s hair, since they have it themselves. You can see the logic at work, but it’s ultimately faulty: cutting men’s hair is a skill, and more importantly, a skill that can be learned—and mastered—by anyone who has the drive and passion. As Shelly says, “women weren’t always doctors or lawyers, but that doesn’t mean we can’t or shouldn’t be now.”
At just over three years in the industry, I am still learning a lot. Barbering is both supportive and competitive. Not only are you competing against each other on a daily basis for clients, but many elite barbers also focus a lot of time and energy into competing in barbering competitions. While there are some amazing women working this circuit, men once again dominate. It takes a special kind of woman to be confident standing toe to toe with some of the most talented men in the business.
Instagram is one place where there has been an explosion of self-promotion for barbers over the last few years. Women barbers are there and they are visible, but men and women alike need to work to elevate the talented female barbers in our midst. Women need to fill more leadership and teaching roles in barbering, and one of the ways this happens is when women become entrepreneurs, when we open our own shops and start our own educational programs and product lines.
Creating community is one way to support each other, both online and in real life. I rely on the other women I know in the field to bounce ideas off of, to empathize with me, and to understand the challenges I face. Women do need to promote ourselves, and to support our fellow female barbers by promoting each other, too. . Lastly, I think teaching each other and sharing knowledge is important. This is true for the field of barbering as a whole, but it especially applies to women who may find themselves left out of or outnumbered in some of the other teaching communities that are available.
Every female barber is different and I don’t pretend to be able to speak for all of them, but so many of us face a lot of common challenges. It’s time these challenges are recognized and that our talents are recognized, too, but most importantly it’s time that we are accepted in the community. We are women and we are barbers, too. Get, used to it because we aren’t going anywhere.
Emi Tice is a barber/hairstylist working in Portland, OR. When not doing hair, Emi also has a part time job as an administrative assistant and spends the rest of her time writing and eating (favorite food: pasta). Sometimes she blogs at emimakes.wordpress.com and she is a prolific Pinner and Instagrammer (both @emiponiprincess).
[Image via iStock]