She Got Chops

Bad women have straight hair. A very bad woman wears it razor-edged, swinging round her mean ol’ jaw. This, I’ve noticed, is the current trope for who-not-to-mess-with female characters in drama and film.

There’s Rosamund Pike’s styled-by-sabre haircut echoing her ruthlessness in I Care A Lot; Greta Lee’s icy black bob in The Morning Show marking her out as the nasty girl in the room; Céline Buckens’ smooth but sharp ‘do announcing her toxicity even before her first line of dialogue in Showtrial. The look has many mothers - Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction; Melanie Griffith in Something Wild; Cyd Charisse in Singin’ In The Rain; Pola Negri in A Woman Of The World – but you’d expect a twenty-first century, post-MeToo woman to be more nuanced.

If you want complicated, there’s the white girl lanky-but-pricey locks as worn by Witherspoon and Aniston in The Morning Show. A bit wavy but still straight enough to indicate hidden levels of iniquity. As their characters leave each scene, hair tossed, I find myself yelling ‘Someone put a brush through that!’. But these are contrived to be complex, ambivalent women: gro­­­oming has been ­­­factored in precisely, one of several visual elements implying a deeper egomania.

Do we buy this? Are bitches the only women with the time and money to have their hair sliced to perfection while the moral, soppier girls must adopt something more natural, less sublime? The ethical heroine in The Morning Show has a head of curls. Granted, Valeria Golino is Greek-Italian and therefore in a position to be excused from the usual American conventions but really, do today’s audiences need their goodies and baddies to be made so obvious?

Not sure where this leaves the portrayal of badass black women. A growing preference for a cut which maintains the natural spiral structure of afro-type hair suggests that drama productions will have to come up with a different way to signify malevolence of colour. Maybe just write it into the script instead of supplying us with neon-lit ciphers? As the modern-day equivalent of eighties shoulder pads (the widest are worn by the most wicked), a severe haircut is literally too blunt to symbolise evil. We should not forget that the most reviled woman in the real world, Aung San Suu Kyi, wears her hair in a cute little bun adorned with a flower.