Equality at the Citadel deserves bald scrutiny

August 05, 1994|By MIKE ROYKO

A male chauvinist would take delight in Shannon Faulkner's distress. Being a more enlightened sort, I offer her understanding and compassion.

Ms. Faulkner is the young woman who went to court to become the first female cadet to attend the Citadel, a respected old military college in South Carolina.

Because the school is state-funded, a federal judge agreed with the ACLU, which represented Ms. Faulkner, that she was entitled to join the 2,000 male cadets at the college.

The Citadel fought her suit, saying that having a female creature in the program would be a terrible pain because she could not deal with the awful military grind.

Ms. Faulkner's lawyers chortled that she was more than tough enough to do anything the male cadets did, except possibly making wee-wee while standing up.

To the delight of feminists and enlightened males, the judge upheld Ms. Faulkner's rights to spend her college years in the misery that is common to all sadistic military schools.

And that seemed to be that. All Ms. Faulkner had to do was register, show up, and she could stick out her chest, stand at rigid attention, screech "Yes, sir!" and she could follow in the footsteps of the distinguished military figures produced by the Citadel.

But Ms. Faulkner's lawyers went back to court and made a surprising request.

They asked that she be allowed to skip a traditional rite of passage for freshmen at the old military school. She did not want her head shaved.

Instead, they suggested that she be allowed to have her hair trimmed into a fashionable short, female bob.

I can understand her feelings. When I was her age, a military barber put a clipper to my head and those of my fellow young recruits and we shuffled out, sadly rubbing our naked young scalps.

Male, female, or otherwise, when you are 19 or 20, you take considerable pride in your hair. My generation spent millions of preinflation dollars on Brilliantine, Wildroot Creme Oil and various smelly pomades that gave us the greasy duck-tail look that was high fashion at the time.

So it was traumatic for us to go back to the barracks, look in the mirror and see what appeared to be a new-born bird with gigantic ears looking back.

But there were valid reasons for giving skin-head haircuts to recruits. We came from all walks of life, some from rural homes that did not have a Jacuzzi, a shower or even a bathtub.

(Yes, to the amazement of the Teen News Section, there was such a time of terrible deprivation in this country.

But we survived it. As a spiritual friend once said: "I wept because I had no Guccis until I saw a man who had no Florsheims.")

So it was possible that some of us had cooties and other wild things inhabiting our hair. The tiny creatures were capable of leaping from one oily skull to another, and the military didn't want us itching and scratching when we should have been marching and panting. Shaving our heads, leaving the cooties dying on the barber's floor, was the most practical way to avoid this social embarrassment.

Today, cooties are not a common problem, especially for the kind of jut-jawed bookworms who apply to the Citadel instead of going to a coed college that allows jolly beer parties and other bawdy delights.

The Citadel shaves their heads because it wants to quash their individuality and make them feel like faceless and hairless goofs, which is considered essential to the molding of the subservient military mind.

As a lawyer for the Citadel said: "The whole point is the subjugation of the individual to the interest of the group. Many cadets have described that haircut as the most humiliating moment of their lives."

But to get back to Ms. Faulkner and her plea that the judge spare her hair.

One of her lawyers pleaded with the judge: "She will look strange, she will be stigmatized. You are forcing her to undergo what is considered degradation."

Actually, that is silly and insulting to millions of us. I, for one, have been without much hair for many years.

I have not been stigmatized or subjected to degradation. My wife, my children and my grandchildren love me.

So do many bartenders and degenerate friends.

To Ms. Faulkner's chagrin, the judge said no: If Ms. Faulkner wants to attend the Citadel and receive the same grinding military education as the male students, let her head be shaved like all the young male masochists.

As one who has staunchly defended the rights of female creatures to play golf, as sadly as they do it, I must still agree with the judge.

It would be unfair for Ms. Faulkner to walk around with her hair neatly bobbed while the sun glints off the scalps of her fellow freshman cadets.

There is more to equality than doing push-ups and jogging to the breakfast mess hall. Besides, women are known to have had cooties.

Ms. Faulkner should look at the bright side, as I often do. It takes me less than 10 seconds to fashion my hair in the morning. One or two swipes with a damp towel, and every frail tuft is in place.

Her bald head will save Ms. Faulkner at least 10 minutes a morning in full-haired blow-drying, poofing, arranging and other wasted effort. That is 70 minutes a week, or about 60 hours during her freshman year.

Who knows, she might enjoy the luxury of this leisure time so much that she keeps shaving her head the rest of her life.

Why not? Would the troops have responded to Gen. George S. Patton if he had flowing amber tresses?

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