The Punitive Haircut

IF all goes according to a judge's decree next week, Shannon Faulkner, the first woman admitted to The Citadel, the military college in Charleston, S.C., will sit in a barber chair on campus and watch as her blond locks - every last inch of them - fall to the floor. In only 15 seconds, according to estimates, her head will be shaved, as will the heads of her first-year male classmates.

In the eyes of United States District Judge C. Weston Houck, who allowed the head-shaving for Ms. Faulkner, this is a matter of equal treatment. Other observers view it as unnecessarily harsh and vindictive. Some critics, in fact, see similarities between Faulkner's court-imposed baldness and the shaved heads of women found to be Nazi collaborators during World War II.

Even if that parallel is less than exact, the point is clear. Hostility, rather than equality, seems to be the reigning sentiment in this case, as evidenced in part by the popularity of local bumper stickers with the message ``Shave Shannon!'' The gleeful eagerness will not be lost on women at work on less-radical frontiers.

The haircut brouhaha is only the latest in a string of indignities Faulkner has had to endure in her quest to be the first female cadet among 2,000 male students at the state-funded school. Yet it constitutes an unnecessary indignity. Even the federal military academies require only that female students wear their hair cropped short, at collar length.

Officials at The Citadel have made minor concessions to Faulkner's status. Instead of requiring her to do 40 push-ups in two minutes, as male cadets must, she must do 18 in that time. Faulkner will be required to prove her abilities and strength in many ways as she experiences the intentional humiliation, physical exhaustion, and submission that characterize the treatment all first-year students receive. A small compromise in the barber chair would hardly signal that the school is going soft.

The case is under appeal, so Faulkner may yet preserve at least a few inches of her hair. At a time when all branches of the military are opening more positions to women, her arrival on campus hardly needs to be marked by such animosity. Anything less than a reversal of the head-shaving decree serves as a retrograde step, not only for The Citadel but for the progress of all women, in or out of the military.

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