Women on Congressional Black Caucus Demand Army Change Hair Rules

Friday, 11 Apr 2014 03:27 PM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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Sixteen female members of the Congressional Black Congress want Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to review a revised Army uniform appearance regulation that they and several people in the military say contains discriminatory rules for African-American women's hairstyles.

In their letter to Hagel, the women also called the new policy's wording, which refers to some styles such as dreadlocks as "matted" and "unkempt," "offensive and biased" toward black women, who traditionally wear them, Stars and Stripes reports. 

"Though we understand the intent of the updated regulation is to ensure uniformity in our military, it is seen as discriminatory rules targeting soldiers who are women of color with little regard to what is needed to maintain their natural hair," said the lawmakers' group, which is chaired by Rep. Marcia L. Fudge, D-Ohio.

Army officials said restrictions on twisted hair or dreadlocks are not new, but have been in place since 2005, including rules against dreadlocks or hair twists.

"African-American female soldiers were involved in the process of developing the new female hair standards," Army spokeswoman Lt. Col. Alayne Conway said in an email to Stars and Stripes. "Not only were nearly 200 senior female leaders and soldiers (which included a representative sample of the Army’s populations) part of the decision-making process on the female hair standards, but the group was also led by an African-American female."

But the 2005 guidelines contained fewer than 500 words about women's hairstyles, noting that it is not "possible to address every acceptable hairstyle, or what constitutes eccentric or conservative grooming."

The new rules, meanwhile, dedicate more than 1,300 words to how the Army's women should style their hair, but most of the provisions are not new or unique to the military, as they follow almost exactly rules the U.S. Marine Corps enacted in 2007.

In March, military members attempted to go straight to the commander in chief with their complaints, putting a petition on WhiteHouse.gov to demand that President Barack Obama rescind new Army hairstyle regulations that they say are "racially biased" against black women.

So far, the petition has gotten only 15,000 of the 100,000 signatures it needs to be considered by the White House.

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