The hair tie. A marvelous invention. In 1958 the modern hair tie was born when the Hook Brown Company attached blended fabric to the ring and patented the “elastic loop fastener,” a necessary upgrade from the classic elastic band. This convenient invention has many functional uses, including but not limited to: keeping your hair out of your face when you’re doing a cartwheel, running a marathon, or taking a math test.
A hair tie is especially useful when you are the protagonist in an action movie where you are simultaneously saving the world from the antagonist with a tragic “went mad with power” backstory and rescuing your family, the love of your life, or dog from certain doom. You’ve probably just jumped from someplace very high off the ground, hurt your ankles and given yourself permanent knee pain because you’re most definitely wearing sandals or some sort of shoe with a heel (or both) while single-handedly fighting your way through a group of highly trained assassins or persistent underpaid henchmen with your only weapon being an ancestral sword or a gun that somehow never runs out of bullets and you could be doing great if only your hair wasn’t in your goddamn face.
Not every action movie character with long hair falls victim to this plight; the problem only arises when the character is put in a situation where their long hair puts them at a disadvantage. Now, they may not have a hair tie for a conceivable plot related reason. For example, they have a time crunch and can’t reach for one, they don’t have access to one at that moment, or hair ties don’t exist in their universe. However, a lot of the time it feels like an oversight on the part of the director or filmmaker and either overlooked as an unimportant detail, or as a deliberate choice that was made as part of an effort to sexualize a female character and appeal to a straight male audience. Although not all characters with long hair are women, but a lot of them are, especially if they’re being sexualized. Adam Souza, the video production teacher and yearbook adviser at Franklin High School, points out an example often used in film: “There is always that stereotypical slow motion hair flip you see being parodied over and over.”
Popular action movies, especially superhero movies, put their long haired protagonists in situations like this all the time; take “Avengers: Endgame” for example. Apart from a couple of exceptions, female heroes in the film either were bald (which is also a very practical hairstyle for an action movie character) or they wore their hair down. In “Wonder Woman,” Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) runs through an active war zone only half covered in armor, which is a whole other problem in itself, with only a shield to protect her, and her hair loose around her face. You would think these characters could benefit from their hair out of their eyes while fighting for their lives, but that could just be me.
Although an onslaught of film does fuel the examples of a lack of hair ties, more recent media have started to change the narrative. In fact, one movie in particular inspired the topic of this article: “Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn.” The movie was great for a number of reasons but caught my attention for one in particular. During the climax of the movie, Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) is struggling to fight with her hair in her face and Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) offers her a hair tie. This scene was short but it effectively brought notice to a problem and solved it all in one swoop. It was practical, realistic (as much as a superhero movie can be), and portrayed women as human people with human problems.
“Birds of Prey” should be the norm, not the exception.“We need to examine the stories we tell,” says Souza. “We need to humanize our female characters and stop exploiting them to sell a sexualized version of them. We need a new generation of filmmakers who want to tackle life’s stories and tell the reality of humanity. Especially if films are being marketed to children.” It’s not enough just to have women represented in film, you have to portray them as people too, and it may seem trivial, but that means giving them hair ties.