Beards and Masculinity

masculine thing

There’s a worrying trend and idea developing within the beard community. No, I’m not talking about our beards and sunglasses trend, let’s keep that one going. This is something much more toxic; the idea that beards are the ultimate symbol of masculinity, and that men without beards are lesser men or worse…women (heaven forbid!).

This. Needs. To. Stop.

Remember our #BareYourBeard competition? To enter our competition I asked people to send in a photo of themselves with a reason they loved Bristlr (it didn’t seem right to select entrants on a photo alone, after all). Now I won’t name and shame, but here’s a quote from one entrant that didn’t make it in to the competition;

“I love Bristlr because a dude without a beard may as well just be a woman.” – Unnamed Instagram User

Okay, so I wasn’t really sure why that was even a reason to love Bristlr for a start… But “may as well just be a woman?” Like being a woman is the lamest thing ever? Fortunately, during that competition this message was the only one of its kind, most people had lovely reasons for loving Bristlr and wanting to be part of our competition.

masculine thing 2

Unfortunately from what I’ve seen it looks like Bristlr may be the anomaly in beard fandoms. I’ve seen far too many pages that have jumped on the beard trend and posted many a beard “meme” along the lines of; beards leave women insatiable, men without beards aren’t men, beards ARE masculinity, etc. Then there’s the content that doesn’t even feature a beard, just an exploitative image of a woman with some beard related text pasted on top. That’s just plain old objectification of women, and there’s more than enough of that in advertising as it is.

This toxic trend reinforces the idea that gender boils down to just men and women – gender is fluid; you get to decide based on your own thoughts and feelings who you are. People have fought long and hard for the right to be respected as the gender they identify as – let’s not force ourselves back in to these restrictive gender norms. Whether or not you have facial hair certainly shouldn’t be a factor! And for the record, there are more women than you’d think that are perfectly capable of growing great beards.

There’s an implication that women are inferior due to their lacking masculinity. After all “beards are for men” and all that and “a dude without a beard may as well just be a woman.” There’s more than enough damaging and sexist advertising out there – don’t contribute to it, stop it!

Not all people that identify as male can, or even want to, grow a beard – we need to stop telling them that’s not okay. It doesn’t make them lesser men.

The list of reasons why the toxic air of masculinity surrounding the beard trend is damaging goes on and on. As a bearded man I don’t want people to think I look down on them for something as trivial as whether or not they can grow a beard, that’s just not the kind of person I am. I can certainly understand the pressure these ideals put on men that can’t grow a beard (even I’ve felt that pressure, resorting to dyeing and penciling to create a thicker looking beard), and it’s just simply not fair!

To get a better idea of how this damaging idea might affect other people, I got in touch with Harnaam Kaur to hear her thoughts on the matter. Oh, and notice how Harnaam rocks an awesome beard.

I am finally back home from Paris. I have met some amazing people on the streets. I have drank some amazing wine and champagne. I have eaten some fab food and deserts. I met some lovely lady street workers who loved my beard. I met some awesome people at Canal Plus and the interview went awesome. It is one of my favourite interviews ever. I can't believe just how big the show that i am in is, even the presenter (my interviewer) is a huge celeb out there. It was sooo much fun and i loved the audience. I hope to work more in Paris. I visited my modelling agency out in Paris, and everyone was just soo awesome; casting was fab too. Notre dame, moulin rouge, eiffel tower and other places that i saw made my heart flutter. I have always wanted to see the Eiffel tower ever since i was a child, it was a dream, so when i finally saw her, i cried. *Dreams do come true* The fabulous Daya toured with me everywhere and made my stay sooooo much fun. I Love Paris. Check out my interview with Antoine de Caunes on Canal Plus 12th November at 22.30pm! #harnaamkaur #harnaamkaurdoesfilm #beardedlady #beardedwoman #effyournorms #effyourstandards #effyourbeautystandards #effsocietiesnorms #bodyconfident #bodyconfidence #antibullyingshortfilm #antibullyingactivist #thequeenofhearts #thedame #plussizemodel #model #diversemodel #empoweringindianwomen #beardqueen #feminist #bigandblunt #paris #lutecehotelparis #lutecehotel #canalplus #thehair #antoinedecaunes #paristrip

A post shared by Harnaam Kaur (@harnaamkaur) on

Here’s what Harnaam had to say after I showed her one of the “memes” posted by an offending beard pages:

“Posts and meme’s just like the one you sent me is one of the reasons why women who do have facial hair feel down about themselves and their own image. Not only just that, men who cannot grow a beard due to genes for example also feel the pressure of not being ‘manly’ enough. I myself rather feel empowered to have a beard as a woman and set foot into a ‘man’s world,’ and because of my image I am able to break gender norms and stereotypes.”

Notice the bit Harnaam said about some men being unable to grow a beard due to genes? That’s something completely out of anyone’s control, and yet people are still being shamed for it.

I have to admire Harnaam’s bravery in keeping her beard and breaking those gender norms. Sadly not everyone can be quite so brave. Even sadder still, without the constant enforcement of gender norms, sexist advertising and various forms of shaming they wouldn’t have to be brave…

Bristlr’s founder, John Kershaw, also has some thoughts on the matter of the hyper-masculinity surrounding beard culture:

“It’s annoying. Beards are great things to have, but when they’re tied in to people promoting their view of masculinity, it often comes across as very blunt and patronising. It’s fine to have pride in your beard, and to have your personal identity tied to it. I’m all about being proud in how you look, and celebrating a good beard. But when it crosses into belittling others, it just makes you look like a bit of a cock. Nobody respects people who try to demand respect by mocking others, especially if they’re choosing to do it in such a sexist way.”

John expands upon why this macho obsessed beard culture of memes and social media posts/comments is damaging to everyone:

“Men often get told to be more masculine; don’t cry, be strong, be macho, etc. And it’s harmful to us. These kinds of sexist comments hurt everyone; they put down women and men without beards, and they make people with beards feel like they have to uphold this unhealthy front. Individually, these memes, posts, comments and whatnot are just harmless jokes. But taken together, as a constant stream of comments that men read, they suck.”

So beard fans it’s time we put this to an end. In fact, it’s been long overdue. Beards are pretty great, I certainly love them, but I know that they’re just facial hair and I think it’s about time a lot of people came to terms with that. Beards don’t determine gender; you can be bearded or beardless regardless of the gender you identify as.

Next time you see one of those beard memes that shames men without beards, objectifies women, or is just plain old offensive, don’t share it about. Let’s keep beards classy.

We’re not adding gender options until we can do it right

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When it comes to sexuality and gender, dating sites are pretty shit at anything beyond a simple binary. They get halfway through “LGBT” and just sort of give up.

OKCupid only started adding more realistic gender options late last year. Tinder and Happn are purely binary (with the former apparently banning trans users). Even trendy new start-ups who have their gender options praised in the press, in reality fail pretty miserably at delivery.

Bristlr doesn’t have gender options.

When we made the first prototype of Bristlr we knew we needed some kind of filtering (ideally a binary system for ease of development). So why pick gender with its infinite complexity, when we can just filter on beard or no-beard?

I’m pretty sure this makes Bristlr the largest dating site ever, without gender.

The great

We’re, like, super inclusive. If you’re into beards, we’re into you, and our doors are wide open. Lady looking for a gentleman-Viking for winter? Bearded dame rocking a kick-ass beard wanting to chat to new people? Asexual cutie with an addiction to rating beards? We love everyone. Hello!

The less-great

Bristlr’s doors may work for everyone. But without gender-based filtering, once you’re in the building you can have a less-than-ideal time finding people if you have specific preferences. It’s a common assumption that Bristlr is for guys with beards and women who want to meet them. And whilst this is the case for the majority of Bristlr’s users, it’s not the whole story.

To take gay guys as an example: We do get great feedback from guys using Bristlr to find other guys, but we do also get a lot of feedback which can be generalised to “I only want to see guys into guys”. You can filter by keyword, but this only works if you assume every gay guy has “gay” somewhere in their profile. It’s not great.

The plan

We’re going to add gender and sexuality options to Bristlr in order to support our LGBTQ+ users. But we’re not going to rush it.

Our current plan is to add an optional gender field to profiles: A text box allowing multiple, comma-separated words of your choosing (or invention). Then a second field where you write the genders you’re interested in. We then filter and match using a list of synonyms, plus existing filters like location, age, beard/no-beard etc.

The synonym list will be public, and community reviewed.

We want to help drive a better industry standard for this kind of stuff, and we know we’ve got a lot of work ahead. We’re a tiny team currently going through the Ignite start-up accelerator, so we’re being metaphorically scrunched up and fired out of a Business Cannon (like a human cannon, but with more spreadsheets). It may take us a little while, but this is going to happen.

If you have any thoughts, questions, concerns, or funny cat pictures, please do leave a comment or find me on Twitter.

Photo credit: Sexuality flag heart patches from Nerdloft on StoreEnvy


John Kershaw is Bristlr’s founder and CEO.