Shearing Gender Norms One Cut at a Time
Hair has no gender. Neither does the word “barber.” In fact, if you ask Google what a female barber is called, you’ll find out that the answer is “barber.”
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2018, 17 percent of all barbers in the United States were women. That’s up one percent from the previous year. According to that data, last year, there were an estimated 22,950 barbers working in the United States without a Y chromosome. That’s a lot of women working in what has traditionally been seen as a male sacred space. That’s also a number that is expected to grow.
One of those women is Sara Grace, who is among four women who make up the ten-person team of barbers working for Artisan Barber’s Upper East and Lower East Side locations. Although the number of women on that team is significantly higher than the national average, for SG, being among women co-workers working on predominantly male clients in a barbershop setting isn’t anomalous. Her earliest exposure to barbering was when she was part of an all-woman barbering staff.
Trained by the Aveda Institute in her native Wisconsin, SG initially landed a job working in a hybrid salon/barbershop. “They prided themselves with being for anyone and everyone whether you wanted a barber cut or a salon experience,” she says.
Being there, she found herself becoming increasingly more interested in the barbering side of the business – much of which was not in her Aveda training. “I thought cuts like the straight razor shave and skin fades were really cool.”
“At Aveda they taught me how to cut men’s hair,” SG says. “They didn’t teach me how to be a barber. It wasn’t until I was surrounded by barbers, who just happened to be all women, that I realized this is what I want to be doing.” But her cosmetology background, although applicable, wasn’t without its drawbacks.
“Aveda has great products and great color,” SG says of her alma mater. “But they believe that if you’re going to work for them it’s all about a lifestyle. And I wasn’t ready for that.”
“When I moved to New York, I thought I didn’t have a choice other than to work in a salon,” SG says. “I was set up in a salon and soon realized that I liked the vibe at my former place in Wisconsin better than a full-service salon spa.”
Eventually, SG landed in New York’s barbering sphere. And, in spite of the six-to-four male/female ratio on Artisan Barber’s staff, she’s noted that to some, it’s still a boy’s club behind the chair.
“When I tell people that I’m a barber, they’re taken aback by that. They ask me ‘Do you cut men’s hair?’ And I’m like, yeah, I’m a barber. Just because you’re a gal, it doesn’t mean that you have to just cut gal hair.”