The Gender Politics of Scrunchies
Holding back more than just hair.
Scrunchies might seem like innocent little bits of colorful fabric, scrunched up and stuck on heads to give ponytails an extra touch of sass.
However, what most people don’t realize is that scrunchies have been preventing women from achieving their full potential for centuries. They’ve given men unearned advantages and shielded them from competing with woman’s superior ability to channel emotions into productive activities.
(Ladies, DO NOT tell men how to channel their emotions into productive activities. They might start accomplishing things and we CANNOT afford this.)
It’s easy to get distracted by the current, seemingly innocent iteration of scrunchies, but we cannot disregard the insidious role they’ve played in women’s apparel throughout history.
Archeologists recently discovered the first fossil of a scrunchie in Mesopotamia in the Sumerian city of Uruk. This scrunchie laid near the remains of an ancient woman, with an inscription nearby that, roughly translated, reads:
“bound in life, bound in death, this woman should have made me a sandwich.”
Archeologists interpret this to mean that the scrunchie might have been a cause of death.
While ancient Greek and Roman texts do contain a few early references to scrunchies, the male authors couldn’t be bothered to provide much context, aside from one story in which Alius the Elder (a male person) living in Ephesus used a scrunchie to fasten his beard. The image was so unsettling that Alius was promptly put to death by an angry mob and any carved images of scrunchies in public spaces were scratched out.
Alius the Elder also made terrible wine, which is a fact unrelated to this story.
Evidence for scrunchie-related activities grows stronger through the Middle Ages, as a small handful of educated women began to pick up pens and share their scrunchie-related woes.
“The more known, the more the wretched scrunchie torments, from day to night and all the months of my existence. Why not some humbler fastener, which would provide this writer a few collected hours of peace? I suspect it shall be my companion to the grave and beyond, when I enter scrunched into the heavens.” — Asselin of York
But scrunchies were not a purely western phenomenon.
In a little-known tale, Kawa Ati, the ferocious Japanese pirate woman of the Early Endo Period scandalized popular society by not only refusing to wear scrunchies, but also banning scrunchies from her ships. According to those who served under her, if a scrunchie came near she would set it on fire and drop it into the sea. This added an air of infamy to her already terrifying legacy.
It’s also the first recorded instance of a woman destroying a scrunchie. This must have given hope to other ladies who weren’t yet in a position to stand up against the evil accessories.
In Victorian England, scrunchies were still used to restrain and contain women’s hair, but some lower class women had begun to wear 4–5 different scrunchies at the same time, in a subversive attempt at style which made the hair tie less attractive to those of the higher classes. Scrunchies were seen less and less often, gradually falling out of style as women managed to “lose them” behind headboards and cabinets.
Death scrunchies were still popular, however. Death scrunchies were a uniquely Victorian invention and made from the hair of dead loved ones, so that the pain and irritation caused by the accessory would remind the living of the annoying traits the people they lost had possessed. This made the grieving process easier to bear, because it prevented idealization.
By the time the 20th century came about and women began to experience new levels of liberation, it looked like they might finally be able to put the scrunchie behind them. The horizon was bright, until the cursed 80s when Swedish pop star Maja Eriksson discovered a vintage scrunchie in an antique shop and decided to wear it for her record breaking music video Maybe All The Stars Are Mine, But Maybe They Are Not.
With that the scrunchie craze was back in full swing. Women who did not understand the history of the item insisted that scrunchies “aren’t sexist” and “make me look fun”. Some of the defensive wearers claimed that they were reappropriating the scrunchie.
Fortunately the fad only lasted for about a decade before it was replaced by less controversial styles. Every now and then a tired mom will still don a scrunchie and hit the grocery store, without considering the oppression she is foisting upon herself. But this cannot be helped and will happen with any treacherous fashion item.
Scrunchies do still try and reemerge from time to time, masquerading as merely another innocent trend, but society at large is beginning to understand the historical context for their existence and acknowledge the generations of women who once suffered beneath their tyrannical rule. With this knowledge, hopefully we can finally lay them to rest beside all the other tools of our oppression.
And then… then we will be free.