An Enquiry into afro hairstyle from the perspective of feminine identity

Ndekei, Brenda
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Strathmore University
Women from all societies around the world often feel the struggle of hair styling from time to time. However, not all hair is the same and some women encounter more challenges when it comes to styling their type of hair as well as pressure from the rest of society to conform to certain beauty standards that may not be suitable to them as persons and as women seeking to be more feminine in their own right. The issue of hair for women of African descent is particularly complex due to the history of the black race being enslaved and forced to imitate western standards, hair being among them, in order to fit in and adapt to a new world. The question arises of why so many black women feel unsure of how to deal with their natural hair and why black hair that is altered and "tamed" seems to be more acceptable to many societies around the world even in Africa. How these and other perceptions regarding natural afro hair shape a woman's feminine identity are investigated. This study on Strathmore University full time female staff and female evening masters’ students looks at whether there is a link between how women understand or develop their [sense of] feminine identity and how positively or negatively their natural hair is perceived in the workplace. The study uses Cormac Burke's theory of feminine identity to ground it in philosophical anthropology. A qualitative research methodology was employed in this descriptive study, questionnaires were distributed and focus group discussions were carried out among various black women from different categories in the university while themes derived from the research objectives and Burke's theory of feminine identity were utilized to analyze the information. It was found that feminine identity was understood to be a more non-material quality of womanhood rather than a physical one. It was also discovered that the perceptions (mostly positive) of afro hair in Strathmore University were different from organizations elsewhere while the effect this had on the women was to raise their confidence and dignity when their freedom of expression was supported and lower self-esteem when the freedom was denied.
Thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Degree of Masters in Applied Philosophy and Ethics (MAPE) at Strathmore University, Kenya
Feminine Identity, Afro hair, Hair styling, Cormac Burke's theory