the US navy relaxed rules around women’s hairstyles, reversing a decades-old policy. Under the new rules, female sailors would be allowed to wear braids and wider buns. The US army made similar changes earlier this year.
Now some male members of the military are demanding a similar relaxation of the rules for facial hair. One sailor’s Facebook post with a #WeWantBeards hashtag was shared thousands of times, and 7,500 people have already signed an online petition to have “professional and regulated” beards in the US navy.
The calls appear to miss the reasoning for the navy's relaxtion of the hair rules. The policy was the result of a recommendation from a working group of six African American sailors who said the navy’s previous stance didn't take into account different hair textures. The tight buns previously required by the navy could take hours to maintain and forced some black women to use damaging chemicals on their hair. It meant some women had to wear wigs just to comply with navy policy.
By contrast, much of the support for #WeWantBeards on social media appears to cite mostly aesthetic reasons
The petition, for example, cites three main reasons for allowing beards: it will make it easier to recruit millennials, beards can look better than pimply shaved skin and sailors have a long tradition of having beards. Its author, Trevor Amos, cites some specious evidence from Google Trends, claiming that from 2004 the search term “how to grow a beard” has grown exponentially while “US navy enlistment” has far fewer searches. (If you look at just the terms “beard” and “navy” though, the latter is infinitely more searched in the US, highlighting the unreliability of this methodology.)
Beards have been banned in the US navy since the mid-80s, when it was decided they pose a potential safety hazard to using a breathing apparatus. There is a similar policy in the US army, although since last year the army has allowed some leniency for religious groups, such as Sikhs. One soldier made headlines last year for being granted an exception to wear a beard, because he claimed to worship Thor, the Norse god of thunder.
The navy has previously found that more leniency on aesthetic matters has increased its recruiting ability. In 2016, they announced a new policy allowing nearly all tattoos, including on the neck and sleeves. “We need to make sure that we’re not missing any opportunities to recruit and retain the best and the brightest because of our policies,” said Mike Stevens, a master chief petty officer, at the time.
The US navy is yet to comment on the campaign.