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Let It All Hang Out

DW staff (ktz)June 18, 2005

GI Joe's buzz used to be troop standard, as officers meticulously monitored the length of soldiers' hair. Now even ponytails are allowed in the German army after a few shaggy men demanded equal treatment with the women.

Ponytail and fighting gear -- soon an option for male soldiersImage: AP

Demi Moore might have shaved off her luxurious mane to prove she was just as tough as her male colleagues. But these days in Germany, soldiers are looking more enviously towards GI Jane's long hair and demanding equal treatment.

Rekruten bei der Bundeswehr
Male and female recruits -- same uniforms, different hairstylesImage: AP

Equal treatment for all – those were the arguments German women used to gain entry into the army. Now the men are doing an about-face and learning to apply the same terms to push gender neutrality. After all, why shouldn't men also enjoy the same pleasures of coming through their long locks?

That's what an 18-year-old recruit argued, when his commanding officer demanded he cut off his 25-centimeter long ponytail. When he refused to do so, he was imprisoned for subordination and fined 150 euros. Only after he was faced with up to three weeks arrest, did the young man agree to sacrifice his tresses.

At the same time he sought legal council and demanded the repeal of the so-called "hair and beard regulation," which enforces strict -- and specifically short -- standards of hairdressing for men ("closely cut so that it lies flat on the head; it must not cover the ears or eyes of the soldier), while allowing longer coiffures for women.

Ein Soldat der Bundeswehr
A ponytale might not look that badImage: AP

The fact that female soldiers could get away with wearing a wider range of hairdos as long as they didn't interfere with the correct placement of the hat was unfair, the soldier argued. It meant he didn't have the same freedom to develop his personality as the women.

A military court in Bavaria was convinced. It said the dual standard violated the armed forces guidelines on equal rights and ruled that the hair regulation was unconstitutional. Requiring male soldiers to cut off their hair was an infringement of the basic right to freedom of expression.