Growing men

Untangling masculinity in ‘Of Beards and Men’

By Ehron Ostendorf

Photo: Roman Emperor Hadrian represents an example of the associations of facial hair with power in Christopher Oldstone-Moore’s ‘Of Beards and Men’

Professors face the challenge of making content engaging for their students, prone to boredom in large lecture halls. Christopher Oldstone-Moore, Ph.D., wanted to transform the content of his history class to come alive, to keep his students awake – and thinking critically. While teaching, he came across articles and pieces written about facial hair, which he realized only scratched the surface. He found his inspiration: “Of Beards and Men.”

Oldstone-Moore is a senior lecturer at Wright State University. He is a local author with multiple published books. including his most recent publication, “Of Beards and Men.” In Oldstone-Moore’s book, he begs the question “How is masculinity defined?” through a broad and in-depth study on the connection between masculinity and facial hair.

Oldstone-Moore has done countless studies focusing on gender and masculinity and the connection to the body and hair. He has also achieved an Honors Teacher of the Year award with Wright State University in 2012 as well as an Excellence in Teaching General Education award with Wright State University in the 2009, 2010, and 2012.

“One fundamental idea proved remarkably resilient over the course of Western history, and that is the association of hair with nature and, conversely, the removal of hair with the control or transcendence of nature,” Oldstone-Moore writes in “Of Beards and Men.”

He explains that throughout history, beards have come in and out of favor through certain eras and cultures. With the examination of gender studies in the ’70s, a way forward was finally ignited so people could research connections with gender and how humans interacted and reacted to the world they live in. This aided him in his studies for the book.

“With that, then we have some tools and we have some framework in which to make sense of it for the first time,” Oldstone-Moore says. “It is no longer seemingly random; we can look for things that can give us clues about why these things are happening.”

He explores different historical, social, and cultural avenues through a gender studies/history framework, such as the analysis of different religions, e.g., Christianity and Islam. In his book, he points out that scientists in the past (even Darwin himself), psychologists, and a sociobiologist all tried and failed to come to a conclusive understanding of the significance behind facial hair.

Oldstone-Moore, however, has devoted his time to finding a conclusive answer. He says his intro gives a good glimpse at what he’s trying to explain: “Whenever masculinity is redefined, facial hairstyles change to suit. The history of men is literally written on their faces.”

Since Oldstone-Moore is a history lecturer, he uses that knowledge to find connections between the past and the present. He looked through past events to find patterns. Many times, the facial hair change comes from an icon like one’s leader. It could be on a coin, tapestry, statue, photograph—with that, a male leader would define himself as the ideal figure of masculinity, whether that be with or without a beard.

Throughout his book, Oldstone-Moore discusses Egypt. He compares and contrasts Greek culture versus Roman culture (hint: Alexander the Great plays a role). He also compares the two patriarchs of the medieval era — the kings and nobility versus the Church.

The book maps out every epoch in which facial hair appears as a dominant style, taking readers through early 20th century and the modern era. The reader travels back to the American Civil War and the ideal masculine type of the wise and bearded fatherly figure. Oldstone-Moore explains that during WWI, men in the British army had been court-marshaled for failing to have a mustache in the army.

“In the 19th and early 20th century, they [the armies] required facial hair and now they don’t,” Oldstone-Moore says. “Facial hair is political … because it is tied up with masculinity and power.”

In modern times, facial hair in the military simply isn’t allowed. Recently, though, we’ve been swept up with movements like “no shave November” (which began in Australia for testicular cancer awareness) and style choices like “lumbersexual,” which incorporate facial hair.

Oldstone-Moore concludes that, even here in Dayton, there are emerging beard-friendly men. There’s a Dayton group by the name of Beard and Facial Hair Club as well as the Gem City Gentlemen Of The Gilded Bearded. And, there’s a lot more to learn about the topic in Oldstone-Moore’s “Of Beards and Men.” His next book idea? To write a history of advice for men, right up to the present, discussing how authors throughout history were similarly bent on instructing men how to be men.

‘Of Beards and Men’ is available on Amazon. For more information about Christopher Oldstone-Moore, please visit People.Wright.edu/Christopher.Oldstone-Moore.

liReach DCP freelance writer Ehron Ostendorf at EhronOstendorf@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Reach DCP freelance writer Ehron Ostendorf at EhronOstendorf@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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