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Why Men Grow Beards

Men grow beards for a variety of reasons. Some reasons are primal and evolutionary. Some
cultural or religious. Some even political.

At its most basic, men grow beards because it showcases their masculinity to other men.
Research has revealed that while many women do not necessarily think a beard makes men
more attractive, men show them off to other men to signal of their competitiveness.

Primatologists found out that among 154 primate species, the more common the social and
physical conflict was, the more primates like to conspicuously grow their facial hair.

Christopher Oldstone-Moore, author of Of Beards and Men, pointed out, however, that the
smooth face is still very much the norm, and from the point of view of todays social norms,
growing a beard still represents the outsider that stands out from the crowd.

The beard has come and gone throughout history as cultural markers. According to
Oldstone-Moore, Emperor Hadrian in the 2nd century AD intentionally grew a beard to display
his authority and manliness. Following Stoicism, Hadrian believed that following the laws of
nature makes him a wise emperor.

Centuries before that, Alexander the Great was not a fan of the beard and ordered his
soldiers to shave them off. At that time, a clean-shaven man was the standard of masculinity.

Even earlier civilizations like the Egyptians and Mesopotamians associated shaving both hair
and facial hair with priestly virtues of holiness and cleanliness. In contrast, the Abrahamic
religions such as Judaism and Islam promote growing of the beard for the same reason.

Quoting Oldstone-Moore, Jesus is the most recognizable bearded man in Western


Facial hair, or the lack thereof, are also political signals. Strongmen like Adolf Hitler,
Muammar Gadafi, Fidel Castro, Saddam Hussein, and Joseph Stalin sported facial hair. In
contrast, presidents in the United States since William Howard Taft have dropped the beard
or the moustache. In the U.S., a clean-shaven politician is trustworthy.

In the Philippines, career politicians follow the U.S. norms. None of our male presidents
sported a beard. We associate Emilio Aguinaldo as calm yet calculating while Antonio Luna
as aggressive yet passionate

In the 21st century, beards are making a comeback, particularly among the hipsters and

And they are fighting back, especially within the school campus. Students at Brigham Young
University (BYU) in Utah protested against the universitys longstanding honor code that
enforced students to shave off their beards.

In 1971, Dallin Oaks, the president of the Mormon university at that time, associated beards
and long hair with protest, revolution, and rebellion against authority and as symbols of
hippie and drug culture.

What Oaks may not have fully appreciated at the time is that the beards symbolism is not
just counter-cultural, but also religious. Religious Muslims grow beards because they follow
the hadith or the Prophet Muhammads (peace be upon him) teachings.

Sikhs do not cut their hair at all because to them, the hair is a gift from God.
Since the protest, the Washington Post reported that the university has slightly relaxed the
guidelines by allowing students with legitimate requests such as medical, theatrical or
religious needs to grow their beards.

In the Philippines, the tensions between school policy and the students right to freely
express themselves remain contentious. Within campus grounds, the beard is really a
political issue.

Many student political parties fight over votes during election season, chanting that they will
defend their rights. Almost a decade since I left university, the fight has yet ended.

The University of San Carlos (USC), a private Catholic university and my alma mater, has an
honor code similar to BYUs: proper haircut and clean-shaven faces for men and well-
combed hair and below-the-knee skirts for women.

But common to many universities in the Philippines, students also wear uniforms. It was in
my first year in 2005 that the university required their male students to wear our grey-colored

Only women students used to wear uniforms.

The issue of donning facial hair sparked a discussion in social media after school guards
interrupted a couple of law students from entering the campus.

Among them was Rashid Pandi. Hailing from Marawi City, Rashid is the only senior law
student who landed on his cohorts deans list.

He has also participated and won in many national and international debate and mooting
competitions, representing the university.

And like many Muslim men, Rashid follows the sunnah of growing facial hair.

While attempting to enter campus, the school guards told Rashid to trim off his beard.
Embarrassed of the incident, he decided not to enter the campus grounds.

The school guards allowed him to enter the campus the following day, but they asked Rashid
to list his name into their logbook, subject to the disciplinary actions of the universitys
student affairs office.

Since the incident, the universitys student affairs office has clarified that law and graduate
students are exempt from the grooming policy.

As a private higher education institution, USC has legitimate authority to enforce its grooming
policies. Back in the day, one of the administrators reminded us students that, once youve
enrolled here, it is your responsibility to follow the universitys rules.

But the university must recognize that social norms are also changing fast. The clean-shaven
man can well be a Neo-Nazi fascist fanatic or the bearded man can now be a religious
Muslim who brings pride to the university in international debate competitions.

Even today in a traditionally Catholic country, a transgender woman can now serve as
president of the student body or even a member of Philippine Congress.
In the age of identity politics, how you look or what you wear matters. The rise of nationalist
populism, which has fueled concerns on immigration and national security around the West,
has magnified negative racial or religious stereotypes.

The fatal shooting of 17-year-old African American Trayvon Martin in Florida opened the
debate on whether Trayvons fondness of wearing a hoodie led the police to shoot him.

The fight over transgender bathrooms has spread across many Republican states. Donald
Trumps election to the White House has brought anxiety among women and LGBTQ
communities, fearing that he may to roll back on healthcare and equal marriage rights.

Universities like USC, which has attracted students like Rashid, could do more good in these
turbulent times by serving as progressive havens for diversity and openness.

Perhaps they should follow the lead of one of USCs patron saints, St. Joseph Freinademetz,
on embracing social change. A missionary to China, Freinademetz loved the Chinese culture
so much that he wanted to die bald with a beard, the way the typical Chinese man looked in
the 1800s.

And so he did.
The Politics of Madness

Now detained Senator Leila De Lima said in a statement late last year: Duterte should stop
taking Fentanyl because obviously it has already driven him to madness and to fits of
paranoia where everyone he sees is either a drug addict or a drug lord.

The political rhetoric of mental illness uses a government officials mental fitness as an insult
to question their ability to carry out their duties.

However, this kind of public statement creates an unfair and insulting stigma on mental
illness in general. The Philippine Statistics Authority revealed that 1 in 5 adult Filipinos suffer
from some form of mental illness. The 2010 National Census recorded that out of 1.4 million
Filipinos with disabilities, more than 200,000 of them or 14% suffer have some form of mental
health problem.

In the previous Congress, lawmakers like former Senator Pia Cayetano and Vice President
Leni Robredo, when she was still a House Representative then, filed mental health bills in
the previous Congress but to no avail.

Now, the government is beginning to recognize that mental health is a serious public health
issue. The Department of Healths mental health program budget was raised from 36 million
pesos in 2016 to 220 million pesos in 2017.

Well change this landscape and this paradigm. We are in the process of advocating for the
passage of the first ever Mental Health Law in the Philippines, Health Secretary Paulyn
Ubial said.

Last October 2016, Liberal Party Senator Risa Hontiveros, who ran under a platform of
promoting universal healthcare, filed Senate Bill 1190, which sought to establish a national
mental health policy.

The bill includes provisions that recognizes the rights of persons with mental health needs,
improves government and community facilities, and requires medical students to take
subjects in neurology and psychiatry.

To bring the conversation into the fold, government officials must remind their colleagues
about the consequences of using mental illness as a political insult.

Senator De Limas statement describing President Dutertes mental health is one such

While the senator, a Liberal Party colleague of both Hontiveros and Robredo, has legitimate
criticisms against the human rights abuses brought about by Dutertes campaign against
illegal drug trade, the mental illness rhetoric should stop.

These statements have a stigmatizing effect mental illness. It also hurts the conversation that
Secretary Ubial and Senator Hontiveros are pushing.

But the political rhetoric of mental illness is nothing new.

During the presidential campaign trail, President Dutertes psychological report over his
annulment case was leaked to the media. The psychologist described Duterte as suffering
from antisocial narcissistic personality disorder.

Former president Benigno Aquino III was suffering from depression and melancholia,
according to a fake psychological report leaked during the presidential campaign in 2010.
Even the late Senator Miriam Santiago was dogged by issues concerning her mental health
throughout her political career.

In the United States, some psychologists have analyzed President Donald Trumps
personality from a distance, with some going as far as saying he is suffering from a mental
illness. This has sparked a debate among therapists and psychologists concerning the
ethical issue of diagnosing public officials without seeing them in person.

Psychiatrists and psychologists diagnosing Trump from afar argue that he has caused so
much unapologetic distress to people that he must have this narcissistic personality disorder.

Mental health professionals in the U.S. take this issue seriously because it had legal
consequences that affected the professions integrity. In 1964, Fact magazine published an
article concerning Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwaters mental health. The
article included a survey from 2,417 psychiatrists of the American Psychiatric Associations
(APA) 12,356 members.

The survey the magazine circulated asked whether Goldwater was mentally fit to serve as
president. Of the respondents collected, 1,189 or nearly half of them thought that Goldwater
was psychologically unfit.

Some have went as far as saying that Goldwater was a megalomaniac or paranoid. Some
even diagnosed Goldwater with narcissistic personality disorder, the same diagnosis given to
Rodrigo Duterte.

Goldwater did not take the issue lightly. He sued the magazines publisher for libel and won
the case. Since then, the APA had issued a code of ethics, known as the Goldwater Rule, by
declaring it unethical to offer professional opinion about public figures that they have not
examined in person.

Sought for comment about the current debate among psychiatrists and psychologists over
Trumps mental health, Allen Frances, the psychiatrist who wrote the Diagnostic and
Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, simply called the debate bullshit.

In a letter to the New York Times editor, Frances argued that while Trump may truly be a
narcissist, but it does not make him mentally ill.

People with mental disorders, Frances explained, suffer from distress and impairment.
Frances reminded the public to stop confusing bad behavior and mental illness.

It is a stigmatizing insult to the mentally ill (who are mostly well behaved and well meaning)
to be lumped with Mr. Trump (who is neither, he said.

Frances added: bad behavior is rarely a sign of mental illness, and the mentally ill behave
badly only rarely. Psychiatric name-calling is a misguided way of countering Mr. Trumps
attack on democracy.

In the same way, critics who like to use Dutertes mental health to insult them is not
protecting democracy at all, but rather adding noise to an already noisy debate.

Mental health is a vital public health issue that should be taken seriously, especially today
where our everyday environment is increasingly becoming stressful. The hour-long of
bumper-to-bumper traffic, the menial wages and long hours of work, and the high workload in
school are all stressful situations that could potentially trigger mental health problems.
To move this conversation on mental health, it is time to end the madness of using madness
as a political insult.