13 Jul Three Issues with Hippie Culture We Need to Talk About
I live in a village just south of Cape Town, called Scarborough, separated from the Mother City by a hypothetical ‘lentil curtain’. If you were on a train, the area would start from the first station you see the sea, False Bay. In this part of Cape Town, kids in Kommetjie are taught to surf before they are taught to walk, teenagers walk around barefoot in Kalk Bay, and this is where peace and love supposedly reign. In short, this is the flagless land of the hippies where the anti-mainstream mantra of hippie culture is waxed onto every surfboard and stickered onto every Volkswagen Beetle. Although the ‘lentil curtain’ supposedly exists, separating the peace-loving vegetarians from the ‘normal people’, you can find hippies pretty much anywhere in Cape Town. The ones who walk down Long Street looking for a trance event, the ones who thrift shop in Observatory, and even the ones who just skateboard around suburban areas.
Like any subculture, hippie culture has the potential to be problematic, and indeed, often is. And although many of the hippies I meet are well-intentioned, there are a few things that need to be discussed.
- Be careful of second-wave feminism.
“I’m going for a swim.” She said, her eyes and her hair-wrap were the same blue.
“I’d go too but I haven’t shaved in so long” the other womxn replied.
“Why do you need to shave? We should all learn to embrace our authentic womxn.”
For those of you that do not know about feminism’s different waves, its second wave was a movement between the 1960s and the 1980s that attempted to liberate womxn by rejecting roles that were stereotypically ‘feminine’. So things like not shaving, in order to reject the idea that a womxn needs to be groomed in a specific way, would have been part of second wave feminism. By all means, womxn have the absolute right to reject these societal conventions, and obviously we should support and endorse womxn liberating themselves in whichever way they please. The issue is that feminism moved on from its second wave because it did not support womxn liberating themselves in whichever way they pleased. It endorsed the idea that a womxn can only be “authentic” if she conformed to second wave feminism’s conventions, kind of like patriarchy does.
All of us need to beware of unconsciously subscribing to problematic ideals from past movements like second-wave feminism. But the hippie sentiment of the ‘authentic womxn’ who is ‘authentic’ by virtue of the fact that she rejects social standards for womxn simply cannot justifiably exist. Because for there to be an ‘authentic’ womxn, then there would have to be an ‘inauthentic’ womxn and this is simply re-writing patriarchy’s definitions.
- Understand and avoid cultural appropriation.
Instead of explaining what cultural appropriation is theoretically, let’s jump straight into how it manifests in hippie culture.
Although there are many ways cultural appropriation is executed by hippies, one of the most popular one is when white hippies wear dreadlocks. The issue here is that, for one thing, dreadlocks are associated with hippie culture as opposed to their non-western origins (namely Africa and the Middle East). For another, white hippies are considered rebellious and original for wearing the same hairstyle for which so many people of colour have been shunned and oppressed. Rastafarians (the religious group that coined the term “dreadlocks”) actually started rolling their hair into dreadlocks in an attempt to actively recognise their African identity and their separation from white imperialism. There are other ways to show that one does not conform to society’s standards and that one loves nature. In fact, allowing the association of dreadlocks to be made with hippies and not in their pro-Black context, is simply conforming to society’s racism.
Many hippies take issue with this one, claiming that they are simply embracing other cultures. But to genuinely embrace other cultures is to recognise and respect what they are and where they came from. A white person cannot wear dreadlocks and appreciate their origins simultaneously because despite whatever said white person knows and intends, society will still treat their dreadlocked hair differently to a person of colour’s dreadlocked hair.
- Recognise the classism in many hippie traditions.
As well as festivals being a most welcoming home to other popular cultural appropriating trends, like bindi-wearing and Native American headdresses. Festivals are also the most obvious example of classism in hippie culture. When you look at the costs for the tickets, petrol, food, alcohol and/or drugs, etc. one weekend at a festival costs well over a grand. But technically, regardless of subcultural identification – those of us that are privileged enough to unnecessarily spend money, do so. However, not only are festivals specifically inaccessible to a dispensable and underpaid working class, but hippie culture seems to have a specific obligation to avoid this kind of thing? In a culture that has so many countercultural themes rooted in the prioritisation of love over wealth, the enlightenment, joy, love, peace, and everything else that is found at these wonderful events surely needs to be made more accessible?
So, what now?
Step one for all of us, who are open to rectifying the spaces we occupy, is to understand that we are not immune to being affected by the –isms that run our society, even if our intentions are good. Step two is to act, to stop doing harmful things that perpetuate social issues, like cultural appropriation, and to actively seek out ways to bring diversity and inclusiveness into our spaces, like making festivals more accessible. In other words, peace and love are not passive, we have to fight for peace and work for love.