I’m very fond of this passage, from a post by New Kid on the Hallway, about a class she’s teaching:
Perhaps my greatest concern, though, is that these responses are cementing in my students their sense that “I’m so glad I live in the modern world where we’ve solved all these problems.” It is a class all of women, who have self-selected to take this class, so they probably don’t consciously think that everything has been solved and women now have it completely hunky-dory. But unconsciously, I think that message surrounds them, and it’s hard for them to resist it. And reading about how a Calvinist consistory sought to excommunicate a woman and her whole household because the woman wore her hair in curls certainly, on the face of it, encourages them to think, “Wow, we have it SO much better now!” To which I want to say: Okay, in most (not all!) churches today, you are not going to be excommunicated for how you wear your hair. Does this mean that hairstyles don’t mean anything today? Do you think you’re really free to wear your hair however you like without consequences? What do you think would happen if you got a buzzcut, for instance? How do you think people would react? Do you think that on a job interview, employers would react to you differently if you had hair below your butt that hadn’t been cut in 10 years than if you had a nice little neat shining bob? Why was it courageous for Melissa Etheridge to get up at the Grammys and perform on stage without hair? I mean, yes, if you pressed me, I would say that women have greater freedom of expression (in terms of hair, at least!) now than in the 16th century and I’d much rather live now than then. But I want my students to have to think about it and decide that for themselves, consciously, rather than making assumptions.
As “Rana” wrote in the comments to New Kid’s post, it’s important to distinguish between “better” and “best.”