Knives sharpen for haircut of the century: Not all the battle to win the right to join a male-dominated military academy in the Deep South has been a growth experience for its first female entrant. Rupert Cornwell in Charleston reports

JUSTICE Department newspeak calls it a 'gender-neutral grooming policy.' Rick Mill, a major in the United States Marine Corps Reserve and, since 1992, the Citadel military college spokesman , spells it out in plain English.

The barber sets his clippers to leave between one-quarter and one-eighth of an inch of hair all over. 'Then he turns the clippers upside down. He goes along the middle first, then takes off the sides strip by strip and finally goes round each ear to tidy things up. It's all over in 10 or 15 seconds.'

This is the tonsure facing Ms Shannon Faulkner next week. Not since Delilah did the honours to Samson has a haircut caused such a fuss. On Monday, barring a last- minute stay by the US 4th Circuit court or the Supreme Court, she will become the first woman to enter the Citadel's Corps of Cadets in its 152-year-long history.

The battle has lasted almost 18 months, dividing this old Southern city. Last week the college, while lodging its final appeal, agreed on terms of surrender. Shannon Faulkner will live separately from her 2,000 male colleagues in a special room in the infirmary building, fitted with a lock and key and an alarm. Her study classes and uniform also have been agreed. The one vexed point - apart from the question of whether she should cross the threshold of this temple of Dixie militarism at all - is the haircut.

Since the First World War every entrant has undergone this rite of initiation. Thereafter the Citadel sets out, crudely, systematically and if neccessary, brutally, to knock out every shred of individuality from the freshman. The 'knob year' it is called, after the shorn heads of its victims.

The discipline is spartan: endless standing to attention, push- ups and pointless orders. Permission has to be asked for everything and every sentence begins and ends with 'Sir'. At worst it can descend into 'hazing', the persecution and humiliation of a freshman, to break him. Many are broken. Up to one in five drops out. It is a peculiar disgrace at an establishment, where for generations Southern families have sent their boys to be turned into men.

This is the iron-clad world that Shannon Faulkner seeks to penetrate. Back in 1992 an English teacher instructed her class to read an article about the Citadel's less endearing practices. Not to worry, she was told. As a woman she could not enter. Quite why Shannon decided to seek otherwise is unknown. She filled out an application form, omitting to refer to her sex. The Citadel provisionally accepted Shannon, only to reject her when it discovered its mistake. But she persevered.

Shannon Faulkner's struggle defies simple stereotypes. Up to a point it is a well-rehearsed American crusade for rights, featuring the usual armies of lawyers. It also rubs on some familiar resentments in this part of the world. Thinly disguised Yankee demons are ranged against them again: the Justice Department, fancy New York lawyers and psychologists, expert in such fields as 'gender tokenism' - and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

But Shannon Faulkner is not an icy, driven feminist. In the courtroom she is large, cheerful and utterly unawed. 'A normal 19- year-old who likes to hang out,' a friend describes her. As her attorneys sparred on Wednesday, to avert the shaven-head ruling, she flicked through the Guidon, the bible of Citadel rules and customs, sent to every entrant. Doomed auburn tresses tumble down her back. She is an avowed believer in Southern hospitality, Southern manners and the Southern belle.

Her readiness to undergo the ordeal which awaits her requires Southern steel. She has endured hate mail and the sight of 'Shave Shannon' bumper stickers and T- shirts reading '1,952 bulldogs and one bitch'. The campus magazine refers to her as 'The Divine Bovine' and speculates about her sexual preferences. Lieutenant- General Claudius E. Watts III, the Citadel's president, made it clear last week that he wants her out and a state poll last March found that 63 per cent agreed.

Why is she persevering? Partly out of stubbornness. Since the Citadel is a public institute, discrimination against women violates the constitution. And, she adds, it is a good college, ranked among the best in the South.

Ted Turner, who controls CNN and the Atlanta Braves baseball club, is an alumnus. The mayor of Charleston, Joe Riley, is another. So was General William Westmoreland, that real-life soldier of Vietnam fame and shame.

What they have in common is the Ring, an embossed chunk of 10-carat gold, worn on the right hand and awarded to every successful graduate. It is badge of membership of Dixie's most potent old-boy network. Why, says Shannon Faulkner, should she be deprived of that opportunity?

Simple, retorts Major Mill. 'The Citadel knows how to train young men to become men. But it doesn't know how to train young women to become men and it doesn't know how to train young women to become women.' On 23 July District Judge Weston Houck disagreed, ruling that even the Citadel must learn new tricks. But not in the barbering department. 'The Citadel can treat her hair in the same way it treats the hair of every other cadet,' he said.

The first day on campus of 'knob' Faulkner S. Class 4, will be a media spectacle. Fifty news organisations turned up when she began day classes earlier this year. Major Mill predicts three times that number when she starts full- time on the Citadel campus, a white-painted Moorish castle. 'They're not going to be running all over the place: we'll have a holding area over there,' he says, gesturing at a small building in a corner. There can be no concealing another Southern lost cause, the all-male Citadel.

Perhaps the college has seen the writing on the wall. It could go private. But, the Citadel needs every penny to modernise its four barracks. The overhaul will take 10 years. The hope for 2005 is that the Citadel will be spared Shannon Faulkner and all her sex. A more probable outcome is an architectural configuration that will allow speedy adjustment to any requirement - even to women.

(Photograph omitted)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
fashionHealth concerns and 'pornified' perceptions have made women more conscious at the beach
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Sport
Ojo Onaolapo celebrates winning the bronze medal
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Rock band Led Zeppelin in the early 1970s
musicLed Zeppelin to release alternative Stairway To Heaven after 43 years
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmHe was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
Sport
Van Gaal said that his challenge in taking over Bobby Robson's Barcelona team in 1993 has been easier than the task of resurrecting the current United side
footballA colourful discussion on tactics, the merits of the English footballer and rebuilding Manchester United
Life and Style
Sainsbury's could roll the lorries out across its whole fleet if they are successful
tech
Travel
The shipping news: a typical Snoozebox construction
travelSpending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin's 'My Bed' is returning to the Tate more than 15 years after it first caused shockwaves at the gallery
artTracey Emin's bed returns to the Tate after record sale
Arts and Entertainment
Smart mover: Peter Bazalgette
filmHow live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences
Environment
Neil Young performing at Hyde Park, London, earlier this month
environment
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Project Coordinator

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: The Organisation: The Green Recrui...

Project Manager (HR)- Bristol - Upto £400 p/day

£350 - £400 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: Project Manager (specializing in ...

Embedded Linux Engineer

£40000 - £50000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Embedded Sof...

Senior Hardware Design Engineer - Broadcast

£50000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Working for a m...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

Louis van Gaal interview

Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

Will Gore: Outside Edge

The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz