If physical appearance is a natural human concern, then why is makeup seen as a threat to masculinity? Life&Style's Lydia Waller explores the issueWritten by Lydia Waller on 17th March 2018
To Shave or Not to Shave?: Response to Manthropology
In response to the last Manthropology column and its controversy, Life&Style's Tara Kergon discusses the divisive double standard of female body hair
In the last print edition of Redbrick, our L&S Manthropology columnist asked the boys of Birmingham whether they preferred women to remove their body hair, whether they believed it was necessary, and, most importantly, why. As one of the section editors, part of me thinks I cannot – or should not - get so frustrated by the responses to a question which we asked. But another, much larger part, simply cannot believe that in 2018 there are still men who believe women should remove what is a naturally occurring part of their body. And all this while men can wander around sporting the Amazon rainforest on their chest (or legs, or chin, or arms, or anywhere really) without raising an eyebrow. It’s yet another double standard which proves that women’s equality is only nominal.
“And all this while men can wander around sporting the Amazon rainforest on their chest (or legs, or chin, or arms, or anywhere really) without raising an eyebrow
How can body hair be so divisive? First and foremost I’m confused as to why exactly what a woman chooses to do or not do with her own body can send all hell breaking loose. When discussing shaving, as with many women’s issues (such as abortion, wearing makeup, or that wage gap), I’m inclined to quote Rachel from Friends: no uterus, no opinion. But we did ask the men, because in spite of the liberated, happy-looking girls splashing around on the Venus ads, the societal expectation is that women shave – or wax, or epilate, or thread, or pluck – in order to appear more beautiful and attractive. In short, women are expected to remove body hair for men. The societal pressures of beauty are worthy of another article in themselves, but it is true that women specifically are now expected to shave in order to be beautiful. And if you don’t? Outrage.
I first shaved my legs aged 12, believing that I had to: firstly, because I saw that my mother did and thought it was all part of being a woman; secondly, because I had been led to feel that the darkening fuzz was ugly (and I couldn’t be ugly, oh no!). One of the boys questioned in the original column cited this unrelenting pressure upon women, an expectation which simply does not exist for men – and astutely mentioned its normalization within the media, and in turn within society. And it’s true. From the already seemingly-hairless woman shaving an invisible layer of hair in adverts for razors, to the counter-intuitively hair-free armpits and legs of women in dystopian or disaster films (while men grow beards down to their ankles freely), representations of women are almost always smooth, shiny creatures with hair only in the “correct” places.
As well as normalization, and the idea that shaving is simply the feminine thing to do, par for the course when you’re assigned the gender of female at birth, another man stated that shaving was simply hygienic. I could have almost understood this train of thought, if it hadn’t been sent careening off the track by two words which reinforced the double standard: for women. The belief that men and women’s body hair is so different that one is hygienic and the other not was so ridiculous and narrow-minded that I was almost speechless. Almost. I immediately, amidst groans of disbelief, pushed back from my computer screen to exclaim: If it’s unhygienic for women then it is for men too! I can only imagine what lurks within an unkempt beard, for example, and as for the rest it’s exactly the same on any body at all – male or female.
“Feminism is intended as liberation, but to continue to dictate what women should or should not do with their bodies hardly seems liberating to me
Now, I’m hardly burning my bra or throwing away my razors in order to smash the patriarchy. In fact I regularly (or not so regularly) shave my underarms and legs – but the point is not in doing or not doing. To state, for example, that any woman who shaves is not a feminist (or that to be a feminist requires letting your body hair grow) is reductive, the flip side of the coin of patriarchy. Feminism is intended as liberation, but to continue to dictate what women should or should not do with their bodies hardly seems liberating to me. Whether it’s media-reinforced, societally-created, a product of the image industries of perfection, beauty, or even pornography, we have got to destroy the idea that hair on a woman is unnatural, disgusting, dirty, or unwanted.
True liberation would be allowing women to do whatever they want, and not judging them for it. Whether she wears makeup every day or never so much as touches mascara; whether she’s totally au natural with hair or perfectly plucked, waxed and shaved; whether she’s wearing a dress and heels or a boiler suit – the point is that women should be free to do as they please, without such negative comments and without public debate.
And this last part is just for the men out there. If you think a woman should have to do anything for you, especially something like taking twenty extra minutes in the shower and risking slicing her legs to remove her naturally-occurring hair simply for aesthetics, then unless you’d regularly do the same you need to check your male privilege. And if you think body hair on a woman is gross, or unhygienic, then you need to grow up.