Eden Café recently ran a great piece about feminism and the problem with things like body policing . I loved this piece because it’s a subject I think and write about a lot. I am a queer-identified feminist, but I often struggle with feeling queer enough, or being told my lifestyle choices aren’t in line with someone’s particular concept of feminism. My personal theory about why some feminists systematically “call out” and one-up one another is because we long to directly “call out” the patriarchy, the media, rape culture, etc. and it’s not always safe for us to do. Activist communities may be the only place we feel empowered enough to speak honestly. But sometimes we take our frustrations out on each other in toxic ways, instead of learning to work with our differences, and recognizing that we’re all on the same team.
There’s a conversation I’ve seen played out over and over again. It goes like this: smart, empowered woman says “I don’t think I’m a feminist. I don’t like what that’s supposed to mean.” To which I reply, “All feminism means is that you believe in equality for all genders. Anything else is a personal agenda.” I’ve even had this conversation with my mom, who felt alienated from the second wave movement of the seventies as a wife and mother. If the term “humanist” wasn’t already tied up in discussions about humans vs. god, I’d say I’m a humanist. I believe all humans should have access to the same privileges, rights, and opportunities regardless of their gender.
So, the body hair thing. UGH. Wasn’t this dealt with in the 70’s? Haven’t we moved on to LEGITIMATELY IMPORTANT issues? Apparently not. In early October, I presented a paper (you can read more about it here) at the Moral Panics of Sexuality Conference, at Arizona State University in Phoenix, Arizona. I presented about feminist strategies for menstrual suppression (another loaded topic), on a panel about body panics, with Dr. Breanne Fahs, one of the conference’s organizers. Dr. Fahs presented a paper on body hair and heteropanic, which I believe she is also developing into a book. She spoke about how she asked her female students to grow out their body hair for 10 weeks, while male students were asked to shave theirs as an extra credit project for her women’s studies classes. I was a little put off by this assignment, because it did feel like body policing to me. And ironically, one of the most interesting people I met at this conference was one of Dr. Fah’s students who is a committed feminist, but chose to have laser body hair removal in the past, and therefore couldn’t participate in the project. I don’t think that makes her any less of a feminist.
However, once Dr. Fahs explained that in Arizona (and many other conservative areas, no doubt) body hair is a huge deal – participants in the experiment dealt with backlash from family, friends, partners, employers, and even strangers yelling homophobic slurs – I understood a little better why body hair politics matter to her. I’m used to living in urban areas where hairy female armpits are a non-issue, but in Phoenix, refusing to shave might cost a woman her job or her relationship. That’s a seriously depressing prospect in the 21st century.
Nonetheless, I don’t think that choosing to shave your pubic hair (or vajazzling it, or getting it waxed into a heart shape, or whatever you do with your lady parts) makes you a puppet of the patriarchy. Think of it this way: if you refuse to shave your body hair in direct defiance of the patriarchy, rather than considering your own preferences, you’re still letting the patriarchy run your life.
A little background: I started shaving my pubic hair almost as soon as I was able to grow it (in my early teens – I was a late bloomer in this regard). This was in the early 90’s, before Brazilian waxing was a requirement for porn. (This was the era of the “landing strip,” the pubic mohawk that served as an awkward era of transition between the carefully manicured pubes of the 80’s and the completely smooth aughties.) I was already shaving my armpits and legs, so I figured I might as well shave everything. I am a natural blonde with very little body hair to begin with, so I only need to shave once or twice a week to maintain. A friend described a full month’s growth of my armpit hair as her “five o’clock shadow.” So, I guess you could say I was an early adopter. I like how smooth and slippery it feels, and I’ve never had an impressive enough bush to want to grow it out and flaunt it.
(As an aside: I’ve always felt vaguely annoyed by people who eschew pubic shaving because it looks “childlike”. If you truly believe that an adult woman’s shaved vulva looks like a pre-pubescent child’s genitals, you are creepy as fuck. Okay, maybe that was a little judgmental, but so is telling me I am promoting pedophilia with my grooming habits. If you are a woman who believes this, I sure as hell hope you don’t shave your armpit hair either, because guess what – that’s technically pubic hair, and little kids don’t have that either!)
However, I recently decided to grow out my body hair for the first time in years (interestingly, I made this decision about a week before Dr. Fah’s presentation). Not as a feminist statement, because my body hair is not political issue for me. I decided to grow out my body hair as a grooming experiment, and see if I liked it. I got sick of my prickly legs in a week, and decided to keep shaving them, but I was surprised to discover that I kind of like having armpit hair and pubes. I am letting my pubic freak flag fly, and I enjoy feeling like a freakadelic hippy sex goddess. I know pubic hair is natural and shouldn’t be considered a “bohemian” novelty, but after years of shaving, it’s kind of neat to go au naturale just for fun. And I’ll probably go back to shaving at some point, but why should it matter either way?
I recently saw a picture on Fetlife of a lady with a luxurious bush dyed the color of red velvet cake, and it looked so delicious and delightful! My pubes are freakishly pale, so I decided that dyeing them might be a fun way to increase their “visibility”, so to speak. I had attempted this sort of experiment with blue manic panic as a teenager with mixed results, so I was excited to learn that you can now buy foolproof pubic hair dyeing kits on the internet! I can’t wait to have a neon pink bush! Masturbation guru, Betty Dodson, allegedly once told Tristan Taormino (and I paraphrase) that shaving is a great thing for women to do, because it means they’re spending time getting in touch with their vaginas, instead of living in fear of them. You don’t have to shave your pussy to show it love, nor do you have to dye your pubes hot pink. But you do have the right to groom your “lady garden” any way that makes you happy, without facing judgment from others.