Is this harmless humor or sexism at work?
While this isn’t just about shaving, of course, since we can also see how the woman is portrayed as: alone & living with her cat, not dressed, no make-up, eating pie, seemingly depressed, etc., the major focus is on her very hairy legs and that is what I am going to write about in this post.
Quickly, for reference, I found this on imgur (http://imgur.com/gallery/5viGqt2) and I’d like to note that, as of the writing of this post, it has 5003 ratings with only 153 dislikes, giving it 4850 likes. 97% of the people who rated this pic liked it; and reading through the comments, one can become disheartened at how “liked” this pic really is and how women, especially single women, are really viewed in this society.
Women shaving is a huge thing in our patriarchal society. We are conditioned from a young age to believe that women’s legs, armpits, and now even pubic areas should be completely haven clean. To do otherwise, we are taught, is to be unclean, not hygienic, gross, ugly, etc.
I noticed how it has gotten worse since the 1970s when there was a shift in the porn industry from women who were natural with their pubic hair to women who have virtually or completely no pubic hair. The porn industry decided, and society has followed suit, that the way women should look is completely hairless. It has not only become the norm and what is expected, boys and men, and even a lot of girls and women find pubic hair on a woman a turn-off and “gross.”
Men, on the other hand are expected to be naturally hairy in all places. In fact, the only time I ever hear a negative thing about men and their body hair is when it is on their backs. Or when/if they are being teased for having no or shaving their chest hair; but the reason for that is because it makes them seem womanly, which in this society, is a bad, bad insult for a man because women are considered weak and less than.
But this post isn’t about men, so back to women and our body hair.
I remember, vividly, walking out to go play a softball game when I was a junior in high school and as I stopped to pull up my knee pads and adjust my socks, a teammate stopped and noticed the stubble on my legs (I hadn’t shaved in a week or so). She made a disapproving sound and asked me, quite loudly, “Ugh – don’t you believe in good hygiene??” in an effort to shame and humiliate me.
I decided that day that I was not going to shave anything on my body ever again. I didn’t need or want the approval of men or anyone else and I didn’t see the difference in hygiene when it came to women vs. men shaving their bodies. I also didn’t need or want a pre-pubescent body, which is basically what this amounts to: women’s bodies appearing as pre-pubescent as possible because that is what men, in general, want: young, thin, hairless, child-like women; and in this society, that is not only OK, it is celebrated. Older men are constantly coupling with younger women and no one seems to bat an eye, but Demi Moore dates a man half her age and it becomes headline news.
But I digress…..
Of course, over the next few years of my life, I occasionally shaved; again, in this society, women are expected to, shamed into, and sometimes even coerced into wearing dresses: in college when my friends wanted to “make me over” and get me ready for a frat party (good god, how boring those were!), when I was a bride’s maid at a wedding, etc. But as I reached my early 20s, the decision to never shave again became cemented into my mind and I made it a permanent thing: I would never again shave my legs, armpits, pubic, or other areas of my body ever again.
I have wavered in my decision over the years. How could I not? I am still a woman and I have been conditioned to believe certain things about my body just as other women have (that’s what’s known as: shared girlhood). Add to my own conditioning, the conditioning of the women around me, even other lesbians, who think it is gross or “man-like” for me not to shave and I have, at times, felt ashamed and as though I should shave every damn inch of my body so that I, too, could be accepted by everyone in this society.
But I never did. The decision to never shave again hit me that day in high school when I was a 17 year old kid, humiliated for not keeping my legs hair-free enough to please a bully on my softball team. The decision was strengthened once I realized who I really was and that I not only didn’t want men, I didn’t care what they thought about me.
Make no mistake, dear reader, girls are taught from a young age that they must be clean shaven, dressed in a feminine manner, have on make-up, etc. All to cater to the male gaze. I know some of you are shaking your heads and thinking to yourselves, “No way, I do those things for me, because they make me feel good about myself!” or “I do those things because I like to do them. I like wearing pretty dresses, high heels, make-up, and keeping clean shaven on all parts of my body!”
But the hard part about sexism is owning the fact that the reason why you “like” to do those things is because you were taught to like those things through conditioning. We are all taught as girls to behave in certain ways and to do certain things in an effort to please men; and growing up thinking that we like dresses, high heels (which are damaging to the feet and legs, btw), make-up, and yes, even shaving are things we like to do just means that our conditioning is complete (sorry, that sounded like the Emperor from Star Wars in my head and I couldn’t resist typing it that way).
Oh, I am not saying that women everywhere should throw out their make-up, razors, and high heels (well actually, yes on the high heels), but I am suggesting that we each take a few moments to actually think about the whys behind our doing those things. Own the real reason and start (or continue) to see the conditioning that we, as women have gone through and continue to go through thanks to the media and especially thanks to the porn industry.
Just like with white and male privilege, the first step to dismantling our conditioning is to first recognize it, then call it out and see it for what it is: men oppressing women.