I have worn pants every single day since I’ve been in Paris, because it’s cold and I don’t have boots (which help if you wear a skirt). I don’t shave my legs when I’m not going to be exposing them, so I haven’t shaved the entire time. That’s like 3 months. It’s not a feminist statement, it’s just that I’m not motivated enough to shave unless I have to do so for other people.
Sometimes, when you mention feminism, people say something about hairy legs, and we feminists go “No! It’s not about that! We shave! Feminism is just about…” and so on with a much more accurate definition of feminism that ‘an ideology that requires women to be hairy’. “I don’t hate men” and “I shave my legs” are put in the same category of things you have to make sure people know in order to be taken seriously.
That is ridiculous.
I have no desire to shame people who shave. Next time I wear a skirt, I’m pretty sure I will. We have to deal with patriarchy, and if I ignored everything patriarchy wanted of me, no one would take me seriously, and I’d be a feminist pretty much all by myself. That may work for some people, and that’s great, but it won’t work for me, neither for my life as a woman nor for my attempts to get my friends to be more egalitarian. It’s a compromise.
However. The people who pointed out that the leg-shaving expectation is sexist were right. I haven’t done my feminist homework so I don’t know who they were, but I agree with them on that much. It is indeed quite sexist. It tells me that I can’t be pretty unless I change the way I look first. (Something to keep in mind next time someone who likes to benefit from the exploitation and objectification of women tries to spin it as just sex-positive or artistic: “Really, you just admire the beauty of the female body? Including its hair?” Because if he says hair or any other natural things about the female body are gross and only admires the beauty of the plastic surgeried made up shaven female body, no Enlightened Award for him. Not that true sex-positivity doesn’t exist.) It tells me that a part of my body that is natural and not dirty, is dirty. I should not have to shave if I don’t want to, and clearly, I don’t. Maybe I would every once in a while for my own sake, as it does feel nice, when I don’t get razor burn. But mostly, no.
The fact that we are so accepting of people’s horror at the thought of hairy-legged feminists is disturbing. Do we think they’re right? Do we think there’s any defense for someone who would throw out a person’s argument based on the fact that they choose not to remove harmless hair from their legs? That’s insane, not to mention an ad hominem feminam argument, a fallacy.
Why do people freak out at the idea of a woman who doesn’t shave her legs? Shouldn’t it only matter to her and maybe her partner? Are all the people who talk about hairy-legged feminists talking about their partners or women they want to date? I don’t think so. I think if I chose not to shave my legs and let them show, I would get comments, maybe just behind my back, from people, male and female, who had no interest in dating me. Why is it any of their business? How could my leg hair possibly offend someone who has no reason to be anywhere near it?
They would consider it their business because it would be me refusing to be put in my place. It’s related to what I talked about in “thinking through a personal experience” where I said that guys have no right to judge me just because I’m there. People have no business standing in judgment over the attractiveness of my legs unless they’re my boyfriend, who is indifferent to leg hair. But men in patriarchy require that I try to live up to their standards, to impress them, to please them with my appearance, regardless of whether we’re in any sort of relationship. If I don’t, I face harsh criticism – not just them saying “I don’t want to date you” but them attacking my credibility and denying me respect as a person. That’s not ok.
It’s heterosexist and cissexist
Also, since men are NOT supposed to shave their legs in patriarchy (which makes the hairy-legged feminist stuff even funnier, because feminist men exist), women not shaving transgresses the rule that men and women must be opposites. It’s kind of hilarious that we can convince ourselves we’re so opposite when we have to make ourselves different by changing our appearance. But it’s one example of a whole spectrum of things people can do that don’t conform with gender roles (eg, cross-dressing, sex changes, homosexual relationships) and the vicious responses they get from people who are completely unaffected by gender non-conforming behavior except insofar as it challenges the notion that humans only come in two opposite flavors, which is a big component of patriarchy.
Yep, it’s even racist (ethnicity-ist?)
The thing is, I bet I could get away with it if I told my friends that my soft, faintly strawberry-blond leg hair really wasn’t all that bad. But I’d like to see someone with coarse black leg hair try that. People will say that’s just because mine shows up less and can be felt less and so is more like it’s not there, it’s not that they just prefer the hair of people with my coloring. That may be true, but the results are the same. If you believe that leg hair is unfeminine, and that more noticeable leg hair is more unfeminine, and that the less feminine a woman is the less acceptable she is, and that women of certain ethnicities have more noticeable leg hair, you’re going to be prejudiced against those women. And this hair texture and color is not confined to the hair on their legs, so these hirsutially (made that up) challenged women either have to spend a considerable amount of time and money making themselves “acceptable”, or resign themselves to being criticized. Better option: we all stop coding body hair as masculine and stop requiring people to fit gender roles.
I know that making fun of hairy women is very socially acceptable in the US, but doing so is built on a foundation of pure assholery. Point that out to people who do so; they may not realize their “argument” is based on assholery, they’re just used to it, so don’t tell them they’re the worst person in the world. But it’s just stupid for us to accept it as if it’s in any way legitimate.
“Actually, I’m a feminist and I do shave my legs, but are you really saying you wouldn’t think my ideas were worth listening to if I chose not to shave? And what’s so bad about a woman not shaving? Does that cause breast cancer or something?”
“It’s just gross.”
“Then don’t touch their legs. It doesn’t make them gross as people.”
You can’t get every point across to people who don’t get that things like leg-shaving are cultural constructs or to people who think the gender binary is self-evident but can’t explain why. But you can say something. And we can and should support women who exercise their right not to shave, rather than implying that we, too, think they’re crazy.