Posted at 1:00 PM Apr 16, 2010
By Andrea Grimes
But we are feminists! All experiences are valuable! Right? We choose our choice!
Well, I choose to shave my legs.
I like the way shaved legs feel. My leg skin is generally resilient and doesn't get all rashy and bumpy. I think lotion is fun. I don't actually spend much time trying to get it right, and therefore don't obsess over every last sprout. And I don't shave above the knees. Can't be bothered. And leg shaving is one of many things I do that helps me present as a femme-identified heterosexual female. I highlight my hair, wear makeup and glitter and love dresses. I feel like leg shaving is a part of the identity it's useful for me to present to the world.
And, because that identity is also feminist, it's important for me to do what I can, within reason, to gain credibility with people who might otherwise write off feminists. Because I don't present as what many feminist-haters perceive "feminist" as being, I can often sneak in feminist ideas into conversations, blog posts and comedy shows and help change minds and perspectives.
My body hair is also not about attracting men or trying to please them. The follicular condition of my body has never, to my knowledge, particularly helped or hindered my sex life. I've dated men who loved ladybushes, dated men who liked landing strips and everything in-between and have absolutely, positively, never had a man recoil because my legs were stubbly or my armpits untended. Ladies of the world, let me assure you: any man who is grossed out by female body hair is a bad lay and a douchebag besides.
I'm bringing all this up because Tracy Clark-Flory wonders about the recent "trend" in celebs not shaving--namely, Mo'nique and Amanda Palmer. Clark-Flory is a feminist leg shaver, and she writes:
When it comes to the opposite sex's view of my body, I'm generally of the "take it or leave it, buddy" attitude; and I will hardly let the fact that I haven't bothered to shave in a while get in the way of some unexpected fun. But, like most of the women I know, shaving generally remains the one burdensome, nonsensical, politically indefensible beauty ritual to which I cling. It's just one of many contradictions between theory and practice. We all know the personal is political, but sometimes it's a whole lot easier to pretend it isn't.
Here's the deal. I've seen photos of Clark-Flory, and she has a pretty haircut and appears to wear makeup. So it's not the "one burdensome, nonsensical, politically indefensible beauty ritual" to which she clings, it's one of a whole host of ways in which gender is performed and presented in Western culture.
Which is why I can't be bothered to be shamed for shaving my legs. Because if you do anything that associates you with gendered norms, you're conforming to stereotypes and reinforcing gender roles. We don't live in a genderless society. So, a feminist may not shave her legs, but she might wear earrings. Or she shaves her legs, but she's a lesbian. Or she only shaves her armpits, and also wears lip gloss.
Many times, it's the female-associated gender performances that are shamed by feminists themselves. Wearing non-"sexy" attire, not shaving one's legs or not coloring one's hair are all deeply associated with masculinity in our culture. So, I just can't get on-board with making women feel bad for shaving their legs, because not shaving one's legs is a largely masculine-identified behavior, and I don't see why feminists should value one kind of gender performance over another. I understand there are issues about conformity and beauty and body shame that come with hair removal (and make-up, and earrings, and skirts, and nail polish, etc.) and I think it's important to realize why those things are problematic and detrimental toward women when they are approached with ignorance or essentialist ideas. But we shouldn't conflate "gender neutral" with more masculine-identified traits than feminine-identified traits. That just reinforces the default body as male, which is something most feminists are actively opposed to.