Yes, feminists can still shave their legs

Posted at 1:00 PM Apr 16, 2010

By Andrea Grimes

Get enough feminists together in a room enough times, and at some point, the question of hair removal is bound to come up. I can't tell you guys how many times I've argued about beauty, body issues, the beauty myth and gender roles when it comes to the subject of leg-shaving. I have seen women who otherwise respect and admire each others' feminist beliefs absolutely lose their shit over the idea that a feminist dares to shave.

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.


Not Guilty said:

Agreed! Thanks! I had a friend tell me that to be a "true" feminist, I had to stop shaving. She isn't a feminist but that is what she figured I should do. I didn't have a great reply at the time. I think a good retort is saying by that logic, men who want to distance themselves from stereotypical masculinity must shave their legs. Being a feminist does not mean being more like men. Ultimately, my depilatory status affects my feminism as much as the colour of my hair affects my gender.

Monica said:

I highly object to your identifying static behaviors as "masculine" gender performance. Choosing NOT to chemically alter one's hair, apply makeup, or use painful razors or depilatories to become hair free does NOT make one automatically more masculine. An unaltered natural female body can still be femenine. I also think it's silly that you say in one instance that shaving has nothing to do with attracting men, but you also say that it is important to the femme-identified heterosexual presentation you are going for (which is a specific way of saying "I want to attract men who like highly femme women"). Last, you are lucky to have "generally resilient skin" that makes shaving fun for you. As a WoC I have thick coarse black hair EVERYWHERE. I don't begrudge you your choice to perform & enjoy these rituals to feel more feminine (and on special occasions I do so myself), but I think you are missing the point of other feminists' ire by asserting that natural women are actively presenting as masculine.

lewen said:

shaving is just good grooming. men shave faces, women shave pits and shins at minimum. When either let it go too far they are viewed as uncivilized or slovenly.

Caley said:

In my many years as an active feminist, I have never heard anyone called a "bad feminist" or even had attention brought to the fact that they shave their legs. Unfortunately, in our society it is almost unheard of for women to not remove their leg and armpit hair. The social pressure to do so can be crushing.

I don't shave my legs, because I don't want to. I could care less what anyone else does with their body hair. Feminism is about choice - there is no "right" way to be a feminist.

coarse hair said:

Well first off let me say hello. Beyond that I guess you learn something new everyday. Got something outta this that I realize before. Thanks...

Roxy the Killer said:

It appears that Lewen didn't read the above article, and is just here to pass judgment. I agree with Andrea's point that we each choose our choice--- however, the weight of social judgement often deprives us of a choice. People with attitudes like Lewen's put pressure on women to conform to a narrow sexist ideal, or risk being shunned. It is exactly those attitudes, and that unwelcome judgment, that prompted many women to say "to hell with shaving," and the knicks, cuts, extra expenses, and extra time spent living up to other peoples' narrow-minded double-standards.

After all, there is no scientific proof that "natural" women are more hygienic than their clean-shaven counterparts, and the start of leg-shaving in the United States is directly linked to marketing campaigns aimed at making women feel ugly and insecure. Talk about baggage!

Although Shaving is not more or less feminist, since each woman and man has their reasons for doing what they do, our choices are impacted by the people around us. This may be why some feminists have strong reactions to the shaving question--- none of us want to be *forced* to live up to a double-standard. And it's easy to channel our frustration with a media and a society that sells us insecurity by targeting other women who seem (emphasis on "seem") to embrace the very forces that hurt us.

Some women (and men) see shaving from a historical perspective, but aren't aware that history is also rooted in individual experiences... and that our relationship with history is dynamic and ever-changing.

Anonymous said:

Women are beautiful and feminine because they're women, not because of dresses, makeup, hair dye, or shaving. I think the frustration is with the pushed idea that shaving or wearing makeup is somehow related to femininity. "Good grooming", when in reality shaving is in no way more hygienic and can actually cause skin problems in some people.
However I dislike the "good feminist" bull. Pressuring someone to not shave their legs if they want to is just as bad to the opposite pressure. Although I must say, I've never had anyone pressure me to stop shaving, only the reverse.

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