How have shaven legs and feminism got themselves into such a tangle? It’s not a particularly useful question but that won’t stop many from seeing it as a hot topic.
Speaking of hot, I am hiding from a brutal heatwave in Costa Coffee’s air-conditioned humidity shelter. It’s 38C and the humidity outside is rising by the minute. It is currently at 59% and the weather app on my phone is having a complete panic attack. I did nearly write ‘meltdown’ just then, but given the temperatures, I thought that might be too close to the truth for comfort. Plus, this weather app is a newbie and liable to believe anything without thinking it through.
What goes app must calm down…
Part of the joy of being surrounded by incredible geeks of all kinds is that they are always installing the coolest, wackiest apps on my handset. They tell me that my user interface testing skills are second to none, which might be a polite way of saying technology software gets very muddled and begins to spontaneously rewrite itself in an act of self-loathing, as soon as I start pressing buttons. The top drawer of my desk is where smartphones come to wallow in shame, regret and self-pity at all their inadequacies, after I’m done playing “What does this button do?”
And yet, I love technology!
I used to have a mini weather station next to my bed, which had been made in Germany, where I imagine 80% humidity can only mean cataclysmic rainfall. So, in the middle of a Cyprus summer, this little stick-man figure would pop up on the screen in what appeared to be a head-to-toe latex catsuit, urging me to take an umbrella. It was a fun reminder to hang in there because winter was coming. And bringing with it stockings, boots, leather gloves and yes, latex catsuits.
This new weather app also makes me smile, but for different reasons. It is clearly fresh out of app school and takes inordinate pride in its extra features. It’s not content to threaten me with an endless array of sun icons from now till November; or even to just randomly cry out: “Scorchio!” with barely contained enthusiasm. It will not just tell me the percentage of cloud cover (5%) and the chance of precipitation (0%). Oh, no. That’s amateur hour.
My new app is ambitious and eager and enthusiastic (all desirable qualities in those who exist to serve me, I might add). You see, my new app can do maths.
Are you ready for it?
Are you sitting down?
It can calculate the Discomfort Index. For those of you who, like me, had to look it up, DI is defined:
DI = T – 0.55 * (1 – 0.01H) * (T – 14.5)
Alternatively, just roughly multiply temperature with humidity and turn the fan on if the number looks biggish.
Strategically deployed inaccuracy is by far my favourite method of torturing my Maths geeks in public – how are you feeling after reading the last sentence?
Deep breaths, darling.
Think of it as a Cruella-sponsored, weather-independent Discomfort Index.
Losing my cool
Well, I am pleased to inform you that the DI score in Cyprus today is 32.7. More importantly, my app has declared this to be a State of Medical Emergency. Someone should tell all these people on Nissi Beach who are swimming, sunbathing and wind-surfing that they are experiencing acute discomfort right now.
Meantime, I am actually experiencing discomfort and currently sipping my second espresso freddo in an hour, whilst contemplating the social ramifications of emptying the remaining ice cubes down my Marlon Brandon style white vest. I am sure my new app friend would understand; the disapproving old lady sitting across from me with pursed lips and half-raised eyebrows, however, most certainly would not.
So, although I am battling, let’s not forget, a State of Medical Emergency here, I shall refrain from dropping mildly caffeinated ice cubes onto the skin of my upper body and thus remain as ladylike as it is possible to be in these conditions.
Do let’s be clear, however, I am not glowing and I am not perspiring. I am sweating. And as it’s too hot to do anything that involves movement, I think I am going to conduct a thought experiment.
Shaven legs and feminism then…
I will call my thought experiment Schrödinger’s Feminist and it goes like this: a feminist, a razor and a flask of counter-productive poison are placed in a sealed box along with a feminism monitor. If the monitor detects leg-shaving, the flask is shattered, releasing the poison, which kills the unsuspecting feminist. Nobody knows if the feminist is dead or alive, she or he is in fact presumed to be both: a quantum feminist; until that is it occurs to someone to open the box, force a much needed check-in with reality and actually have a conversation with this feminist. In order to establish their actual views and opinions before exposing them to venomous rage.
I can’t help but think feminism would be much better off if we stopped monitoring leg-shaving and viewing it as a good enough reason to attack other feminists.
Do you disagree? Grab an espresso freddo, join me and let’s open this box together, shall we? Just buckle up: it might be a bumpy ride!
Ah! The Shaving Dichotomy!
Some feminists go so far as to describe shaving as ‘self-mutilation’. Perhaps, a touch too strong?
The objection is mainly that they consider shaving an act of cowardice that panders to social norms designed by patriarchy to keep women oppressed. Viewed in this light, the woman herself does not want shaven legs; she is doing it for fear of being deemed unacceptable to men.
There may well be some truth in that. There may even be a lot of truth in that.
After all, men wouldn’t want to do this to themselves, right?
Except, they do.
Hands up if you find hairy backs sexually arousing?
Shaven, not stirred
I know at least one male friend who has had his back lasered because he was excessively hirsute. At the time, he also joined the gym and lost a lot of weight. It took two years for him to look the way he wanted and another two after that to settle down in a long-term relationship with his current girlfriend. Yes, girlfriend. You didn’t think he was gay, did you?
I also know a professional footballer who tried laser treatment on his legs but was too lazy to keep it up and resorted to shaving on a weekly basis; as well as a swimmer who waxes because shaving his entire body every few days takes far too long. I believe both find their performance improves when hairless because drag is greatly reduced.
Another friend, also male, regularly shaves because he lifts weights, and every one of his body-builder buddies likes to keep his skin bare too. I don’t know for sure, but I think their main motivation is that they can see the muscle definition better.
Yet another friend, regularly uses a depilatory cream from his toes to his collar bone because he enjoys the sensation of nylon stockings and silky camisoles upon an evening.
It’s their body, I wouldn’t presume to judge; more to the point, I don’t think there is anything there worth judging.
Shaven legs and Feminism. Why care?
Feminism has always fought for a woman’s right to enjoy equal freedom to a man, when it comes to making lifestyle choices. The issues we are fighting for are real and serious and as far from splitting hairs as it is possible to get.
Women the world over are raped and blamed for it, not only by the perpetrator but by the press, the judges and even by other women. Women are called “sluts” for wearing revealing clothes and “repressed” or even “oppressed,” if they don’t. Not just by sexist males but also, again, by other women.
Feminists have fought and won for women the right to vote, the right to divorce, the right to own property, the right for equal education opportunities. Feminists are fighting daily still against victim-blaming in cases of rape, domestic abuse and sexual harassment in the workplace. The battle against the pay gap and the push against the glass ceiling that withholds recognition of women’s struggles is ongoing and very far from being over.
But we must at this point take a deep breath and pause. It’s not the job or the right of feminists to decide what is appropriate for any individual woman. We all live within different geographical boundaries that determine the cultural context we operate in. But we should all continue to define and refine these separate contexts towards our common goals.
There is a long way to go before anyone can claim without prejudice that gender equality has been achieved. The list of pending issues is too long to bloat with such trivia as what motivates our desire to depilate.
Wanting to improve one’s chances of being viewed as sexually desirable to anybody else on the Kinsey scale is natural for all human beings.
In summary, shaving might not be an act of cowardly self-mutilation so much as an acknowledgement that it’s difficult to lick something hairy.
Besides, wanting to make oneself more sexually attractive rather than less does not sound at all unnatural to me.
Oh the humanity!
Human beings are complex creatures who lead complex, layered lives. Which is why I refuse to put anyone in a box. I refuse to assume a woman – or any individual for that matter – is not a feminist because of how much housework they do, because they are sexually submissive or dominant, because they wear heels, because they find corsets sexually arousing, because they hide too much flesh or reveal too much of it. This kind of prescriptive ownership of another’s body is disturbingly close to the patriarchal attempts to define and restrict what a woman was and what a woman will be.
Wasting feminist thought on whether it is possible for shaven legs and feminism to coexist, is rather demeaning to feminism and everything feminists have achieved so far.
Responses to last week’s QotW
Before I wrap this up, big thanks to all of you for your responses, both public and private, to last week’s Question of the Week on Labelling Sexuality.
Many smiles for yet another well thought-out comment from regular commenter AMasterfulMind who is clearly not a fan of cosplay but keeps their sense of humour about it.
A comment that gave me pause and a bittersweet smile last week was actually left on an older piece. Thank you, Elizabeth Page, for giving us all a glimpse into your passionate, defiant, adolescent self, who resisted “the diluted/deluded binary norm” of prepackaged gender options and fought to keep the richness of your internal world. Here’s to everyone’s “fevered dreams and desires” finding healthy expression in a safe haven free of gender prejudice.
Question of the Week
You know what’s coming. Shaven legs and feminism: Will you rise and make a stand?
Do you have any stories to share on the subjects of conforming to social norms such as the expectation of shaven legs; and how, if at all, does this impact on your feminist views?
- How do you feel about hair removal?
Feel free to share your views with us in the comments section below! We would love to hear from you.
Until next time…
Look at the time! I really must work up the courage to brave the brutal elements now and drag my shaven legs and feminism to the office.
I do hope Coffee-boy has remembered to stock the fridge-freezer full of ice. In the privacy of the yourLayeredLife offices I fully intend to punctuate each espresso freddo with a most unladylike depositing of ice cubes down my cleavage. If you are a disapproving old lady, avert your eyes now.
Right. Damn you, Discomfort Index! I’m coming out.
Stay well, darling, till next time.