When I read Autumn’s essay about choosing shave her legs for the sake of her relationship, I found it hard to relate; mostly because I haven’t had anybody in my life worth considering those kind of compromises for in years. It caused me to consider why I shave my legs. When I take the time to remove my body hair, it’s not typically a thoughtful decision. I notice that it’s too long for my liking, so I get rid of it. Maybe I take a little extra time to enjoy the softness of my freshly shaved legs, but pretty soon I’m going about my day.
I remember my mom once telling me that shaving your pubic hair grossed her out because it made your genitals look like they did before you hit puberty. That got me thinking a little more about what my own shaving habits said about the kind of person I am. Eventually, I got to the important questions: Why do I feel like my hair is too long? When did I decide that this stuff growing out of my body was embarrassing? Was shaving ever really my decision?
For many women, myself included, the story is the same. We get to a certain age and suddenly become aware that it’s time to start shaving. After the first few months of nicks and bandaids, we start to like how soft our skin feels after shaving. We like how our faces look without faint mustaches. We like how feminine we feel after we do it.
I don’t think that shaving is necessarily a bad thing, I just feel the need to remind myself (and others) that the reasons we like these things aren’t as benevolent as one may like to believe. The things that are desirable about being virtually hairless from the neck down are completely dependent on the idea of the perfect ‘woman’ that is constantly perpetuated throughout society. They’re byproducts of the same forces that teach little girls that boys won’t like them unless they’re soft and pretty. The same ones that lead a lot of us to apologize for the most trivial of missteps eighty times a day. They’re consequences of the same structures that those of us who call ourselves feminists renounce when we do so.
I’m not saying that shaving or partaking in other gendered activities are antifeminist, but I think that it’s important to remember that the misogynistic tendencies that feminists are working to eradicate from our culture don’t lie solely in the minds of outwardly misogynistic men. They’re so ingrained in our social environment that they can manifest themselves in most arbitrary habits of women as well.
If I want to shave, I am going to shave. But I’m also promising myself that I’m doing it because sometimes it just feels good to be silky smooth; not because I’m apologizing for biological traits that might contribute to my identity as a woman.
Further Reading: If you’re interested in a better understanding ways that women are taught to see themselves as gendered beings from a young age, I would definitely suggest taking a look at The Female Eunuch by Germaine Greer. It’s very straightforward and informative and while I don’t agree 100% with everything she says, it helped me gain perspective on a lot of similar issues.