Am I not a feminist at all?

// 2 May 2012

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A fluorescent sign reading This is a guest post by Nicky Clark. Nicky is a parent, a carer and a disability rights campaigner.

Hair – and the presence or absence of it – is widely regarded as a feminist issue, along with many other aspects of slavish adherance to the dictates of the Glitterati. The edict from on high is that true feminists dare to bare hair.

The theory, I gather, is that the patriarchy are oppressing us and rendering us incapable of independence of thought- it places the intractable certainty in our brains through stereotypical conditioning that we are repellent in our natural state. I disagree. I just don’t like being a “hairy Mary”.

What is the point of the fights we’ve had thus far in striving for equality, or striving to be taken seriously, or striving to be listened to, if all we have to say is, “Stop being brainwashed and do what I say”? Caitlin Moran may sport hair in her bikini region, so abundant that it stands a good chance of winning a Rolf Harris look-a-like competion. It may sing “Two Little Boys” for all I care, but am I breaking one of the ten Morandments and failing the sisterhood by thinking, “Up to you, lovely, but I’d prefer a bikini wax”?

Am I not a feminist at all? I dunno.

What I do know is that I am is sick to fucking death of the bullshit of absolute adherance to latest notion of what makes a feminist and what doesn’t. To me, the only real value lies in the realisation and grasping of choice. Be untouched by beauty therapists hands, great! Be a salon frequenter, fab! But do it because it’s what you want to do, not because some zeitgeist has you reeling from the fear of failing to be on message. Because the message changes.

If choosing to wax or shave makes me less able to articulate my views, less of a role model to my daughters – because it somehow bypasses my neurological circuitry and takes me straight to patriarchy jail – then what the fuck is that about? How does having armpit hair on view, against my will, make me less brainwashed and malleable?

I love women. They have been my strength and my support network for 45 years. I love being a woman and a mother and a friend. I’ve also loved being a wife for all it’s fluid state as with any relationship and a housewife. I saw someone on Twitter the other day laughingly equating Laurie Penny’s feminism with a cupcake in a housewife’s kitchen. When I suggested that the cupcake could have been baked in a feminist kitchen with the words, “I’m a cupcake undefined by my circumstance”, the woman writer and her feminist mate called me a cunt. Interesting.

Maybe by their standards I’m not a feminist because I’m a housewife, but when you’re a carer for 3 disabled people the career ladder doesn’t beckon in the same way. When I had my girls in a small town there was a little frowning at the lack of a wedding ring. Fuck that. When men argue with me on twitter and I argue back in kind, just to be called aggressive, fuck that too. As I age and see the response that the unbotoxed, greying, wrinkled invisibility of a woman of a certain age yields from the media, fuck that even more. The beauty that my Mum exuded at 77, dying from the ravages of Alzheimers, was as undimished as ever because it stemmed from the gentleness of the spirit she possessed as much as it did from the bone structure her DNA provided.

Hair or bare, it’s up to you. Just be who you want to be, look as you wish and let neither the patriarchy nor the sisterhood tell you differently.

[The image is a photograph of a red, fluorescent sign reading “Hair & Waxing” against a dark background. It was taken by Jeremy Brooks and is used under a Creative Commons Licence]

Comments From You

Lisa // Posted 2 May 2012 at 8:59 pm

I’m sorry that the coercion you feel not to shave from some feminist women is distressing for you. Can you also acknowledge that many women feel coerced by patriarchy to shave? And perhaps that the numbers and the types of coercion aren’t really comparable? I think this is the problem – it’s not “up to us”. We’re free to choose to shave, some gentle nudging from sisters notwithstanding. We’re just not free to choose not to.

Clodia // Posted 2 May 2012 at 9:31 pm

As a feminist who is also a naturist I have always preferred to be hair free; that way I can feel the sun and air on my skin as nature intended! It’s a matter of personal choice in my view and whether or not you prefer to be hairy or smooth makes no difference to your being a feminist!

sarahfogg // Posted 2 May 2012 at 9:54 pm

I agree with Lisa on this – we can’t claim to have made a truly free choice to shave/wax until we’re genuinely free NOT to as well, with no social consequences. I’m also sorry you feel judged by feminists for shaving, but women ARE judged by patriarchy for failing to do so.

BookaholicMum // Posted 2 May 2012 at 10:14 pm

I am a feminist and I also like to shave my legs/underarms and have a regular bikini wax. I don’t think these things are or should be mutually exclusive. I also love pink but totally support the pink stinks campaign. To be a feminist does mean being a cookie cutter – we are all individuals.

anywavewilldo // Posted 2 May 2012 at 11:38 pm

Lisa is spot on – I think feminism is about collective experience: “the personal is political” does not mean that personal choice is what makes something a feminist act or not. What is important is who can choose what, to what degree, and in what context.

We all do things that ‘go along with’ the patriarchy at times, and often for good reasons. We make compromises to gain employment, to please people, or have a quiet day for example. However these ‘choices’ are not a platform for women’s liberation.

In Britain it is now very rare for a woman to feel able to keep her body hair anywhere [being a midwife I see inside more pants than most, so trust me. Pubic hair is so endangered I fully expect Greenpeace to turn up to protect mine at any time!]

In this context ‘choosing’ to remove hair is easy and not particularly noteworthy, keeping your hair is hard and as such it can be a useful act of feminist refusal to police our own bodies.

dawnaur // Posted 3 May 2012 at 7:52 am

I remove underarm hair because I don’t like the smell of sweat. It makes washing easier. And I smell better for longer. My public hair is still there because I rather like it. I dye the hair on my head because I’m not yet a fan of grey. Does my hair affect my political views? Really? I’ve just read that feminists in Newquay are protesting about approval for another lap dancing club. That is an issue. My hair is an irrelevance.

Laura // Posted 3 May 2012 at 9:00 am

I’m sorry you’ve had shit from other feminists for being a stay-at-home mum and carer (massive kudos to you) and for removing your body hair. However I don’t think it’s necessary to totally dismiss the argument that culture and the way we are socialised affect the choices we make. As others have said, the fact that the vast majority of women in this country do remove body hair and think it’s disgusting, while the vast majority of men don’t, suggests that there is more at play here than just individual choice. Wouldn’t we see a much wider range of attitudes if it just came down to individuality?

For me, stopping removing my body hair was hugely empowering. In the process of growing it out I learned to stop hating my body and just get on with living in it. I have more time, energy and confidence because I no longer worry about it – which has a positive impact on all the other areas of my life.

And, yes, it is also an overtly feminist challenge to beauty and body fascism. But that doesn’t mean I think any less of women (feminist or not) that do remove their body hair.

nicky clark // Posted 3 May 2012 at 9:18 am

Laura I absolutely DO respect what you do. You are amazing thats the point you’re free to be amazing free to speak as you wish write what you wish and be listened to. Please don’t feel that I’m not respecting that because I am. It makes you beautiful through your intelligence and will and strength not from any external notion of hair or the absence of it- my point was about choice if it appears that by expressing that I have taken anything from the validity of your argument you must forgive me because that is totally at odds with the point I was making.

All genuine ove and solidarity Nik xx

sian norris // Posted 3 May 2012 at 9:25 am

I agree with a lot of the comments as a feminist who shaves sometimes, doesn’t other times (i’m basically v laissez faire!). I agree with the OP that it is wrong for feminists to judge other feminists in unpleasant ways – esp in the way she describes re cupcakes! However, we do live in a patriarchy, we do live in a capitalist patriarchy and that completely changes what we mean by freedom of choice. So many women and girls feel they have no choice not to shave – and that pressure is mounting as girls in school who don’t shave report horror stories of the abuse they get from male peers (see comments on that vagenda piece about shaving). The pressure on women not to shave is tiny compared to the pressure on women to spend their £££s on epilation.

The abuse you have experienced from other feminists is unacceptable (and not something i’ve experienced on this issue). And so is the abuse women can get from patriarchy for not shaving.

As Laura says, we can and should be challenging patriarchal beauty norms whilst supporting one another!

Finally, am so sorry you experienced feminists judging you for being a stay at home mum and carer. that is horrific! And shows how, as i put it, we let patriarchy in through the cracks of our feminist armour and devalue women’s work and women’s contributions in the same way patriarchy does. You’re amazing woman and campaigner!

Kathryn Hyde // Posted 3 May 2012 at 10:01 am

I feel that the premise of this article is disingenous. I don’t think anyone truly feels under pressure to grow hair, or judged for hair-removal activity.

acdavies // Posted 3 May 2012 at 10:27 am

I’m wondering if there are actually two separate issues here, actually, having had a chat about this issue with my husband last night. Yes, partly, it is a feminist issue, particularly with regard to the removal of pubic hair. But it is also an issue of conforming to societal (rather than patriarchal) norms and fashions.

My husband wanted to know how removal / shaving of female body hair was different from him ‘having’ to shave his face. My initial response was one of feminist outrage (he has a choice about shaving his face. No-one looks bearded men in disgust, etc). On reflection, though, he does have a point: he DOES ‘have’ to shave, or at least keep whatever facial hair he has neat and well trimmed. His job (senior, suited, respectable) requires him to conform to a certain look. His hair has to be kept short. Suit and tie at all times. He must be well groomed. He does NOT have any choice about this. He cannot let his hair grow, or have visible tattoos or piercings, for example. If he did grow facial hair (which he is free to do) he would have to grow it in a way that conforms to current fashion (no handlebar moustaches, for example). Non-conformity simply isn’t an option for him.

Is this very different from women shaving legs and underarms (the parts of her body most likely to be visible)? Is it not as much a societal norm as a patriarchal pressure, and a fashion as much as it is oppression? I couldn’t go to work in sheer tights and a sleeveless shift dress with hairy legs and pits any more than a man could go into a (corporate) job with unkempt facial hair.

Of course, I could wear a sleeved trouser suit, which would actually give me more choice than a man in a similar job…

I’m not sure. I haven’t reached a conclusion on this either way. But I don’t think women’s body hair is a straightforward feminist issue. Nor do I find ‘competitive feminism’ very helpful.

Removal of pubic hair is arguable different. Unless you swim regularly, I cannot see what difference it makes to anyone what goes on down there!

Tom Midlane // Posted 3 May 2012 at 12:05 pm

I think this blog absolutely hits the nail on the head. Feminism has got to stand for personal choice, not for a small band of people setting themselves up as gatekeepers of “true” feminism and deciding what is ideologically sound.

The language of WANG (Women Against Non-Essential Grooming) is, to me, completely contrary to feminist ideas. Whenever a woman raises Nicky’s objections, they continually invoke the idea of false consciousness. To quote from their site: “I think only after we’ve ejected neo-liberalism, patriarchy, racism and all forms of hierarchy and oppression can we really talk about free choice as such.”

In other words, shaving your body hair will be acceptable once we live in utopia.

My girlfriend shaves her body hair because she likes the feeling of smooth skin and she thinks it looks nicer. I think she’d take fairly vocal exception to the idea that it’s actually down to a sublimated patriarchial impulse. As Clodia said: “It’s a matter of personal choice in my view and whether or not you prefer to be hairy or smooth makes no difference to your being a feminist!”

Vicky Brewster // Posted 3 May 2012 at 12:42 pm

This makes me chuckle, because reading these articles always makes me feel like I’m the only woman in the world for whom leaving my body hair alone is not a conscious ‘feminist’ decision. I’ve never been waxed anywhere (I’m a wimp), I shaved my legs last to go to a wedding over a year ago, I shave my armpits maybe once every couple of months, and my downstairs fluffies get a trim about once a month. So far so Right On, Sistah! But I’ve never done it as a statement. Women say they feel empowered by not shaving, but I just feel the same as I’ve always felt — sort of like me. It’s not an act of rebellion. I’ve never been overly shave-happy. It causes rashes, and I usually cut myself, and it just seems like an awful lot more hassle than its worth.

I’ve had grumbles from previous sexual partners. But as my fiance says, if there’s a sexy woman standing in front of you and all you can do is moan about some furry patches, isn’t that really the moaner’s problem?

I have been quite surprised by the number of Yay Hairy! feministy blogs and articles around lately. I thought this issue was a bit old hat, personally, and that those of us who’ve been feministing a while had our eyes set on higher goals, having understood that personal appearance is really a matter of individual choice and, as you so aptly put it, fuck anyone who disagrees :)

acdavies // Posted 3 May 2012 at 1:14 pm

I think personal appearance IS a matter of personal choice, and to us old-hatters it probably is a genuine non-issue, but at the same time I think we need to allow for the fact that there is a constant stream of ‘new’ feminists; that is, young women who are suddenly going (for example) ‘Hang on – why AM I shaving all my body hair off? Is that right?’

A lot of women have already been on that particular journey. A lot of women are only just starting out, and we need to give them the space to reach their own conclusions.

I really hope that doesn’t sound patronising – it isn’t meant to!

Emily // Posted 3 May 2012 at 1:53 pm

I absolutley love Vicky Brewster’s comment above, and find it so refreshing to see someone writing about someone doing something just because they wanted to for no particular reason!

Why must everyone be perpetually be theorising issues like shaving body hair? I have been shaving my body hair since I was about 15, trimming my bikini line etc and I certainly didn’t do it because I picked up a girlie mag or saw my friends doing it and thought I better conform to the standard in front of me. I have never liked the look or feel of it, and it has always been a simple part of my daily routine like brushing my teeth. Having said that I sometimes go a week or two without doing it because I’m really busy or I don’t particularly care that day..for me it’s a rather insignificant part of life and isn’t something that needs to be discussed over and over. Like Vicky has left her body hair unconsciously, I have shaved mine unconciously.

This is not an angry post at all, I think it’s great so many people have fiery debates about things I wouldn’t myself, I’m just basically saying..if you don’t remove body hair: cool. If you do: cool. I think there is a lot of bigger issues out there we could be discussing rather than re-hashing fusty debates about hairy legs.

I am feminist too who cares about a lot of different issues, but I guess sometimes I would rather eat a sandwich or watch TOWIE than discuss the reasons why I pluck my eyebrows. I JUST DO!

Rose // Posted 3 May 2012 at 2:10 pm

It’s got to be about choice. Standing up for your right to live in your body, as it is, is central to feminism for me. That means, no one gets to tell me what my form must be.

I find the argument that women shaving/waxing all over is equilvalent to men shaving off facial hair to be very weak.

If men have stubble they aren’t considered lesser men. It’s not a challenge to their masculinity, it’s an aspect of it.

Both women and men are expected to groom their heads, (hair and face). While men are expectd to ‘keep’ their facial hair in order, women are expected to do the same, plus eyebrows, plus makeup. Both are expected to wear smart clothing.

I used to date a guy who had a ‘problem’ with female body hair – though never with his own, and my legs were expected to be perfectly smooth before I got into bed at night – even after a long day. That told me, it wasn’t my bed. I was more object than animal to him. I have higher standards for guys now.

I can go either way with my hair – generally apathy. Sometimes I remove some hair for artistic reasons, other times I grow it to full, also for artisitc reasons. I used to consider my body hair to be fundamentally disgusting, and to be ashamed of my very nature as a result. I grew out of that (yay for puns), now I can see beauty either way.

(Even before I quit the self destructive obsession with negativly judging my appearance I found ‘other’ women with hair attractive – it looked to me like a symbol of thier confidence and strength, and that is beauty)

Kate // Posted 3 May 2012 at 4:25 pm

@acdavies

The analogue to men’s facial hair is women’s facial hair. It’s a false equivalence to compare men’s facial hair with women’s bodily hair. While men receive social disapprobation for not shaving their face, would you disagree that women with facial hair receive more?

(And there are plenty of women with facial hair – due to aging, hormonal differences, or just genetic predisposition).

Jonathan // Posted 4 May 2012 at 9:11 am

What this all seems to boil down to is: “I’m a woman AND I like these things” (which is perfectly okay) versus “I’m a woman THEREFORE I like these things” (which is certainly not okay).

I think it’s between the “and” and the “therefore” that the problems arise, but we can perhaps avoid them if…

1) Those of us who are committed to overturning the “therefore” remember that the gender freedom we seek includes the “and” – and show that we respect that.

2) Those of us for whom the “and” applies remember that the “therefore” is false – and show that we’re just as committed to overturning it.

[NB I’ve talked in terms of women here because that was the theme of the thread, but obviously the same is true for men – i.e. including me – as well.]

anywavewilldo // Posted 5 May 2012 at 12:53 am

Threads like this just make me groan at how weak liberal feminism is – “it’s cleaner/ prettier/ sexier/ less smellier (!) – I hardly notice… sometimes I think I’m eating a chocolate cake and I look down and all my pubes have fallen off”

Do you think we just thought all this up for ourselves without any social context at all? Grow up… sexual and racial markers don’t just happen along. Feminism is not about personal choice it’s about women’s liberation.

I think trashing other women on a personal level is just plain wrong – but I think this because it’s unkind and ineffective, not because all choices and all ideas are equally valid.

Feminism is not a shopping list, it’s a fight.

Feminism is not a lifestyle, it’s a revolution.

How can you change the world if you get more upset about women having opinions than at the hierarchies and systems of domination that oppress us?

Body hair is hardly the most pressing issue in the white supremacist, capitalist, patriarchy – but it’s telling how upset we get about being called out on our choices. If our conformity to certain body image ideals makes us feel such emotions, then how upset would we get about our complicity with our deeper subjugation if we let ourselves notice it?

anywavewilldo // Posted 5 May 2012 at 1:08 am

ps.

http://youtu.be/VwLpoy0nfng

[Kathleen Cleaver of the Black Panther Party breaks down Why we wear our hair like this 1968]

still think choice is personal?

karen smith // Posted 6 May 2012 at 10:18 am

The Daily Mail recently ran an article entitled “can it ever be socially acceptable to have hairy armpits”?

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2139473/Emer-OToole-This-Morning-Can-EVER-socially-acceptable-hairy-armpits.html

How many men shave their armpits? Some maybe, but it isn’t expected.

As several people have pointed out already – the reason this is a feminist issue (and FWIW, I do remove a lot of body hair including underarm hair) is because there is a lot of pressure on women not to be hairy. I do think this piece is being a bit economical with the truth. Caitlin Moran saying she has pubic hair and has no intention of removing it isn’t the same as saying anyone who has a bikini wax isn’t a feminist is it? Or did Moran actually say that anyone who has their pubes waxed isn’t a feminist? (I have no idea, since the author doesn’t quote her actual words).

Has the author any actual examples of anyone telling her she isn’t a feminist because she removes body hair? Or is she just extrapolating from the fact that they say there is pressure on women in a patriarchy to remove body hair?

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