Wednesday, December 31, 2008

advances in personal feminism

A few days ago I took my kids to our fitness center's indoor pool. Without shaving my legs beforehand. After weeks of winter growth, uncontrolled forestation.

This feat took quite a bit of cognitive therapy skillage to accomplish, as in, "psychologist, heal thyself" of fear of social disapproval.

I am proud to be a feminist. To believe that gender should not determine opportunity, access, pay level, intelligence, nurturing ability, or who controls the TV remote.

I wish I put my money where my leg hair grows. You know, where I believe gender also need not determine one's routine razor blade habits.

I see women with long, dark, cactus beast ape hairy legs and I gasp. Silently. I try not to stare. I admire their bravery while wondering if they have any idea the impact their hairy legs have on members of the opposite sex. On members of the same sex. On tried and true feminists, for goddess sake. I hate myself for my hypocrisy.

I married a man who thinks women with hairy legs, hairy armpits, and hairy snatches are sexy. Aren't I the lucky one? I feel that much more confident baring all to him during the turtleneck and jeans season. I even manage to feel sexy. With my armpit hair. Underarm hair can feel daring and renegade. Not so leg hair. Nuh-uh. I feel no kind of confidence baring the snarly leg growth to him. Less so to strangers in public.

While researching my thesis in graduate school, I read Femininity, by Susan Brownmiller. It was an amazing read. One of those books that I have thought about thousands of times as I engaged in traditional feminine rituals of self care that go contrary to my feminist ideals. I talked about one of those times, here.

As I changed out of my workout clothes and into my bathing suit, as I strode in front of the hawty hawt hawt lifeguard with the long surfer boy haircut (half my age and then some, dammit) (half my body weight too, now that I think about it. Shit! Why did he have to be on duty this day?!) I thought about Brownmiller. I took comfort in her admission that despite being the author of several feminist tomes, she had a few stereotypical feminine trappings she could not give up. Wearing lipstick, no matter where she went, was one.

So, I remind myself, I'm in good company. I'm not the only fraud on the planet.

Years ago, while driving to work, I listened to several local morning radio jocks talk about a certain formerly Catholic schoolgirl, turned material girl, turned star of her own sex book, turned Kabbalah, turned twice-divorcee. There was a brief mention of material girl's infamous nude photo with hairy armpits and how "gross" and "nasty" and "dirty" they found it when women didn't shave their underarms.

So it occurred to me. My avoidance of showing unshaved leg hair had to do with a hygiene issue: my fear that others would assume I was not clean. That I didn't bathe regularly. And I really really don't want people to think I'm dirty. Dirty mind? Doesn't bother me. Dirty body? Very much.

That insight and a cup of shaving cream will get some of us nowhere, for about 15 years.
So on this day, I pulled out my cognitive toolbelt instead of my electric shaver:

1. I cannot control what others think of me. Deep breath.
2. It is unimportant what others think of me. Full exhale. It is important that I please myself. And it would please me greatly to skip the leg shave.
3. It is likely people will be far enough away that they won't see the hair on my legs.
4. If they do get close enough, refer to #1 and #2.
5. I am 40-something years old, for crissakes. I am married. I am going for a swim, not to a Mrs. America pageant, and not to attract a young and dumb man who doesn't appreciate the hawtness of lush, untamed hair on a cellulite-ridden, matronly thigh.
6. I deserve the luxury of unshaved legs.
7. The kids are in the car and I will never hear the end of it if I keep them waiting long enough to destroy this rainforest.

Ok, so score one for self preservation and maternal appeasement.

But yeah. Score one for feminism, too.

Is there a traditionally feminine, or masculine, depending on your gender, habit you struggle to let go of?


Mary said...

Lipgloss, leg shaving _I'm still there - but they make me feel GOOD damn it....

Agent X said...

I have to shave the pits and I always have my toe nails painted. Not sure why but I like it. As for leg shaving, I am blond so I get a little lucky there. One would either need to rub up against me or see the hair glistening in sunlight to know its there.

Melissa said...

I'm the same way about grooming stuff. It feels good to *me*, so that's why I do it. And feminism is about having choices, right? So I choose to look like the princess that I am. :)

KCB said...

A traditional feminine habit I struggle to let go of? Shaving. For all the reasons you listed and then some.

As for makeup, jewelry, fancy clothing, I've mostly let that stuff go for the sake of time and sanity. It's been easier for me to do, oddly, since I started belly dancing. Every so often I dress up, trowel on stage makeup and dance with my friends. Then I go home, scrub it all off, and feel relieved that I don't have to put on that drag every day. Peforming gets it out of my system, and I go back to chapstick and grubby jeans.

And as for those cute fellas half my age? I think back to my young-adult dating days, consider where I am now, and realize I (or my husband) could write a book about what those guys don't know yet. Age does have some benefits. ;)

Unknown said...

Bloody hell, internet cut out on me after LONG reply! argh

Gist of it...
- feminism is about having choices, not being oppressed.
- that includes not being oppressed by the ideas of other feminists.
- perfectly okay to dislike hairy legs, I didlike hairy faces on men, just a preference thing
- also okay to wear makeup, people have been painting their faces for centuries. If you do it because you believe you HAVE to, or to please men, that's a whole other thing
- enjoying the blog

shrink on the couch said...

mary -- and when it feels good, do it. my post was more about things that you want to give up but are having trouble letting go of it due to gender expectation

agent -- blonde envy, here

melissa -- that's right. if you enjoy it, carry on. my post is about things I want to change about myself but feminine expectations interfere with me being able to do it.

KCB -- On the younger guy thing, absolutely. I volunteer to contribute a chapter, or two, in your book. And yeah, I am the BurtsBees and grubby jeans kinda gal too.

mon -- "perfectly okay to dislike hairy legs...just a preference thing" An excellent cognitive replacement to add to my list.

I'm don't feel oppressed by feminist ideas and don't advocate anyone working on ideas they don't agree with. I'm working on things about myself that I want to change but feel hampered due to traditional gender expectation. More broadly, worrying too much about what others think of me due to THEIR gender expectation.

KG said...

Hmmm ... but why can't a feminist shave her legs? I mean - think about it. If I, the woman, want to shave my legs because I hate the way leg hair feels when it rubs against my jeans, then the shaving of the legs is done for ME and therefore is a feminist activity, right?

PS - I shave my legs DAILY. I just hate the way leg hair feels.

shrink on the couch said...

trannyhead -- feminism doesn't say a woman can't or shouldn't .. it gives permission to those of us who would like to buck the trend of what is expected of us because we are women. I personally do not enjoy any aspect of shaving. I'm fine with hairy legs. I just don't want to gross others out. Feminist thought gives me permission to be fuzzy.

Now, come tennis season, I'll be back on the razor gang.

Radical Reminders said...

I love this post and you constantly crack me up :) thanks for all you write!!! :)

laurie said...

i'm lucky that my hair is fairly light colored. sometimes i shave my legs, and sometimes i don't. but like trannyhead, i do it because i like the smooth and silky hairless feel. not because i think some idiot might ogle me.

so there you go. we women -- we feminists--have a lot of choices. skirts? pants? heels? sensible shoes? shave? not shave? makeup? no makeup? the choices that we make don't necessarily reflect how we feel about equality or women's place in the world.

i don't get too wound up about any of it. at least with my great advanced age i've accumulated some wisdom!

thanks for another thought-provoking post.

JCK said...

I just loved this post. I admire you so much - your boldness in writing about feminist issues. Your putting it out there. Very brave.

I feel like I could talk to you for hours on these issues. The shaving the legs thing really got me. I'm really bad about doing it regularly - lazy. But, do feel better when I do.

As for the Madonna nude photos when she was a young thing...I think that photo is gorgeous. And hair under the arms doesn't bother me. I have a harder time letting go of hairy legs...working on that one. :)

bernthis said...

You know this would never be a problem if you just packed up the family and moved to Germany. That's all, just move a billion miles away and you'll be fine.

Anonymous said...

I've never really thought about whether I'm a feminist or not, though now that I have, I'd have to say not so much. Maybe just a little.

Anyway, hairy anything just isn't going to least not the bits anyone sees. I feel better when I look better.

Ash said...

Great post - and very chicken and egg.

Do I desire nicely shaved legs because I like the way they feel against my pjs when I slip into bed. Or have I been brainwashed by Madison Avenue to think that they HAVE to be shaved to feel nice?

One thing I won't give up - highlighting my hair. I live in Dallas, after all. I'll carry a $10 purse and buy all my shoes at Pay Less, but the "do," the "do" HAS to look good.

If I'm feeling particularly sassy, I'll throw on my mom's ERA bracelet ;-)

Kirsetin Morello said...

I love this - I think so many of us can relate. I, for one, am definitely a fan of the razor! Thanks for the laugh, and the perspective.

Trying real hard to move on said...

I am a big fan of leg and pit shaving. If you catch me with unshaved legs, I am probably on my deathbed. I pretty much do all things girly. But I don't know that I judge other women who don' each her own.

I have a friend who has a hairy husband. Lots and lots of chest and back hair. My DH is hairy as well. It doesn't bother me....I will admit I see an occasional WAY hairy man at the pool or something and kind of think "eww"...but I don't think everyone should be hairless. My friend makes her husband use Nair. Just seems kind of mean to me. I guess if I wanted to have hairy legs or pits I wouldn't expect my DH to "make" me do anything about it.

Anonymous said...

Whoo, well, chiming in here - I shave in the summer, not the winter, but like a few others here I'm blessed with sparseness. And its so sparse that it is ok to shave at the start, middle and end of summer, rather than all the time.

I worked for so long in a job that didn't require the wearing of makeup or jewelry, and conditions counteracted any efforts at serious hair styling, and where jeans and tshirts were the uniform, so I was never in the habit of too much girlyness on a day to day basis. For the last 10 years I HAVE been girlier, and it's felt like a kind of frivolous luxury.

I'm not able to comment on it from a feminist point of view. Where I come from is sloth and habit.

Unknown said...

i have to shave, legs, its and pubes. just have to. But my man loves a woman with junk in her trunk so I really should just be happy with my healthy, fairly active self as I am at size 18, but I cannot eshew the yearning to be stick thin.

Vodka Mom said...

you rock those hairy legs, girl.

Anonymous said...

Shaving to me seems like such a masculine thing to do. The first person I ever saw shave was my father, when I was a young child, not my mother shaving her legs. She didn't in fact. She was German. Me on the other hand, although I equate shaving with masculinity, I love the feel of smooth legs, and shaving is the most time effective way of getting there. I tend to shave when I'm wearing leg or arm pit revealing clothing, because hair free is the expectation of others. As I get older, now 53, I have a bigger problem, Eyebrow plucking. I need my glasses and an enlarging mirror, and good light to see what I'm doing, and when it comes to seeing what's happening on your face, why doesn't anyone ever tell you that you have a hair growing out of you chin.

Anonymous said...

Okay...I'm married to a man who used to be an archaeologist and the women in his life (previous to me) were of the same ilk. Many did not shave. I, however, was raised to shave. It is a pain in the ass, but I think I look better that way. However, on a winter's night I have the luxury of being with a man who doesn't care if I've shaved or not. Shave or don't shave. Either is sexy to him. Score!

AnnD said...

I'm still doing most of them. I especially worry about my eyebrows! I'm a bigger plucker, shaver, waxer and threader of those. I shave my legs regularly...I actually really enjoy the process so it is easy to contine. I like putting on that aromatic shaving gel and seeing it come off when I seems so organized and your progress is so obvious! Plus, my hubby will complain about my "cricket legs" in bed if I don't! ;O)

AnnD said...

OH! I also wanted to add...I do not like doing my hair, I hate shopping, I hate paiting my fingernails/toenails, I hate no way do I feel like these things make me more attractive. I like me and the fact that I don't do these "girly" things makes me proud of myself. Or am I jut a lazy, cheap person? You decide.

Margo said...

I think it's all a matter of doing what feels good to you. I go through phases... if I neglect my hair control efforts, I eventually end up shaving it off, in one big new razorblade fest. What I don't like is how this whole hair removal thing is translating these days to young girls with all that Brazilian wax business. Many of my 16 yr old's friends, go to get their arms and legs regularly waxed. There is this message "out there" in our culture that what women's bodies do naturally is something that needs to be hidden or controlled. We're only supposed to have long thick, shiny hair on our heads, perfectly arched eyebrows, and eyelashes... any other hair is somehow thought of as being unfeminine.

shrink on the couch said...

annd- you sound very un-fussy and that describes me. I'm very sporadic to non-existent with make up. I wear it to parties and occasionally into the office when I'm feeling pale and tired looking.

e.beck.artist said...

i don't shave my legs for four or five months a year ... but it is 70 here in spite of winter .... so my hairy legs are hanging out publicly .... but i don't mind ... i do however really, really mind hairy pits ... mine, not others' ..... i find them itchy .... i'm afraid some of my less "feminine' traits ... like rarely wearing makeup, are more of a not caring than a feminist decision .... same with the legs ... the feminist in me doesn't care ... but it's the lazy in me that isnt' shaving ....

girliness? i like painted toes in the summer ... blue polish in particular .... and in the past couple years i've been highlighting my hair ....

i like that i have no strong feeling of what i SHOULD do ... i'm very much a do what i want sort ...

shrink on the couch said...

margo -- I'm in agreement with concern about the increasing trend toward more hair removal, but it is happening with men too, so at least it isn't JUST a feminine oppression. Still, I don't hear about too many men getting Brazilians, but maybe I don't get out often enough.

ebeckartist -- Where I'm really out of the current mainstream feminine trend is in the pedicure arena. I don't like nail polish and I really don't like added the upkeep required as I get older.

Anonymous said...

I am so ungirly but I have a hatred of body hair - really loathe it. Luckily I do not have hairy legs (odd really) but I do shave my pits and always get the other areas waxed on a regular basis.

The only other girly thing I do is wear skirts. I love skirts and frocks.

But other than that I don't think I have any gender-specific habits (well, I don't pee standing up).

AnnD said...

I forgot another one that I must add. I can't stand having a moustache! So, I pluck that too. I haven't taken the big plunge and had it waxed because I'm afraid that will make it grow in darker. But, the 'stache has to go!

Grandy said...

I shave more for preservation in the winter. It hurts to have stubble in the trouser socks and tights...and it is too dang cold to go without. :)

Mary Alice said...

Lipstick and leg shaving. I don't like how unshaved legs feel....and I don't like how tired I look without a little color on my face.

Fantastic Forrest said...

Leg and pit shaving is always a struggle. I do it sometimes, but not all the time. Thankfully, I'm in the Pacific Northwest, home to Sasquatch, so it's not as taboo as in other regions. At least, I tell myself that.

Growing up, my brother often kidded me about my "gorilla legs" when I let a little hair show.

If I have some event coming up where I really do feel like I'll need to shave, I actually have nightmares about it. Everyone is looking at my legs and pointing. Then I break out the razor the next day.

Hey - I love your blog. Have read a lot of your posts, but this was the only one I felt I had something to contribute other than saying "oh, yes, I feel the very same way." And how boring is that? I know you'd much rather hear intimate details about the hair on my body parts.