A victory for patriarchal standards of beauty

(421 Posts)

So I was mulling this over in the bath last night. For a few months (at least) I haven't bothered shaving my legs. It started because I was feeling very low and could barely be arsed to brush my teeth and maintain personal hygiene (y'know, the standard we expect of men) let alone anything else. So they grew.

And then I decided to leave them and see how I felt about it. A feminist experiment, if you would call it that. So they grew some more. While I'm blonde and the hair was light, they looked like men's legs. They also caught in tights on the couple of occasions I wore them.

I really didn't like it, so last night I shaved them. Now, to me, they look and feel so much better. I won't be hanging up my razor.

But I am feminist. I understand and agree with the analysis of radical feminism. But I have been conditioned to find very hairy legs unattractive and having them myself made me feel uncomfortable. Of course, this means I've succumbed to what the patriarchy wants so what I will mulling over in the bath were the points raised on the 'choice' thread:

Would you judge by behaviour as harmful to women, a small betrayal of the movement? Or are other things (such as writing about feminism in my work and raising my children to challenge stereotypes and to believe that people shouldn't be disadvantaged by sex, race, sexuality, disability etc) more significant?

PS. I am not looking for validation of my decision. I know it was influenced by cultural factors, despite feeling inside like complete personal agency.

See the thing is, oh, I give up for a bit. Perhaps if I find my glasses things will get better.

But before I do Bertie I wasn't posting an "argument". I was trying to engage in a discussion about what happens when a woman who believes in radical feminism's analysis of society makes a choice to do something that they know that movement regards as symbolic of the oppression they fight against.

I don't want to convince anyone. I am not trying to debate with you or prove you wrong. There is no need (from my perspective anyway) to pick apart my language (though of course you're free to do so if it makes you feel better).

Obviously I am doing an absolutely terrible, terrible job of explaining myself.

gosh this thread is frustrating.

Buffy -- I get it. How can you be a feminist, understand the insidious influence of patriarchy, and yet want to shave?

I don't really think it's too much of a paradox. Very few people are 100 per cent activist and 'perfect'. I actually think it's impossible, in our modern age, to be so. You can try to live a really moral life but -- if you own a mobile or laptop or any piece of modern technology, you are a cog in a giant structure of global exploitation, for example (ie conflict minerals). Many of our clothes depend on environmental and human exploitation. What is shaving compared to that?

You pick your battles. You've been conditioned to like smooth legs. You can exert mental energy trying to overcome that, or focus it on issues that are of more interest to you. Other people, for their own reasons, will focus on shaving as something important to them.

<clutches at dreaming like drowning person>

TheDoctrineOf2014 Sun 19-Jan-14 09:36:02

<staggers onto thread>

Yes, Buffy, you can be a rad fem and shave your legs.

<staggers off to make coffee and hopefully come up with something more intelligent>

BelleCurve Sun 19-Jan-14 09:36:33

Even if you know something is patriarchal, some battles are easier ti fight than others.

I have a similar battle with high heels. They hurt my feet, I know men don't need to wear them and I have been wearing them less and less. But I can't quite give them up entirely.

On leg shaving, I admit defeat. I like to go swimming and wear dresses on the odd day of sunshine without spending hours of prep time and missing all the fun. So I got them lasered which has been lifechanging.

I don't care if that is not radical enough for some. You pick your battles.

MorrisZapp Sun 19-Jan-14 09:36:59

Yes, what dreamingbohemian said. I do lots of things every day that I don't intellectually support. But I do them because either they make life easier, or more fun.

Nobody is perfect. I think liberals of all colours should basically give themselves and others a break when it comes to living an ethically correct life.

grin

I actually know a few communists who have bought their own properties in recent years. Think how conflicted they must feel.

EdithWeston Sun 19-Jan-14 09:38:33

I think I get what OP meant.

But that doesn't mean I accept the starting point that influences on appearance are necessarily, inherently and solely patriarchal.

And if you don't have that as the starting point, then OP's decisions on appearance do not have one cut and dried significance.

If however OP does not want to accept the multiplicity of other factors in choices relating to appearance, then it is likely she will continue to feel conflicted.

Here's my continental-european take on this:

Of course the less hairy standards of beauty are a complex patriarchal social construct (the whole less hairy = 'younger' = more fertile and more compliant), but it is also a fashion and as such, do whatever you want. Be entirely body hair free - you can still be a feminist. Let it ALL grow, you can still be a feminist or not depending on where you stand on feminism.

My hair grooming is v hit and miss, particularly in the winter. I am v pale skinned and have v dark body hair, but not a lot of it. I do shave legs/tidy other sites up when going out etc, but I do find it a bit of a pain.

I think the main feminist issue here is how judgy people (here and in RL) can get about a bit hair. Photos in the papers with slebs showing a bit of underarm hair?? Really? Who on earth gives a flying fuck about that?
Apparently more people than I'd like to believe... sad. That's an issue; not the actual state of Gyneth's or whoever's armpits.

I think liberals of all colours should basically give themselves and others a break when it comes to living an ethically correct life.

I absolutely agree with Morris. We should think in terms of the good we can do collectively and not worry if at the individual level we are not perfect.

Doctrine was a bit more succinct than me grin

Ehhn Sun 19-Jan-14 09:46:09

Have to dash off soon and not read the full thread/formulated answer properly.

Just a point - all premiership rugby players, especially in league, shave their legs. As do swimmers, some cyclists, ballet dancers and male models. Perhaps shaving legs for utility/comfort ie not snagging on tights etc is a valid gender neutral choice?

plantsitter Sun 19-Jan-14 09:49:05

I guess if it were not difficult to make decisions outside of what the patriarchy tells us is OK, it would not exist anyway.

It is not surprising that even as a feminist you find it hard not to shave your legs. Admitting it is one of the steps to freedom- after all if you didn't you would be claiming other women are all weaker than you when really is about the strength and insidiousness of patriarchal norms.

Bonsoir Sun 19-Jan-14 09:50:31

Personal hygiene and grooming norms are not imposed on women by men.

msrisotto Sun 19-Jan-14 09:55:54

You do what you can to get by in the patriarchy society we're in. I am radfem I suppose but I dye my hair and shave my underarms (all the time) and legs (when wearing skirts), wear make up occasionally, do a million other things which are not necessarily following through of my ideology. My reasoning being because I don't want to ostracise myself and want to live an easy life. I don't feel guilty about it. I'd get discriminated against more if I rebelled against these norms and i'm not a masochist.

Nobody is saying that they are. They are saying that grooming norms are a complex societal contract and if you believe society is patriarchal (which despite what appears to me as overwhelming evidence in favour of this notion, you may not) then this social construct is part of a male-dominated society. Not one where genders are equal.

Patriarchy does not equal a conscious and deliberate conspiracy organised by men to keep women subservient.

I don't feel guilty or conflicted about it.

I do think its interesting to explore the implications of agreeing with radfem analysis and doing something counter to it. I am knowingly colluding in my own oppression.

I think that's an interesting subject for discussion.

larrygrylls Sun 19-Jan-14 09:58:33

"Thanks smile but I am very calm. I don't need reassurance. And hair removal isn't for me so I feel good, it's so I feel that I fit in with patriarchal standards of attractiveness."

Is wanting to look decent a patriarchal construct. As a man, I shave and brush my teeth daily (well, twice daily for tooth brushing). When I want to look smart, I put an uncomfortable shirt with collar on and a really bizarre piece of rope tied tightly around my neck (aka a tie) pointing at my phallus (apparently that is the function of a tie). Is this a matriarchal construct or just driven by the simple evolutionary desire of my genes to replicate themselves?

Calling the removal of body hair "decent" has some significance, doesn't it.

In my view, there's a difference between things everyone does (such as take actions to avoid being smelly and unkempt and to take care of one's teeth) and doing things that make one "fit in" with fashion or societal standards of attractiveness.

I don't care if you wear a shirt and tie or not. Who imposes this standard upon you? Isn't it a way to show you belong to a high status group? To people who are in charge of important work? What happens if you don't conform?

Bonsoir Sun 19-Jan-14 10:03:23

Wearing a tie signals lower status these days in many areas of work.

scottishmummy Sun 19-Jan-14 10:03:29

I don't think anyone much cares if you shave or not

Well then they are free not to derail the discussion smile

Bonsoir Sun 19-Jan-14 10:08:11

I agree with scottishmummy - no-one much cares either way. And if you want to be ethical you should probably apply your thinking skills to dilemmas that are more important to the well-being of humanity.

See I agree with Edith that there are multiple determinants of all social norms.

Class and wealth, for example, have an obvious influence on norms related to appearance.

But that doesn't mean they replace patriarchy as a source of norms. It's perfectly possible for gender and class structures to work together, and I think this is the case here.

I imagine that's not a proper rad fem argument but I'm more into intersectionality personally.

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