One hotly debated topic among some of the feminists I hang around with is none other than the removal of body hair. OK, so it's not really hotly debated, but the subject does come up and is of particular importance to women who have only just realized their feminism, lesbianism, queerness, etc. As soon as we hit puberty and that peach fuzz starts to darken, we are expected to remove it. I remember being in sixth grade, begging my mom to let me shave. She said, "Maybe in the spring when you start wearing shorts again." My thoughts were, "HELLO, I still have to wear shorts in gym class!!!" And every other eleven year old girl in my gym class was, indeed, hairless. So I stole one of my older sister's disposable razors and shaved my legs. Problem solved. Fast forward eight years: college sophomore, lazy bones, winter time. For me, shaving always took a hiatus during the winter because my legs were covered, so who cares. When this spring rolled around and I packed my tights up with my winter clothes, I did shave my legs and pits maybe three or four times. But after what was probably about a year and a half of philosophical thought pertaining to body hair, I decided to stop shaving for good.
But enough of my personal journey towards hairy legs and on with the debate! Sometime last year I came across some postings in a facebook group about the subject by a couple of radical friends of mine. Their argument against hair removal was basically that women have been historically pressured to remove their hair by men, that it was another "trapping of femininity." They claimed that any feminist worth her salt simply had to maintain her body hair as a political statement against patriarchy. This has been a rather gross generalization and exaggeration of their posts (which were already a couple years old by the time I read them), but I've gotten the impression that quite a number of more radical feminists actually do hold this view. Their arguments didn't sit well with me as I felt (and still feel) that feminism is supposed to be about women (and men) having the right to make their own choices regarding, well, everything--and without any societal or political pressures. Isn't the expectation not to shave your legs just as bad as the expectation to do it? I think yes. Men and women should be able to remove or maintain their body hair without judgement or ridicule.
Distracted by my own personal journey, it took me until yesterday to wonder how the feminine/masculine associations came to be in the first place. So of course, I looked it up on wikipedia. Apparently women didn't think twice about body hair until around 1915 when the rising popularity of sleeveless dresses inspired a targeted advertising assault on armpit hair, claiming it was "unsightly." As hemlines remained longer until the 40s and 50s, women didn't bother with their leg hair. The popularity of shorter hemlines and the sheer nylons (under which hair looked "dorky") that came with them seem to be the top causes for the persisting expectation that womens' legs remain smooth.
Another thing I'm starting to notice is that these "trappings of femininity" we so often blame on patriarchy are perpetuated much more strongly by women! Womens' magazines that tell us to remove our body hair and wear makeup to please men are run by women! I personally find makeup to be kind of gross and body hair to be kind of hot (and I like women), so ladies: quit bringing eachother down! Body hair can be feminine and beautiful. Let's just all be.