gender performance

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The other day a video popped up on a friend’s Facebook feed. It featured a small image of what appeared to be a t-shirt on a mannequin. There was a big, blurry circle in the mannequin’s crotch area.

Next to it was this headline: controversial window display in Halifax, N.S. turns heads. Figuring it might involve pubic hair, I could resist clicking the link. I wasn’t wrong. (you can watch it for yourself here).

It took me to a news segment that aired earlier this week on CTV news in Halifax. Before running the item, host Steve Murphy looks at the audience and says “we caution you that some of you may find this offensive, and it may not be appropriate for younger viewers.”

Which is what made the item so extra hilarious. In short: it’s a very short news item about an “art installation” that’s getting “mixed reviews” in a store-front window on Barrington Street in downtown Halifax. Apparently a whole whack of people are incredibly offended by it and there’s a petition circulating to have the work taken down. The news item, which is shabbily put together, clips a couple of people talking about how terrible they find it, along with a few who shrug their shoulders and say they don’t really know what it’s about. While the item fails to credit the artist entirely, it does clip the curator, Scott Saunders, who makes a couple of valid points about how there is much more offensive stuff going on  in the windows of the sex shops down the street. He says the work is about “Canadian identity, sexual politics, and the idea of Canadiana.”

At no point do we ever get to see what everyone is so upset about because of the HUGE, BLURRY CIRCLE shielding us from the display’s horrors.

Well here, ladies and gentlemen, is what the news needed to protect you from:

That’s right: a mannequin wearing a T-shirt reading “Canada: Go Beavers!” and a furry, pubic-hair-esque loin cloth. Though she is not mentioned in the controversy, it didn’t take me long to figure out that the artist is Bonita Hatcher, a NSCAD grad.

Here’s a wider view of the entire window:

(Sorry it’s so small! Halifax’s alt weekly, The Coast, posted a great photo to Instagram, too). 

Curious to know more (and so thoroughly dissatisfied by the news item), I booked a call with the artist.

Our chat was wonderful – hilarious, energizing, and informative. Bonita immediately filled in some of the blanks around the window work for me. Firstly, the news item omitted some significant details: most significantly, that the beaver featured in the lower left hand corner of the window IS COMPLETELY SHORN! That’s right – in what sounds like a painstaking process, she SHAVED A TAXIDERMY BEAVER. She then cut up a bit of an old (beaver) fur coat, adorned a particularly phallic piece of it with red ribbons, and turned it into a loin cloth. She had the T-shirt created especially. Though it’s hard to read at first, the beaver in the image is hairless.

Bonita, who is in her early 40s with a background in marine biology, was as appalled as anyone by the upset her piece had elicited among Haligonians. She said she was most fascinated by the fact that there was nothing ACTUALLY offensive in what she had created — a shorn beaver, a furry merkin, and a printed t-shirt. It was, she pointed out, up to viewers to make connections if they wanted to – and in order to do so, one had to be properly equipped (a shorn beaver, for example, has no meaning in itself unless you know that ‘beaver’ is a slang term for a woman’s genitalia).

While Bonita told me she hadn’t sought out to make a statement about pubic hair (in fact, the shorn beaver was originally part of a larger piece addressing ‘Canadiana’), normalized pubic hair removal among women has fascinated her for some time. She described re-entering the dating scene after the end of her marriage and coming to terms with what a ‘Brazilian’ was (“it took me awhile to figure out what it was,” she recalled, “I remember going ‘oh-my-god, are you kidding me?’ In my mind, if I had a hair caught in the elastic of my underwear I would cry.”

For Bonita, who only started making art as an adult has always been interested in feminist art and performance. In one of her first performances at art school, she cut off her clothes and painted herself with latex. “I got that stuff out of the way,” she laughs, later wearing a wedding dress 24-hours a day for a week in a bid to explore the idea that traditional female wedding garb serves to cover the body from head to toe and restrict movement.

I don’t even think that Bonita has a precise grasp on what she was trying to say to the world with her “controversial” window display — but she definitely managed to make a statement. The shorn beaver is visually clever, the phallic merkin, provocative. It’s not entirely clear whether we are supposed to celebrate the hairless beast and lament the loss of his fur, or whether we should be re-embracing our own Canadian short-n-curlies, but in a sense it really doesn’t matter. The work does (as Bonita intended) start a conversation that is definitely worth having.

Bonita also let slip that she’s intended to start selling her “go beavers’ T-shirts. I can’t wait to stroll the streets of my city in it this summer. No blurry circle required.

 

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Yep, that’s right – this exists.

I could say something about how tiring it is to read another “just for fun” article thriving on hilarious stereotypes (full bush? “You definitely have spent at least 10 minutes looking at your own vagina in a hand mirror”), but I’m not sure I have it in me.

 

 

 

 

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As I mentioned in my last post, I am very keen on having more voices represented in this blog (not just mine, telling people what I’ve observed). I’ve been asking you to send in your own stories and am pleased to report that I’ve got a great one to start with.

This was submitted recently by “Tocxica” — I’ll let her take it from here:

I Used To Be An Avid Shaver

I used to be an avid shaver. Every other day whether I needed it or not, all of my “hair down there” would be ritualistically culled by my mighty Venus razor. Why? Simple, that’s just what you did. As a child of the 90’s I grew up with the mindset that pubic hair was dirty and unattractive. Who told me this? Well…no one in particular. But it just was. Right? You never really spoke about it. Boys did, but not girls.

Porn was the cause of both my systematic shearing of my pubes and later my refusal to ever shave again. I was twelve when I first discovered the nasty secret of the curly hair that would someday soon be overtaking my lower parts. Some boys from my class were crowding around a magazine and on the centerfold was a nude woman with a thick bush of hair between her legs. It didn’t take long for me to overhear the disgust my classmates had for the hair, or for the jokes to set the thought into my mind that any woman with hair between her legs was a freak. I would never get hair between my legs like that. And then just a short year later, I did.

Fast forward five years and a landfill full to the brim of dull razors, while working on my senior project for school “Sex in Society” I am given a lovely copy of a French erotic magazine with full on bush. At first I was shocked. I asked the person who had given it to me if this was fetish porn. “Nope, just regular old porn.” She said with a strange, confused look on her face. Okay, so it wasn’t some weird French hair fetish porn. I began to look beyond my initial shock at seeing a woman with pubic hair on the cover of an apparently normal pornographic magazine. I noticed the beauty. Why had I spent my entire adolescent life trying to keep myself from looking like this? Why had I suffered the nicks and irritation, the ingrown hairs for Heaven’s sake! It was an epiphany. I didn’t even know what my natural pubic hair looked like! I had begun shaving it as soon as it appeared!

Now I’m married with a daughter and a chipper outlook. Until recently that is. I was playing around on Facebook (a guilty pleasure of mine) when I came across a link posted on a debate page I belong to. Accompanying the link were these questions ‘Being totally shaved/waxed “down there”, is it creepy and “fetishizing the look of prepubescence”, or just a personal preference? Does your s/o weigh in on how you maintain that area?’

Always up for a good debate I scanned the comments before tossing in my two cents as well. My stomach dropped. Out of nearly forty comments absolutely NONE were pro-pubes. Quite the opposite in fact. There were comments like “GROSS!” and “pubic hair is so dirty and nasty, whoever wrote that artacle[sic] is obviously some dirty hippy”.

Having been on both sides of the hairy fence, I decided to weigh in about why I love my pubic hair. How it hurts when it first begins to grow back, how time consuming the upkeep is, and how it hurts when you’re shaved and your partner isn’t. I also went on to ask why every single one of them considered pubic hair to be so horrible. The most coherent response went exactly as follows “here is my reasoning…i dont want hair in my mouth, why would my husband or my girlfriend want it in THEIR mouth? second- i HATE having blood from my period stuck in the hair during the day- i dont have time to shower every time i change a pad, i shower 1-2times a day. third- i work out, i dont want stinky sweaty hair down there while i work out. fourth- i dont like it it “sticking” out of my swimsuit or sexy panties”.

This response made me want to rip my hair out. Seriously? Unless your partner is taking “carpet munching” seriously, there shouldn’t be any hair between their teeth. God forbid you have blood on you during your PERIOD! The horror! The third reason was my favorite. In fact, I giggled about it for a good three minutes or so before replying. Perhaps you’ve picked up why I thought it funny. When exercising correctly, you get sweaty and stinky. That’s why they have showers at most gyms. If you aren’t breaking a sweat, you aren’t doing it right. Her final reason was the easiest for me to reply to. “Try to buy clothing that fits properly then.” I’m no longer very popular with them now.

This led me to ask a few friends of mine their views on pubic hair. Being used to my open discussions on sex and sexuality they answered right away. Here are two of my favorite responses; “ok so, down below i like to keep it where I look like I’ve never hit puberty lol 😉pastedGraphic.pdf annyywhhooo on others , such as my ex gf sometimes she was shaven sometimes not, I didn’t exactly mind as long as she didn’t look like a chubacca that would kidnap my chin….when it comes to oral sex I think I prefer at least trimmed on girls as well as guys (oh no a lesbian has given a blowjob lol) I don’t mind a little hair just but looking like your vagina came from the 60’s or 70’s doesn’t do it for me lol” and “Trim it, but don’t shave – I hate to scrape my face on someone’s 5 o’clock shadow. And long and scraggy is just a turn-off. Always makes me wonder if they even wash…”

Do I feel like a hairy freak? You betcha! Do I care? Not at all! I love my pubic hair! Why wouldn’t I? It’s part of the awesomeness that is me. I’m all for personal preference, but I do wonder why my (in most cases) liberal monster friends are so disgusted by their pubic hair.

-Tocxica, October 2011

Male, female, young, old — if you’ve got a story or opinion to share, please send it to me at mdault [at ] meredithdault.com



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Sorry for the silence — I’ve been distracted by a million and a half other tasks these days. I was in Ottawa, Ontario on Monday for a meeting, and as I made my way there, I saw the most interesting poster taped to a pole.

GROWING OUR PITS FOR TITS! it crowed in bright pink and orange. Naturally, I stopped.

The poster was advertising a new fundraising campaign encouraging women to grow out their armpit hair for (you guessed it) breast cancer research. Using the name “Unshaven Mavens”, to two organizers Malorie Bertrand and Amie Beausoleil want women to go au natural for the month of October, while raising money for the Rethink Breast Cancer charity.

Here’s how it works: on Saturday, October 1st, 2011, participants will apparently gather for a “Pit Start & Clean Shaven Day”, wherein they will “shave their underarms clean of any and all hair.” For the next four weeks, all participants will grow out their armpit hair “for the world to behold”. Progress will be celebrated (and photo-documented) at “weekly pit stops” at an Ottawa bar. The rules are pretty simple: “no shaving, trimming, shaping, bleaching allowed. We’re aiming for Sarah Silverman growth here.” The month-long growing frenzy will culminate in a “Red Carpit Bash” where in women will win awards for their efforts (both in raising funds and in growing hair).

Now, if you’re thinking “hmmmm… female body hair being connected with cancer fundraising,” then you aren’t alone. For those of you who have been reading along, you’ll know that I was fairly critical about the ‘Julyna’ campaign that was staged in Toronto in July (the goal of which was for women to groom their pubic hair into a shape and keep it that way for the entire month, while soliciting donations to support cervical cancer research. You can read more about what I think about it here).

The organizers have argued, on their site that since the armpit area can serve as a place for early detection of breast cancer, it makes sense to draw attention to it with a campaign. As the site suggests, “unshaven mavens will be a diverse group of women who all share at least two things in common — a desire to make a difference and the ability to not take themselves too seriously.”

The organizers appear to be operating with a much smaller scope. In an article on the Apt 613 blog last week, the organizers admitted they only had 11 people registered — a far cry from the numbers the Julyna gals were able to pull in. But of course, growing out your underarm hair, while daring in these hairless times, is still nowhere near as titillating (or as controversial) as etching your pubes in a cute shape.

I like the fact that this campaign is actually public — unlike Julyna, where you kept your fundraising efforts in your pants — and would cause quite a stir if young women everywhere began embracing armpit hair. I also like the fact that overall, the endeavour is not ickily tied to female sexuality in the way that Julyna is.

I look forward to hearing what you think (and to hearing how the campaign goes). Just another gimmick? A viable female alternative to Movember? Let me know…

 

 

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A reader, Chy, recently sent me a link to her blog, Without Borders. On Friday, August 5, she wrote a lengthy, eloquent post about her decision not to remove her leg or facial hair. The entry, which is accompanied by photographs, is courageous — and I hate that I’m saying that.

Because Chy isn’t doing anything that we might normally think of as courageous: risking her life to save another’s, walking a tightrope across a vast space, speaking up when nobody else is. She’s just letting her hair grow. That should be a normal act, not a courageous one.

But in a culture where female hairlessness is normal, photographing your legs au natural takes a good deal of bravery, indeed. In not only pointing out, but then choosing not to remove the hair on her face, Chy takes it one step further. She dares people to comment, defiantly asking questions about what it means to be perform gender.

After all, in North American culture, body hair has come to be viewed as one of the easy-to-read distinguishing characteristics between men and women. Men have body hair, while women (regardless of how biology may throw that assumption into question) are smooth and hairless. Right?

In their essay “Gender and Body Hair: Constructing the Feminine Woman,” scholars Merran Toerien and Sue Wilkinson consider the effort required in “producing an acceptably feminine appearance,” in contemporary North American culture, pointing out that the “process of conforming is made more complex by the assumption that femininity should appear ‘natural’. The result: a cycle of effort to maintain the illusion that femininity is effortless,” requiring that women make both the “effort to be hairless and make the state of hairlessness appear ‘natural’.

That’s how we’re all kept busy, hiding any evidence of hair growth, embarrassed by our underarm stubble, keeping our shorts on at the beach if we’ve been neglecting our bikini lines. The message: keep it under control, ladies, or keep it covered.

In choosing to hold on to her body hair, Chy defiantly reminds the world that this, in fact, is what women look like if they choose not to spend time waxing and plucking and otherwise asking the body to conform to a societal norm. As she writes:

I am most proud of my decision and what I look like when I am in the presence of children.  Every child or young adult who sees me and notices my body hair has evidence in their lives that women are not all hairless (which I believed when I was little and had me feel alone). The more I love my body as it is, the more I can hope to rupture the assumed agreed upon limits of beauty.

There was a time, of course, when it seemed more acceptable to bear your hair (like, say, during feminism’s long-departed second wave). Lately, as I’ve been exploring in this blog, every last inch of hair (whether it’s in your pants or on show below your knees) seems to need banishing — and more disturbingly, many young women seem oblivious to the fact that hanging on to it is an option at all.

The more we are exposed to alternative ways of being in the world (including hairy ways of being in the world), the more we’ll be able to see that there are lots of different options when it comes to being attractive.

For now, the newest generation of trailblazers should be commended for their courage…

 

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Earlier this week I introduced you to Ben, a queer-identified female-bodied man who had some really interesting things to say about around his relationship to pubic hair. If you missed the first part of the conversation, you can read it here.

Ben, 21, uses a wheelchair, and though he is becoming increasingly aware of how much he can do on his own, has had personal support workers (PSW) help with his hygiene since he was a teenager. It was a PSW who first encouraged him to remove his pubic hair. His mother had strong inclinations against the PSW’s opinion that removal was more hygienic. Ben says the tension between those two forces was challenging to manage — but says he never really felt he had true autonomy over his own body. “It was one force saying I should, and one for saying I shouldn’t… and then finally the one force saying I shouldn’t became stronger,” he explained to me.

But then recently, he reclaimed some power with an experience with a female-bodied sexual partner who liked his body as is was — and who modelled a particular degree of comfort with her own body. “I slept with someone who had a bush like me — and that was the turning point.”

Ben says he did try shaving before that turning point. “I had a boyfriend in high school, and I lost my ‘official’ virginity to him…and I sort of shaved.. or just like, tidied up for him. I liked being pretty for him. That was something I enjoyed.. it was an excuse for self-care. It was a way to feel good about my own self and appearance,” he explained, admitting that knowing someone else was looking — in a sexual way, and not in a its-my-job-to-give-you-a-shower way did make a difference.

Ben, who was then 17, says he kept the pubic hair removal process secret, trying discreetly to sweep the hair under his bed. “I have a lot more use of my arms when I am lying down, as compared with in the shower,” he explained with a laugh, “so I would dry shave in my bed and then try to hide it.”

Ben says the shaving felt like a necessary part of becoming sexually active. Before they were intimate, “(my boyfriend) said (my pubic hair) was exotic. He was ok with it, but I knew generally that when I was sexually active I might want to do something about it.”

Ben says he didn’t take it all off in the end, but tidied things up, best as possible to please his partner. Though the boyfriend never complained about the hair “he also didn’t touch it. He would get past it very quickly.”

Everything changed for Ben once he had a (female-bodied) partner who not only didn’t mind hair, but actively liked it. “This person would engage it it.. and I was like ‘oh, this isn’t something that you deal with, you actually kind of like it!’, and that was cool.”

Because Ben says he doesn’t really know what gender he identifies with, he says he doesn’t always know whose rules he is “supposed to play by in terms of that stuff, either.”

For me, that’s why Ben’s story is so fascinating. Blurring the lines around gender performance, he has experienced being in the world in different ways. Because of his disability, he has also had different forces impact his own body grooming practices. He is conscious of the messages many younger people seem to have internalized about pubic hair being undesirable. But it sounds like having had a partner who wasn’t judgmental about hair (and was, rather, celebratory!) also provided an important point of comparison (and body confidence).

We should all be so lucky.

 

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As regular readers will know, as part of my research I’ve been conducting interviews with people (mostly young women) about their views on their own body hair. I want to tell you about one of the most interesting I did recently.

The interview was with a 21-year old called Ben who identifies as queer, and as a female-bodied man or CAFAB (Coercively Assigned Female At Birth). We agreed to do a formal interview after having an interesting conversation as two strangers one afternoon. I told Ben about my blog, and he said a whack of smart things that I wanted to follow up on.

One of the first things he said when we met for a formal interview was this: “I completely buy the idea that we/they are… being sold this (pubic hair removal) thing, but I don’t buy the idea that it’s what men want on the ground level. I think it’s what a certain system wants.”

Ben has, from the sounds of it, a healthy sense of self and body. He had good body image modeled for him by a mother who was comfortable being naked (and who had “a mound of pubic hair. I had no real point of comparison.”) When he was 12 or 13, Ben says that his mom started to shave his armpits for him, “which I didn’t want, but it was a body odor thing, not a hair thing.”

Ben only has limited use of his hands/arms, and uses a wheelchair to get around. He has grown up having help from others in order to perform many day-to-day tasks, including many aspects around his own body care and grooming.

Ben says he remembers feeling upset by his mother’s tending of his armpits. “I was also confused, because it was not like her to try and compel me into some kind of feminine norm.” Though Ben says he ultimately gave his mother consent to perform the grooming, he says it was “elicited aggressively.” “It was like, I was persuaded, but I really didn’t have a choice,” he explains.

At one point, Ben switched from having his mother tend to his body grooming, to have a female personal support worker (PSW) — a paid stranger — do the job. “I was more comfortable with that, really, than with having my mom do it,” he explains. But Ben says that on more than one occasion the PSW commented inappropriately on his pubic hair — which was as yet untended. “They would be dressing or undressing me, or showering me. And they would like, ask me why I didn’t shave. Or suggest that it would be a good idea. But my mom was really against it. And so then I was able to say no to them because her authority trumped theirs.”

What I find particularly interesting about Ben’s story is in the fact that his coming of age involved the input of a stranger functioning in an intimate capacity. Ben talks about the PSWs being “put off” that nobody was doing any pubic hair removal. Without that intermediary, Ben might not have had any sense, at that age, of what his body was supposed to look like, and had little privacy around his own body/body practices.

“Various people would talk to me about how (having pubic hair) was unhygienic,” he explains, “which is so the opposite of true.” One worker was even aggressive about it — and finally (because he had a crush on her), he let her do it.

Though Ben says he has been realizing how much of his own grooming he can actually manage himself, he was taught “1984 style” that he couldn’t. “I just accepted that, and it’s not entirely true.”

Removing pubic hair to please someone else is not so different from what I’ve heard from a lot of other people about what motivates their body hair practices. In Ben’s case, it was initially to please someone who was saying ‘this is how your body is supposed to be,’ (someone who may have have internalized those messages herself through media, etc) if he didn’t entirely agree with the premise. Ben says that he was partly motivated by the fact that the practice would include touching – which he thought he wanted, but soon found he didn’t.

Ben said a whole whack of other fascinating stuff, which I intend to get posted soon. I think there is a lot to consider around his insights on privacy, body practices and gender, and like with the rest of my interviews, I am so grateful that he has been willing to share his stores and experiences with me. More soon.

 

 

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Yup, here we go again.

This time it’s a commercial for Summer’s Eve ‘cleansing wash and cloths.’ This video has been raising a few virtual eyebrows in the blogosphere for being stupid, sexist and generally dumb (oh- and for perpetuating the idea that women should be buying extra products for cleaning their genitals, because in our hygiene-obsessed culture, apparently plain old soap and water won’t cut it.

Here’s the commercial, followed by a transcript I’ve lifted from Melissa McEwan’s post on the Shakesville blog.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MxW_ZCd64tg

A woman of color in an animal skin dress holds up a baby swaddled in hide against the backdrop of the aurora borealis in a night-scape on a mountainside as “primitive” drums play. “It’s the cradle of life,” says a female voiceover. The music takes on a male chorus as the scene changes to a Cleopatra-like character lifting her arms into a V atop a pyramid over a cheering crowd. “It’s the cradle of civilization,” says the voiceover. The music takes on an action beat as the scene switches to a fight between two Asian men in a bamboo forest, as a mysterious Asian woman watches them. “Over the ages and throughout the world, men have fought for it,” says the voiceover, as the scene segues to a jousting match in Merry Olde England as a princess gazes on, “battled for it, even died for it.” One knight knocks the other off his horse, then raises his faceguard to look at the princess, who smiles at him. “One might say, it’s the most powerful thing on Earth.” The music crescendos, then immediately dies to muzak as the scene cuts to a grocery store, where a modern woman of color is standing in an aisle, holding a Summer’s Eve product in her hand. “Hmm!” she says, as if it’s a revelatory new product, looking at the bottle, then putting it in her cart. “So, come on, ladies,” says the voiceover, now in a conversational tone. “Show it a little love!”

Cut to a screen showing the products, labeled “Hail to the V.” “Cleansing wash and cloths, from Summer’s Eve,” says the voiceover. “Hail to the V!”

(Definitely read McEwan’s writing on this for more interesting stuff)

There’s nothing capitalism likes better than selling people (especially women) products they don’t need. A particularly effective way to do that, of course, is to make them feel really insecure about their bodies so that they feel obliged to buy stuff (what do you think the quest for the perpetual quest for the perfect pair of jeans is all about?).

And since these ads selling us ‘intimate cleansing products’ have been around for awhile (anyone remember this one?) you’d think we’d all be up to speed on the this-is-dumb-we-don’t-need-to-buy-products-to-make-our-vaginas-more-fresh-thank-you-very-much arguments.

But advertising and popular culture is powerful, and we’re surprisingly good at internalizing the messages we get.

American philosopher and cultural theorist Susan Bordo writes about these kinds of ideas (and because I’m writing an academic paper at the moment, I’m going to use some of her ideas here). In her 1993 text Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture and the Body, Bordo talks about the body being a “medium of culture.” She references Michel Foucault’s ideas about the body as a “direct locus of social control” — a “docile body” (ie. not a raw, natural body, but one that is “regulated by the norms of cultural life).

A douched body is most definitely a “docile body”. So, too, is a perpetually waxed one.

Bordo points out (and remember, she wrote this book in 1993, so things are probably more extreme now), that women are spending “more time on the management and disciplining of our bodies than we have in a long, long time.” She draws a connection (as others have) between the fact that as more opportunities for women open up in the public sphere, our body practices become more and more rigorous.

Through the pursuit of an ever-changing, homogenizing, elusive ideal of femininity — a pursuit without a terminus, requiring that women constantly attend to minute and often whimsical changes in fashion — female bodies become docile bodies — bodies whose forces and energies are habituated to external regulation, subjection, transformation, “improvement”, writes Bordo.

“Through the exacting and normalizing disciplines of diet, makeup and dress — central organizing principals of time and space in the day of many women — we are rendered less socially oriented and more centripetally focused on self-modification. Through these disciplines, we continue to memorize on our bodies the feel and conviction of lack, of insufficiency, of never being good enough.”

Loving our bodies, we are not.

(Cut to the black woman shopping for Summer’s Eve products in a grocery store)

So while the Summer’s Eve commercial may be singing “Hail to the V”, the actual message that’s being internalized is (again, predictably) your untended vulva is gross and disgusting.

And it’s working.

And it’s extremely applicable to normalized pubic hair removal:

A young woman (a regular waxer) recently told me about her reasons for pursuing a practice that was painful and that she couldn’t afford.

“I guess I feel cleaner,” she said. “I like having no hair.” And then she paused. “I guess…vaginas are really…”. She struggled to find the right words. “When you have no (pubic) hair, it’s just less embarrassing. I feel like vaginas are…weird.”

(And yes, I did point out that keeping it bare might make it seem MORE weird than if it were blanketed in hair).

Vagina insecurity = 1

Body confidence = 0

Once again, waxing wins.

 

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So today I’d like to draw your attention to a little website called ‘Guess Her Muff’. The object of the site is this: post a picture of a woman fully clothed, and then get people to try and guess what her pubic hair is like. The answer comes as a nude photo of the woman who just moments ago was depicted with all her clothes on.

Want to check it out for yourself? (Get your shot glasses lined up!)

Here’s the link: http://guesshermuff.blogspot.com/

(WARNING: This site is definitely adult-only content. Don’t have a look if you’re at work!)

Most of what there is to say about this is pretty damn obvious. Firstly, there’s the whole girl-next-door-as-drinking-game thing. Then there are all kinds of questions: have these women deliberately posed for these photographs? If they have, why? What’s in it for them?

This blog also keeps tabs on what’s being offered up in its ‘Muffs Documented’ count. Here’s the current breakdown (shaved comes out on top with 831 images):

It’s probably no coincidence, then, that “shaved bald” comes in as the top answer in the “What’s Your Favourite Style” question (which I presume is being asked of male viewers)  Interestingly, however,  ‘Natural’ comes in second. Here’s the breakdown there:

Natural
23632 (24%)
Trimmed
14034 (14%)
Patch
4594 (4%)
Landing Strip
12090 (12%)
Brazilian
10295 (10%)
Shaved Bald
32946 (33%)

 

Um… that’s probably all I need to say today.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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hi readers-

I’m so grateful so many of you are reading and commenting. I’m also thrilled by how many are re-posting my writing on Facebook using the ‘like’ button (though somehow I just messed everything up and now the evidence of those many ‘likes’ seems to have vanished from the end of each post. I’m still tweaking the technical bugs – thanks for your patience).

So here’s where I want to go with things today: I’m going to keep to the generalizations as I get ramped up. My hope is to get into individual interviews and more pop-cultural and critical looks at things as I go — but we’re just warming up.

A few thoughts for today:

It probably isn’t news to any of us that gender is performed — and that femininity is usually created in opposition to masculinity (I’m writing this in a university library where I am seeing it play out all around me). When it comes to mainstream definitions of men and women, we often play things out in opposition to one another.

So, where the masculine body  is naturally hairy, the feminine body should always appear smooth and hairless. Where rugged men wear five o’clock shadow, well kept women are plucked and bleached. Male hair is short and utilitarian, his skin is rough, and his face natural and unadorned. Being ‘feminine’ means wearing make-up and having high maintenance hair. The female body left untamed is, as a matter of course in our society today, unacceptable — or at the very least, sort of weird and pitiable.

(That’s not, of course, to say that men aren’t being targeted in new and creative ways by the fashion and beauty industry — but the notion of the man who is overly concerned with grooming is still more often than not seen as a little suspect. With women, it’s the opposite — she who is fails to pay sufficient attention to her beauty regiment is the problem. Men also tend not to monitor one another in the same way that women do).

But here’s where we go back into the pubic hair question:

Whereas other parts of the female body have always been up for public scrutiny, until recently what you did with your hair-down-there was between you and whoever got to see you naked. By setting standards for how it should be tended we’re declaring (to young, heterosexual women in particular — at least because that’s where my attention is focused right now) that there are right ways and wrong ways to groom oneself.

Get it right (with time, money, effort and pain) and you’ll be able to walk around feeling sexy, confident and in-control. Get it wrong…and you may as well dress yourself in paper bags and give up washing your hair — because you probably won’t be having sex anytime soon.

I think the reasons for the normalization of pubic hair removal are complicated. While it’s easy to make generalizations about how pubic hair removal keeps grown women looking child-like in a culture that fetishizes youth (and more than a few people have addressed this issue in their comments and to me, off-line), I think the reasons are inherently more complicated than that.

It could have, as I have suggested, something to do with our love of good hygiene. Pubic hair’s role, of course, is to help keep the genitals protected while giving those mysterious phermones a place to hang out — and some have argued that modern day living (and regular showering) makes it redundant now anyway.

But one of the most cited influences for the new hairlessness is pornography — which is having a profound impact on all of us, whether we watch it or not. The internet makes even the most hard-core material available to any of us, whenever we want it, in the comfort (and privacy) of our own homes.

In her 2005 book, Pornified, Pamela Paul writes that the average age for first encountering pornography on-line is now eleven years old. (And she was referencing 1995 statistics, so it’s quite likely that kids are even younger than that, these days).

For many children, what they encounter online — where the mainstream stuff (again, I’m going to generalize) is often horrifically degrading to women — becomes the basis for their sexual education, setting the bar for what’s ‘normal’: particularly for what sex looks like, and how women are supposed to look and behave.

And it is pornography, it seems, that first normalized the removal of pubic hair. In her essay “Clean Porn: the Visual Aesthetics of Hygiene, Hot Sex and Hair Removal,” writer and academic Susann Cokal describes how the smaller screens associated with at-home consumption have impacted body practices in pornography: getting rid of pubic hair improved visibility and helped foster intimacy with viewers.

So it’s not surprising that a generation of young men and women raised with hard-core porn think pubic hair is gross. It’s now so unusual in mainstream porn that it has spawned its own fetish: “hairy women.”

But in a culture where we’re all supposedly trying to increase our “erotic capital” (a term coined by the academic Catherine Hakim), emulating what is seen on-screen becomes completely understandable. Women — particularly young women — today are not only expected to be beautiful, but to be ‘hot’ (as in sexually desireable). And there’s nothing ‘hotter’ than looking like a porn-star, right?

Of course, the women coming of age now have been raised in the era of ‘girl power’ — a clever “post-feminist” capitalist ploy where being scantily clad and objectified is now your choice. It’s empowering! Ariel Levy’s 2005 book Female Chauvinist Pigs sums it up well by describing young women embracing ‘raunch culture’ and things that were once the exclusive domain of men — like porn — in the name of equality. The problem for women, of course, is that it ends up looking like the same old objectification.  When it comes to sexuality, young women are still having to be more concerned with how they look and act, than with how they feel.

I met a young woman recently who took issue with my research, defiantly defending her right to wax away her pubic hair (which, to be clear, I was not attacking – merely questioning). “What about oral sex?” she asked me defensively, suggesting that an unwaxed woman might be a less worthy recipient. In a social climate where blow-jobs are now first-base material, I’m worried about what we’re telling young women about sex: men are entitled to oral sex (now handed out at parties like a party trick) — but for women to be recipients, their intimate grooming must be up to code.

So again, I want to reiterate that I am not opposed to women doing things that make them feel good.  What I’m worried about women feeling obliged to do things that they may not want to do, but where they may not feel that they have a whole lot of choice. And that’s what I’m looking at with my research.

Instead of embracing our bodies as they are, women are being sold products and expensive services in a bid to make their ‘lady bits’ more appealing — but to whom? and why? And when a woman, for example, chooses to have herself ‘vajazzled’ (yep- that’s when you have your pubic hair waxed off, only have to have it replaced by glued on crystals, a practice made famous by actress Jennifer Love Hewitt) who is she doing it FOR?

I don’t necessarily have the answers, but I’m certainly doing my best to find out over the course of this research.

Obviously, fashion goes in waves — but I am still waiting for the day when leg and armpit hair come back in to style (I mean really: is NOT shaving really a viable choice for women?)

When it comes to pubic hair, I fear the wheels of capitalism are already well in motion. The multi-billion dollar beauty industry is always looking for new turf — and tapping into women’s body insecurities through their vulvas is, I’ll admit it, kind of brilliant. Is it any coincidence that labiaplasty (cosmetic surgery which snips away at the labia to make it more aesthetically pleasing and “tighter”) is now one of the fasting growing surgeries in the United States today?

More soon. Thanks for reading.


 

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