girl power

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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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Those of you who are new to this blog may not be familiar with the series of drawings that Toronto-based artist Julie Voyce has been doing especially for The Last Triangle. She’s finding her inspiration in what she reads here, and then lets her imagination roam, coming up with ideas and images that push boundaries.

I haven’t posted one of Julie’s images for some time now, but I am very pleased that I am able to feature one today.

In creating this image, Julie says she was inspired by something I wrote about virgin waxing — and her imagining what it would be like if all the kids who got virgin waxes as kids grew up to realize they wanted to re-embrace their body hair after all.

Julie writes:

Here it is! The Future! Newly Created Consumer Demand!

It is the year 2035. Millions of little girls were given the virgin wax treatment, and as they grew up, they found they really wanted to have pubic hair!

They became angry because they weren’t given a choice!

A hair dresser by the name of Steinberg Rosamund Lenoir (Rosy L is her nick-name) invents the fashion trend that becomes all the rage! Why have a little hair when you can have a whole lot, thanks to the miracle of super growth injections in any colour desired.

Just shoot yourself up anywhere you want to have fur (in any hue!) and watch that beautiful hair grow, grow, grow!

Pictured here: the distribution most women favour: a little bit of mystery, a little bit of cheek…a whole lot of elegance!

 

For more of Julie’s drawings, click on the Julie Voyce tag in the tag cloud to the left…

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Although I did have a couple of great talks with Vanessa Willson, the founder of Julyna, earlier this month, I have to rant a little again today.

That’s because I just found this ‘Julyna’ PSA online:

I find it so dumb and so problematic, that I hardly know where to begin!

So presumably, a bunch of (young, fit, mostly white) men and women are playing Red Rover. The men, moustached (presumably in a tribute to ‘Movember’) are playing on one side, fully clothed. The women are, we eventually realize, naked from the waist down (Women naked? In our culture? say it ain’t so!). The two teams call out to one another using their ‘hair styles’ — (ie. “Red rover, red rover, we call handlebars over”. Guy with distinctive facial hair then triumphs across the space between the two lines). Things get gross and weird, however, when the men call out “Red rover, red rover, we call LANDING STRIP over” and a semi-naked woman (the details of their lower halves have been digitally obscured) runs across the field.

Seriously, people: I know you’re probably just trying to be funny with your little PSA, but a whole generation of young women have already internalized the cultural expectation that they sport little more than a landing strip in their day-to-day pubic hair practices. These young women already hate their bodies and already feel so pressured to look and act a certain way in the world.

(In fact, one very bright and beautiful 23-year-old woman recently tried to explain the weight of looking the way she does to me by calling it ‘the package’.. It is her way of describing the expectations people have of her because of her looks. “The Brazilian wax or bikini wax is part of the package,” she explained. When I asked her what else was in the package, she said “not being fat, being pretty… you know.. having the right attitude”.)

Is this little PSA really the most effective way to push your campaign? (and isn’t it weird to pit ‘Movember’ against ‘Julyna’, as if the two were in competition with one another?)

I recently spent some time rereading Naomi Wolf’s classic text, The Beauty Myth. Though it was first published in 1991, it still feels so relevant in so many ways. I can’t help but recall Wolf’s thoughts on what she calls the “officially endorsed double standard for men’s and women’s nakedness in mainstream culture,” which she says “bolsters power inequalities.”

A few thoughts (from Wolf) on the impact (for example) of normalizing naked breasts:

“The practice of displaying breasts, for example, in contexts in which the display of penises would be unthinkable, is portrayed as trivial because breasts are not “as naked” as penises or vaginas; and the idea of half exposing men in a similar way is moot because men don’t have body parts comparable to breasts. But if we think about how women’s genitals are physically concealed, unlike men’s, and how women’s breasts are physically exposed, unlike men’s, it can be seen differently: women’s breasts, then correspond to men’s penises as the vulnerable “sexual flower” on the body, so that to display the former and conceal the latter makes women’s bodies vulnerable while men’s are protected.”

Wolf later writes this (seems pretty apt right about now – hence the bold font):

“To live in a culture in which women are routinely naked where men aren’t is to learn inequality in little ways all day long.”

On that note, I recently spoke with a vivacious, pretty young woman (age 19) who broke my heart when she told me this:

“I hate my body. Every five seconds I’m thinking about how much I hate it. And when I eat something I’m like…Oh my gosh…What is this going to do? So I feel like when I get (Brazilian) waxed, I feel like it’s something I can control like, really easily. It’s an automatic response.”

I asked her if it was fair, then, to say that she was doing the Brazilian waxing for herself, rather than for the guys she has sex with.

“Yeah,” she answered, “but I think it’s both. It’s a little bit for the guys, because having them like it makes me feel good about myself. So…I guess it’s for me, too.”

Enough said, no?

‘Julyna’ is a silly campaign that has, rightfully, generated lots of criticism, even it’s founders were well intentioned and still say they just want to promote a good cause.

But making a video that not only plays on female nakedness and vulnerability, but actually has men calling out for the ‘Landing Strip’ (a woman reduced to her pubic hair style) in a world where many women already face so many inequalities (and spend so much time and energy on body control) is just plain problematic.

 

 

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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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