Monday, August 4, 2014

TO SHAVE OR NOT TO SHAVE: THE NUMBER ONE QUESTION


Every time I surf the Internet in order to see what’s going on in the world, I feel relieved to see that social justice activists have their priorities straight. I mean, why spend time and energy on trifles like how many people in the world have no access to clean water or what’s happening in Gaza, when there are so many important social issues to attend to: For example policing whether women shave or not shave, where they shave, why they shave, why they shouldn’t shave, and how their shaving contributes to everything that’s wrong with the world.

In fact, I started to feel bad that I had yet to contribute to such a significant issue. I will do my best to remedy my negligence in today’s column.

 

Before I write anything else, I would like to offer a brief overview of my own attitude towards shaving:

 

Despite of the popular opinion that our standards of beauty are shaped by the culture we grow up in (and therefore, some say, should be abandoned sooner rather later), I grew up in a culture where NOT shaving was the norm. I’m not kidding – in the communist Czechoslovakia, women didn’t shave. When I was a little girl, I didn’t know personally one single woman who would shave her armpits, legs, or anything else. Despite of being taught that THAT was how a woman’s body was supposed to look like, I always thought that it was gross. I was never particularly happy to be a kid and I couldn’t wait to grow up, but the image of myself sporting a bush under each armpit was giving me the creeps. I felt tremendous relief when I found out in high school that I had the option to shave it off.

 

Our mothers were horrified when my generation started to shave. I heard everything from “it’s against nature” to “once you start, you will have to do it every day”. Well, what can I say!? I like my legs much better when they are smooth and just between us grown-ups: Oral sex is much easier when both parties at least trim, if not shave.

 

I have never felt that by choosing to shave I was making a political statement.

 

Yes, I knew from my readings that shaving used to be a big issue for feminists during the 60’s and 70’s, but I sort of assumed that they have since then discovered that it was everybody’s private decision, after all, and that as fighters for gender equality they had more important things to worry about.

 

Wrong.

 

It’s still a hot topic out there. I find a “shaving” article on Facebook almost every week. Most recently it was about a professor giving an extra credit for not shaving – and for documenting public responses. Apparently most students experienced a strong disapproval from people. And I’m not disputing that; however, I remember a friend of mine visiting her sister in Northern California where everyone wears dreadlocks, drinks herbal tea, and eats the placenta of a newborn. People, including total strangers, kept giving my friend a hard time (often in a very rude manner) because she shaved. So I would be careful with generalizations; how people respond to shaving or not shaving might depend on where you are and what kind of population you are dealing with.

 

Yesterday I found this on a friend’s wall: 4 Reasons Why No Longer Shaving My Underarms Was the Best Decision Ever I should probably point out that for once I actually don’t have any beef with the author. She doesn’t shave and thinks that not shaving is cool, but also says clearly that she respects other women’s right to choose differently. (That’s a nice change after some of those “ALL women should this and that” that have been recently raising my blood pressure on social media. Kudos for using the singular, Quora :)) But I still don’t think that her statement that us who shave do so only because of the razor commercials is fair.

 

I’m no scholar, but as a history/anthropology nerd can think of multiple cultures, ancient and temporary, where shaving off body hair has always been a norm. You can learn about various hair-removing techniques when you study ancient Greece, Rome, and Egypt (although it’s true that for Egyptians it was usually a part of a tradition that had a different meaning than mere beautification). Women in those times also experimented with coloring their hair and bleaching their skin. Ouch! And I have a vague memory of reading something about body hair removal in India both ancient and temporary, but I must admit, I would have to look it up.

 

In the Middle-East, women have been shaving for ages - usually the day before their wedding. The tradition is nicely illustrated in the film debut of my favorite Nadine Labaki “Caramel”. In fact, the title of the movie is directly related to removing body hair, because that’s what women in Lebabon use – caramel paste. Once again, ouch! I remember reading about the same tradition in several books translated from Saudi Arabia and Morocco. It seems that in these regions a smooth skin has been considered an ideal for centuries!

 

So what’s the point of writing all this? Am I trying to suggest that just because ancient Greeks did it and Lebanese women are still doing it, we should all do it too?! Well, no, I just don’t care for the assumption that shaving one’s legs was unheard of in the world until razors manufacturers started to promote it, and so those of us who shave are therefore nothing than victims of ruthless capitalistic marketing. From historical perspective, it’s simply not true. Personally, it doesn’t matter to me whether other women shave or not, but I would like to reserve the right to decide for myself – like with everything else.

 

But please, don’t let me discourage anyone from fighting against the oppression of women, God forbid! As much as I like wasting my time advocating for trivial things like medical care for the poor, equal educational opportunities, and/or the sad state of American criminal justice system, I appreciate the passion of activists who are able to focus on REAL problems and therefore to inform us what is the TRUE evil we need to watch out for! Because, if you think about it, if we just let women to decide for themselves villy-nilly what they want to do with their pubic hair, where would we be as a society!? Seriously, folks, I shudder just to think about it...