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  1. SometimesElla
    SometimesElla July 29, 2011 at 10:50 am |

    Emily-
    I admire your post. I absolutely refuse to apply the word “feminist” to myself because I don’t want to place myself in a position where I will have to defend my actions, thoughts or feelings that may not fit the preferred feminist mold. Nor will I allow other people to make me feel guilty or ashamed over such minor (and in some cases aesthetic) things, when I think the work that I’ve done should and the fights I’ve been willing to fight (literally and figuratively) should say much more for me and my belief system. Don’t be ashamed. Be you.

  2. Jadey
    Jadey July 29, 2011 at 11:06 am |

    I don’t think that experiencing oppression makes someone a bad feminist or activist – I think perpetuating it uncritically probably does, and I don’t see any evidence of you doing that.

  3. Kristen J.
    Kristen J. July 29, 2011 at 11:07 am |

    Eh…I’m a big believer in the idea that shame (over things that don’t harm anyone else) can go fuck itself. I think shame is used to police people so frequently that its pretty much one of those tools of oppression. Acting without shame is an act of rebellion against the myriad of kyriachial forces that are constantly telling us “ur doin it wrong”.

    But then, I’m one of those obnoxious feminists that think anything can be a “feminist act” so what do I know.

  4. Gabrielle
    Gabrielle July 29, 2011 at 11:08 am |

    I write this comment with hesitation, mainly due to it being Friday afternoon and I’m not sure I can make myself clear. But anyway.

    “[T]here are things that I do, regularly, that I think feminists probably shouldn’t do … I don’t leave the house without make-up … I shave my legs and underarms”

    I think that, in the ideal world, where there was no pressure to conform and no penalties for individuality, that it might be acceptable to say that “feminists shouldn’t do [these things]“. However since we do not live in that world, as we live in a world where people are harassed on the street for not looking feminine enough, people are ignored or tacitly insulted in the workplace for seeming other than hetero/gender normative it’s unfair and probably wrong to tell women that feminists shouldn’t do these things. This is an issue which particularly affects trans women – if they don’t pay sufficient attention to their image, their faces, their hair, their makeup, they are misgendered, insulted, and assaulted. Telling a young trans woman that she’s being a bad woman, a bad feminist, for doing what she needs to in order to have a decent quality of life will probably hurt her in the same way that those people who tell her she has to look a certain way to be a “real” woman hurts her. By all means, say that these things are those that you think you shouldn’t do. But please don’t generalise it to others who don’t share your privileges.

  5. Jadey
    Jadey July 29, 2011 at 11:27 am |

    To dig in deeper, I don’t think feelings work like that – emotions are mental responses, not actions. Feeling guilty and anxious about something, even if you intellectually disagree with the basis of those emotions, is still a valid experience. Just like physical pain, emotional pain is a way of letting us know what’s going on in our immediate environment and to give ourselves notice that there’s something we need to act upon in the best way we can manage. Acting in a self-sustaining way on those emotions is also reasonable – going make-up-less and unshaven can have genuine consequences – emotional, social, physical, and financial – depending on one’s situation.

    I love being a grad student (especially one who doesn’t have to have in-person meetings with clients at the moment), because it’s given me the freedom to wear my scalp hair the way I like it (shaved), the rest of my body hair the way I like it (as long as it will grow), not torture myself with my inability to apply make-up (except for using colourful mascaras as an awesome tint job on the aforementioned fuzzy scalp), and to wear whatever clothes are cleanest, most fun, and most comfortable without worrying about whether people will still treat me like a capable individual worthy of respect because sometimes I like to mix red plaid shirts with fuchsia lizard print silk pants. But when I go back on the job market, I will dress and act in a way that will get me the respect (and work) that my credentials and skills have earned. God willing, I will not need to break too far out of my own preferred comfort zone to do this, nor will I need to even creep close to my hard limits in order to be successful in obtaining employment, though not everyone is so lucky. Self-care is part of activism too, and sometimes it takes the form of compromise.

    As for feeling guilty about bodies and eating, unlearning isn’t as easy as knowing something is wrong. Indoctrinating myself into not feeling guilty about food and not hating my body has been a daily part of my life for the past three years, and while I like to think I’ve made a little headway, I know that I may never really make much progress in the end. And if I get too hung up on feeling bad about feeling bad, then it’s just never going to end. Challenging self-loathing has to take the form of radical self-love, to embrace and revolutionize the bad feelings, instead of trying to beat back a tide of hatred with a stick of pity. But no one is to blame for having been taught to hate themselves.

  6. Comrade Kevin
    Comrade Kevin July 29, 2011 at 11:37 am |

    I too am the product of strong women. But I’ve noticed the same sort of seeming contradictions. My mother’s mother grew up in a man’s world and found more appeal in the nuts and bolts of life than consigned to the sidelines and the kitchen. But she also was a product of her times, and favored men over women. Women always got the short end of the stick, including her female progeny.

    My mother in many ways is indebted to second-wave Feminism, but also holds sex-negative views. She believes that all pornography is demeaning to women, for starters.

  7. To Shave Or Not To Shave, That Is The Question « Clarissa's Blog

    [...] makes the trivialization of feminism more evident than the following kind of statements: I know feminists have a variety of opinions on this (as on all things), but I can only be the [...]

  8. matlun
    matlun July 29, 2011 at 11:46 am |

    Kristen J.: I think shame is used to police people so frequently that its pretty much one of those tools of oppression.

    I disagree. Since shame is a subjective and internal reaction it is not by itself a tool of oppression. Internalized oppressive value system can make us feel shame for thing that should not be shameful, but shame is an effect of the oppression – not the cause.

    Shame can be very useful to help us to conform to our own values. Which should hopefully be a good thing if our values are well chosen.

    As to the OP:
    I do not think any of the behaviors in OP are necessarily problematic. It is all about why you are engaging in them. If you shave (as you say) because you find yourself more attractive by doing so – is this really a problem? Personal grooming is something we all do after all – is shaving your legs really worse than shaving off an ugly mustache (male or female)?

    If you do police your appearance because of external societal pressure to conform, that could be a more problematic situation (and it is also a very common situation, obviously).

    And why should you love your own body? You should be able to accept it and not obsess overmuch, but “love” it? (Perhaps I do not even understand what you mean by this?).
    An unrealistic body image can certainly be a big problem, but nothing in your post seems to indicate that is the case for you.

  9. Caron Smith
    Caron Smith July 29, 2011 at 11:53 am |

    SometimesElla:
    Emily-
    I admire your post. I absolutely refuse to apply the word “feminist” to myself because I don’t want to place myself in a position where I will have to defend my actions, thoughts or feelings that may not fit the preferred feminist mold. Nor will I allow other people to make me feel guilty or ashamed over such minor (and in some cases aesthetic) things, when I think the work that I’ve done should and the fights I’ve been willing to fight (literally and figuratively) should say much more for me and my belief system. Don’t be ashamed. Be you.

    I am proud to call myself a feminist, and to be myself as well. It reminds me of a statement someone once made that when someone says “girls can’t do that” it’s because they are doing it. If I’m a feminist, and I’m shaving my legs, well – feminists do that. I am proud of my ideas and actions, and do not believe that a true feminist denies anyone the right to complete self-expression.

  10. The Nerd
    The Nerd July 29, 2011 at 11:55 am |

    I think these acts are benign in and of themselves, but when exercised publicly, they do often serve to reinforce the notion that there’s only one way to be aesthetically pleasing, and that everyone should be striving to meet a visual standard in the first place. So no, nobody has to love their body. But loudly complaining “I look like a cow because I eat like one” and refusing to leave the house without makeup on are sending a very loud signal to others which reinforce harmful standards.

    I’ll be the first to admit that I care how I look to other people. I’m transgender – it matters to me. Should I care that I’m misgendered based on my looks? No, I think I should be above such things. But I’m not, and maybe never will be.

  11. Jadey
    Jadey July 29, 2011 at 11:56 am |

    matlun: Since shame is a subjective and internal reaction it is not by itself a tool of oppression. Internalized oppressive value system can make us feel shame for thing that should not be shameful, but shame is an effect of the oppression – not the cause.

    Shame can be very useful to help us to conform to our own values. Which should hopefully be a good thing if our values are well chosen.

    I think you’ve contradicted yourself – true, the experience of shame is internal, but the stimulation of it is social and it has consequences for our behaviour, therefore shaming can be used as a tool of oppression (see also: its utility in inducing conformity, as you noted, which can be both productive and destructive).

  12. Azalea
    Azalea July 29, 2011 at 11:58 am |

    I wear makeup, but not the minimlist stuff. I dont wear foundation. I wear tinted shiny sometimes glittery glosses (think MC’s Ooh Baby) eye liner, mascara, colorful eye shadows. I dont do blushes, primers or anything. I guess you could say mine is more about artistic expression than anything else. My husband HATES makeup especially the kind I wear so he loves the days when I go bare.

    I think we’ve had other people talk about this struggle with shaving and feminism. Do you shave in the winter when people are probably not going to see your bare legs or armpits? Do you still feel unattractive when no one but you knows your legs and armpits arent shaved?

    I am unapologetically fat. My BMI = overweight I love. I’m an exercise junkie (zumba ROCKS especially underwater) but I’d never work off all the fat because I dont want it gone. I used to be skinny and I didn’t like it but even then I ate what I wanted when I wanted. It’s all in the mind. I saw girls around counting calories wishing they could eat what the boys were eating and decided I wouldn’t deprive myself just because I am female.
    What fuels your guilt about eating? Your size? Whether or not its healthy?

    Pfft we’re in the same boat, two c-sections and surgery here. My honey brown skin got darker while I was pregnant and then went back to its natural color as a healed which hid the scar for me. I’m still very soft in the middle. Pre-sons I was D-DD post boys I’m an H only thing I dont like about the change in bra size is that its hard to find cute cheap bras in my size. I have a love it or leave your opinion at the door attitude about my size and shape. When I made the decision to look what *I* felt was my best anyone else’s opinion be damned it made losing weight or toning or letting go FUN. Anxiety about what someone else thinks goes out of the window when your opinion matters most.

  13. Jadey
    Jadey July 29, 2011 at 12:03 pm |

    Ooh, and I want to be really clear that I’m not arguing for my body = the right body or my way of being = the right way of being. Just trying to illustrate how not living exactly the way one wants to be living is necessarily something to be ashamed of.

  14. vanessa
    vanessa July 29, 2011 at 12:04 pm |

    This. A thousand times this.

    I feel guilty a lot. I sometimes feel like laughing at Judd Apatow movies, or wanting to lose weight (because I feel better when I don’t weigh as much) or, yes, shaving is somehow shameful because I AM a feminist and shouldn’t I be somehow above such things?

    And yet.

    So thanks. Best post ever.

  15. Shoshie
    Shoshie July 29, 2011 at 12:10 pm |

    “(except for using colourful mascaras as an awesome tint job on the aforementioned fuzzy scalp)”

    OMG, Jadey, you are brilliant. Why did I never think of applying colorful mascara to my hair? Clearly I have been missing out all my life.

  16. Ruth
    Ruth July 29, 2011 at 12:10 pm |

    I too struggle with this. While I think that everyone has the right to self-expression, and I empathize with people who are more or less penalized socially for daring to be who they are (people who would suffer physical abuse, humiliation, what have you), I also believe that by perpetuating patriarchal structures we are making it more difficult for other women to break them.

    When people say, “as long as it is a free choice” you can express yourself in whatever way you please, I cannot help but wonder if such free choice is even possible. Can we really freely choose to shave our underarms when we know we will be rewarded for it? In other words, is it a coincidence that our so-called free choice is the one that will make us socially acceptable? Maybe I am too cynical, but I don’t think so.

  17. matlun
    matlun July 29, 2011 at 12:18 pm |

    @Jadey (and Kristen J)

    I read Kristen J’s comment as referring to shame as a noun – ie the internal feeling. But rereading the OP, she was indeed talking about “shame” as a verb, or in other words the external pressure of society to conform, which is something different.

    Perhaps this was just me misunderstanding Kristen J’s comment and if so I apologize.

  18. liz
    liz July 29, 2011 at 12:23 pm |

    Amen. AMEN.

  19. Meredith L.
    Meredith L. July 29, 2011 at 12:24 pm |

    Thank you for posting this. I do all those same things. And I’ll add my own: I listen to misogynistic gangsta rap. Sometimes.

  20. emily
    emily July 29, 2011 at 12:38 pm |

    I haven’t shaved the pale, thin hair on my legs since high school – and generally have considered myself very lucky to have the privilege of being able to get away with that. Up until ~6 months ago, though, I had been shaving my armpits when I knew they’d be visible, and did find my pit hair unattractive. I’m still not entirely sure why I stopped shaving my pits. Probably, at first, I just went through a long span of time where I knew they wouldn’t be seen by anyone?

    I’m not trying to make this an argument to encourage you to try out not-shaving, if that’s something you’re not comfortable with for any reason (even one that makes you feel guilty). It’s your body, and your decision: I defend your right to shave just as adamantly as my right to not. I’m just excited about my own experience with this, and want to share – especially, I guess, with anyone else who has already been considering not shaving but has been hesitant. So:

    At first, I hated how my armpit hair looked. Especially when I was clothed – seeing it peek out around the edges of a cute short-sleeved dress was just utterly gross. Which is weird, because the few times I’ve seen other women with armpit hair, I haven’t had much of any reaction to it one way or the other… and because I tend to have a pretty good relationship with my body on the whole. But in the past month or so, it’s started to grow on me (no pun intended)… I find that where I used to pick longer sleeves if possible, now I’m sometimes specifically reaching for a tank top with the idea that someone may notice my unshaved pits. I like them! and am kind of proud of them. Basically now I only hide them when I’m going to be around my extremely, forcefully normative family. On my own, though it’s taken a little time, I now might even find them attractive : )

  21. Andie
    Andie July 29, 2011 at 12:47 pm |

    Meredith L.:
    Thank you for posting this. I do all those same things. And I’ll add my own: I listen to misogynistic gangsta rap. Sometimes.

    when I read the title of this post, my first thought was “I Listen to Guns N Roses.”

    So I feel you there.

    And everything in Emily’s post pretty much applies to me as well.

  22. june seghni
    june seghni July 29, 2011 at 12:51 pm |

    I’m also 46, and the only thing I shave is my chin..and only because my daughter would die of embarrassment if I didn’t ..

  23. Ruthi
    Ruthi July 29, 2011 at 12:52 pm |

    You know, I appreciate this post because this is something I spend a lot of time worrying about and struggling with, especially when it comes to the last two, eating and body image.

  24. S.H.
    S.H. July 29, 2011 at 12:57 pm |

    The body image thing has been with me my whole life despite having a feminist mom as well. It started really young for me and I’ve known many other women who say the same. I’m 35 now and still not on the best of terms with mirrors either. I was able to break the makeup routine, but that was really only because I found I was having less frequent breakouts without makeup. It really has been freeing for me, if nothing else because it frees up time and energy for me, but that’s just my experience.

    Also, @ Meredith me too, me too with the rap music! and it’s more than sometimes for me, I have rap and R&B on all the time (love Lil Wayne!) and I constantly struggle to understand/defend how it works into my feminism. Really haven’t come up with a good answer yet.

    But at the same time, I don’t think that anyone who self identifies as a feminist should have to follow a strict dogma anyway, I think if we as feminists start coming up with this list of rules to follow in order to be “good feminists” it becomes a system of oppression in of itself and the opposite of what feminism is trying to accomplish.

  25. Alison
    Alison July 29, 2011 at 12:58 pm |

    It’s about the assumption that straight men like their women to look like little girls.

    Emily, I have enjoyed your posts here (as I enjoy them elsewhere, already being a ABLC reader) but hot damn, am I ever sick of seeing this statement in its various forms. I mean…that is QUITE an assumption for people to make, that because a man might like it when his female-bodied partner removes some or all of her pubic hair, he’s essentially a pedophile. That is a really horrific thing to say about someone without just cause, and it galls me that people – *especially* feminists who should know better due to often being far more well-versed in and knowledgeable about these topics – toss it around like nothing.

    The last man I was in a sexual relationship with did like it when I waxed – although made it very clear to me that it was always my own choice to make and that he was 1000% fine with it if I choose not to. If a man pressures a woman into it and doesn’t want to fuck her if she won’t, or does so with reminders that she’d be better/hotter/whatever if she waxed? Then he sucks. But he sucks for the pressuring and the meanness, not because OMG HE’S OBVS A PEDO. And if a guy simply likes the look/feel of it when his partner makes the choice to do it, that does not make him a perverted sicko.

    There is, for the majority of cis women, a HUGE difference between an adult woman’s body that lacks pubic hair, and a child’s body. Someone who is a pedophile and is therefore sexually aroused by a child’s body will NOT find an adult woman’s body attractive even if there isn’t a single strand of hair anywhere on it below her eyebrows. There’s a hell of a lot more to pedophilia and that kind of arousal than just “no bush”.

    If a man enjoys BDSM or rough sex with a consenting partner, is it okay to say he’s basically a rapist? I sure don’t fucking think so. So if a man enjoys a woman’s waxed vulva, which she did on her own volition, it’s also not okay to call him a pedophile or to imply he has tendencies that way.

    Also – I’m a bisexual cis woman, and I also like it when my female-bodied sex partners have been waxed. I would never demand it of a lover, but if asked to state a preference, yes, that is my preference. Does that mean I also basically want “little girls”? Not in a zillion years.

    (Also, I don’t deny that there is some societal influence at play, although some of it is also purely physical (i.e. getting pubic hair in your mouth is a little icky, for me). But there is societal influence at play in LOTS of our preferences, as is made clear in this post and countless others. Doesn’t mean it’s okay to paint someone with a really nasty brush.)

  26. Feminist Reads: Unfeminist Habits, Women’s Health Heroes Hall of Fame, and Supporting Your LGTBQ Kid «

    [...] Great post over a Feministe by a feminist who does things that she considers unfeminist (all of which relate to beauty and body image).  Sometimes feminists spend a lot of time trying to justify things that they do as feminist because they a) want or need to continue doing them and b) want to retain their identity as a feminist. Being honest about the fact that we do not live in a feminist’s ideal world and that we are understandably impacted by that and thus do ‘unfeminist’ things is a great move that, in my mind, actually makes you an -even better- feminist (and requires you acknowledging yourself as a human being!). Good stuff! [...]

  27. Véronique
    Véronique July 29, 2011 at 1:06 pm |

    Isn’t feminism about choice? I can choose what to do with my life and my body? If feminism has to be about toeing a particular line, that’s when I have to say, OK, you take the label. I’ll just live my feminist life without calling myself that.

    I actually will leave the house without makeup if I’m just doing errands around the local shopping district. I usually go minimal at other times. Is that because I’ve internalized the need to do so to conform to someone else’s ideal? I think it’s because I prefer how I look with a bit of mascara. I do it for me.

    I go even further when it comes to body hair — I epilate. Again, is that because the patriarchy has engrained in me the need to be hairless? Or is it because I simply prefer not to be hairy? Sure, I think about whether I’ve made a free choice or whether that choice was made for me, but I don’t lose sleep over it. If someone doesn’t want to shave (or epilate), no worries. But I refuse to think I’m some kind of bad feminist because I like smooth legs and pits. Is that really how we measure our commitment to equality and freedom?

    I’m careful about what I eat, but for health reasons, not from an obsession with my weight or shape. I suppose I’m fortunate that way. I do like to stay within certain bounds. I just feel better when I keep my weight in check. Again, it’s for me.

    I like my body. I don’t love it. I’ll admit that’s one I need to work on.

    But again, are these the litmus tests of feminism? If I wear makeup, remove my bodily hair, eat carefully, and sometimes get dissatisfied with my body, have I lost the battle to the patriarchy? If I do these things for myself, is that only because I’m brainwashed and don’t even know it?

    I do ask questions. And even at 57 years old, I hope I am still capable of learning — and of seeing where I am wrong.

  28. matlun
    matlun July 29, 2011 at 1:08 pm |

    @Alison: 100% agree with this. It is as silly as it would be to claim the same for those who prefer clean shaven men.

    An exaggerated focus on personal appearance is a problem in current culture, but this type of pseudo intellectual nonsense helps nobody.

  29. jooj
    jooj July 29, 2011 at 1:09 pm |

    thank you for writing this. oh, how i’m so pained by the near universality of food/body guilt in our culture. i have this guilt hard core, despite years of therapy overcoming a vicious eating disorder, and i simply want to be OVER it and actually stop keeping a mental tally of what i’ve eaten that day.

    how do we stop this? i mean, truly and utterly stop it? we’re all so much better than this, and it’s in the end just such a waste of our time.

  30. Andie
    Andie July 29, 2011 at 1:13 pm |

    I find that the problem with shaving has less to do with the aesthetics of hairlessness (and the problem of association with pre-pubescent bodies) than it does with how it’s another way to tell us that our bodies, in their most natural form are WRONG.

    Perfume/Deodorant? because your natural smell is gross and wrong (see also: Douches)
    Why Shave? Because your natural, hairy state is WRONG. The privilege of being naturally hairy is for the menfolks.
    Why wear a bra? Because drooping is wrong (I’ll make exceptions here for women who experience pain when going braless, of course) and nipples are wrong and jiggling is wrong and these things may bring attention to our bodies that are sexual bodies and OMG WRONGWRONGWRONG.

    The practice of shaving is basically another way to police and reinforce the idea that our bodies in their natural states are just gross and wrong and ew, hide them or else you’re not considered a ‘lady’.

  31. McSnarkster
    McSnarkster July 29, 2011 at 1:44 pm |

    I wasn’t aware that being a feminist meant every last thing I do has to be feminist. I like makeup. It’s fun, makes me look better, and keep my skin from forming oil slicks. (Seriously, once I figure out a way to refine the stuff coming out of the pores on my face, the peak oil problem will be solved.) I fully admit I am going along with patriarchal appearance standards when I get rid of my facial hair. I don’t want to find out what life would be like as a mustachioed woman. (Honestly, if I were a guy, I’d probably stay clean-shaven anyhow.) It’s my body, and I’m going to do stuff to it that makes living in it easier. I can’t fight every battle, and quite frankly I think there are more important battles than shaving or makeup (honestly, I think there’s been a decent amount of progress on those over the years).

    (Oh, and as far as food? The point in my life where I was seriously counting calories and feeling guilty about what I ate, I was dealing with an eating disorder. The LAST thing I needed to hear back then was how that makes someone a bad feminist. I hated myself enough already.)

  32. R. Dave
    R. Dave July 29, 2011 at 1:45 pm |

    I’ll second the objection to the casual equivalence the OP draws between preferring shaved hair and people who “like their women to look like little girls”. Speaking for myself (and, I suspect, most other hetero males), the preference for shaved legs and underarms on women isn’t about my partners looking like little girls; it’s about them looking more distinctly female. Women are, on average, naturally less hairy than men, and shaving exaggerates the appearance of that female trait, while not shaving reduces it. With that in mind, it strikes me as unsurprising that exaggerating a trait characteristic to females would increase their sexual appeal to those who are attracted to females. And cultural norms, of course, can then either reinforce or undermine the preference for that trait. Our culture reinforces it, so we’ve got both nature and nurture leading to a strong sexual preference for women who shave their body hair.

    And as for shaving one’s pubic region, I personally don’t prefer that look, but nonetheless, the association in my mind is with unselfconscious sexuality, not (ugh!) pre-pubescence. This is just a theory, but I think one of the main reasons there’s so often a disconnect between men and women on that association is that most men rarely see nude pre-pubescent girls, whereas women do so with far greater frequency (and, you know, were pre-pubescent girls themselves at one point!). The result is that most guys see a woman with a shaved pubic region and think, “Porn! Sex! Yay!” while many women see the same and think, “Little girl.”

  33. Emolee
    Emolee July 29, 2011 at 1:50 pm |

    Great post. I don’t think you need to feel ashamed by any of those things. What is important (in my opinion) is that you do not do these things uncritically. You are aware that your choices and behaviors have societal, cultural (and probably patriarchal) forces behind them. It is when women do these things, such as shave their legs, *without* ever questioning it that I have a problem. I also am angry when people expect that *all* women should shave or when they act like body hair on women is dirty or unhygienic. I like what Andie said: “the privilege of being naturally hairy is for the menfolks.”

    I sometimes remove my leg hair, but I have gone months without doing so. People often ask me why I don’t shave. But, to me, that is the wrong question. Since shaving is an affirmative act, and being unshaven is the natural state, it seems as if one would need a reason *to* shave instead of a reason not to. In fact, the “reason” that I often don’t shave is that I can’t think of a reason *to* shave. I think if someone (male or female) has a reason to shave, and it is a reason they have examined and are happy with, then they should shave and not worry about it.

    But, I am amazed by how ubiquitous removing leg hair has become for women in American culture (or at least in urban areas of California, Texas, and New York, which is where I have been lately). I see all kinds of women when I go out: fat, thin, young, older, dressed up, casual, makeup, no makeup, traditionally “feminine,” more “masculine” in appearance- the bodies, style, and grooming are diverse, but the ONE thing they seem to have in common is they ALL seem to shave, wax, or otherwise remove the hair from their legs. Now, granted, I do not see all of their legs, as some wear long pants. But in the summer and at places such as the pool or gym or nail salon where most women are bare-legged, they are all shaved. It is like it is an obligation.

  34. sophonisba
    sophonisba July 29, 2011 at 1:54 pm |

    Isn’t feminism about choice? I can choose what to do with my life and my body?

    Choice, okay. Hauser is choosing to conform to aggressively gendered societal rules that make her feel unhappy and conflicted, because of fear and habit and a lifetime of conditioning that she’s acutely aware of and able to analyze cogently.

    That’s evidently true, if banal — we all choose all our choices! — but as a response to this post it seems kind of cold and even cruel.

  35. Angelia Sparrow
    Angelia Sparrow July 29, 2011 at 2:14 pm |

    I shave to make the deodorant stick better. And when one is hauling freight in 98 degrees, with 100% humidity, deodorant makes the difference between being soaked to my waist and soaked through my jeans. (some under my breasts makes the difference between comfort and painful chafing of skin on sweaty skin)

    I know I am the exception and most people here work in air conditioned offices. But shaving is one of those comfort things for me. Don’t ask me to go out without a maxi pad and don’t ask me to skip shaving my pits, otherwise I am uncomfortable (chafing, rashes, fungal infections) and grouchy.

  36. Véronique
    Véronique July 29, 2011 at 2:15 pm |

    sophonisba:
    Isn’t feminism about choice? I can choose what to do with my life and my body?

    Choice, okay.Hauser is choosing to conform to aggressively gendered societal rules that make her feel unhappy and conflicted, because of fear and habit and a lifetime of conditioning that she’s acutely aware of and able to analyze cogently.

    That’s evidently true, if banal— we all choose all our choices!— but as a response to this post it seems kind of cold and even cruel.

    I was responding to Emily saying that her list of four were things she thought a feminist should not do, not that they make her ashamed. And I disagreed. I also indicated why, and that I did not make my own choices without questioning and continuing to question. If you find that all banal (if you actually read that far), then so be it.

  37. Michele
    Michele July 29, 2011 at 2:21 pm |

    I vividly recall my first college English class when the prof, in response to an essay that started, “I don’t consider myself to be a feminist, but…” asked why I didn’t think I was a feminist. Here I was, 18 years old- a child of the late 60s/early 70s, Free-to-Be-trained, smart, sexual, told I could be anything I wanted to be, in college for (male-dominated) engineering, and yet, I hesitated. And after I thought about it for moment or two, I said, “I just don’t think I’m old enough to be a feminist.” When what I really meant was that I didn’t consider myself “radical” or “outspoken” enough, qualities that I thought were feminist-like. And now almost 30 years later, I think there might have been something to my answer. Age and experience have made me realize that I am a feminist; an ardent, outspoken feminist. Having a daughter has made me a passionate feminist. And I have realized that the definition of feminist, in my mind, is rather simple, that you believe that everyone should be treated equally. For me it takes out of the equation all the guilt-inducing stuff like makeup and shaving and occasional nods to those in authority, cuz sometimes you have to just get along. And women and girls should decide what they like and, whether it fits the “constructs” of patriarchy or feminism, go for it. I tell my daughter, who loves dolls & dresses and wants to get married and (o jezzus help me) change her last name to her husband’s last name, every time it comes up, “Yes you are a feminist.”

  38. Laurel
    Laurel July 29, 2011 at 2:23 pm |

    As a woman who does not shave my legs, I have to say that I do not feel as though women who do are unfeminist in the least. I have written several posts about my experiences as a woman with hairy legs. I get comments from men and women, a few of which are admiration or “I wish I had the courage not to shave” others are not so positive “why the hell do you do that to yourself” (to which I have to remind them that I am actually not doing anything to myself!).

    You can be a feminist in any way you choose, in my opinion, so long as you think critically about what you are doing and why, and you don’t judge others for not conforming to normative behaviors and beauty rituals that are based in patriarchal social relations.

    Great post, BTW!

  39. Esti
    Esti July 29, 2011 at 2:24 pm |

    Yeah, count me out on this post, too. Feminism *is* about choice, but much more importantly, it is about being a person. A person is not a posterboard for a movement. A person is not a snapshot of a single moment in time (Today I have no makeup and forgot to shave, so I am a goodfeminist! Yesterday I waxed and watch the Kardashians, so I am a badfeminist! How do you even count that up?). A person is constantly in flux, is full of contradictions, and, yes, is a product of and a reaction to their circumstances in ways we can’t even comprehend. Most importantly, a person is someone who is allowed to be kind to themselves sometimes, to indulge in being imperfect without considering that a failing.

    I know the personal is political and all, and the choices we make for ourselves have effects on what society expects from other women, but I don’t judge my or anyone else’s feminism based on their participation in those indirect effects. Every single person — even the most privileged white straight cis hetero wealthy TAB man you can imagine — is to some extent influenced by social expectations. Virtually everyone lives their life in a way that reinforce at least some of those social expectations. But I have never heard a man say that he feels guilty for working out because he knows he does it in part to fit the man=muscles mold, and that’s damaging to men who don’t. I have never heard a man say that although he makes more money than his wife and she wanted to stay home with the kids, he feels guilty for being the one who kept his job because it makes it harder for men who want to be stay and home dads. I have never heard a man say that even though he wanted to be a doctor, he felt an obligation to go to nursing school to show men that they could. And frankly, I don’t want a man to say any of those things.

    We should examine our choices. We should try to eliminate ones that are actively harmful to others. We should be conscious of the ways in which social expectations play a role in our lives, both in how they act on us and in how we feed into them. And then each of us should go ahead and be a person — one who participates in the social norms they need/want to, and who pushes back on those they don’t, and who gives themself permission to fight the constant feeling of shame that is, for many of us, the most harmful and pervasive effect of being a woman.

  40. Kathy
    Kathy July 29, 2011 at 2:56 pm |

    Laurel:
    As a woman who does not shave my legs, I have to say that I do not feel as though women who do are unfeminist in the least.I have written several posts about my experiences as a woman with hairy legs.I get comments from men and women, a few of which are admiration or “I wish I had the courage not to shave” others are not so positive “why the hell do you do that to yourself” (to which I have to remind them that I am actually not doing anything to myself!).

    You can be a feminist in any way you choose, in my opinion, so long as you think critically about what you are doing and why, and you don’t judge others for not conforming to normative behaviors and beauty rituals that are based in patriarchal social relations.

    Great post, BTW!

    This. A thousand times over. As a short-haired, not conventionally feminine woman living in a relatively conservative city, I know society treats me a bit better if I have lipstick on. It’s an incredibly small thing, and not something I feel should question my feminist credentials, but I know the reason why I paint my face before going out is more than just “I like it.”

  41. Andie
    Andie July 29, 2011 at 3:03 pm |

    Kathy: It’s an incredibly small thing, and not something I feel should question my feminist credentials, but I know the reason why I paint my face before going out is more than just “I like it.”

    or more than “Well, that’s what I’m supposed to do, as a woman.”

    I actually think “I like it” is a great reason. “That’s how it is” or “That’s what women do” is the reasoning I have a problem with, mostly.

    I do agree that thinking critically about these things we do, and how we may be subverting or supporting patriarchial expectations through our actions is important.. but at the end of the day, the choice is yours/ours/hers/mine etc and if you like it, that’s good enough for me.

  42. Lovely Links: 7/29/11
    Lovely Links: 7/29/11 July 29, 2011 at 3:26 pm |

    [...] candid post about behaviors she engages that make her feel like a bad feminist provides some great food for thought. They’re all beauty, body, and self-image [...]

  43. DP
    DP July 29, 2011 at 3:41 pm |

    Andie:

    Perfume/Deodorant?because your natural smell is gross and wrong (see also: Douches)

    I’ve seen this one pop up on a couple of blogs before and meant to ask about it. (Notably IBTP). Why is deodorant constructed as an element of the patriarchy? It’s pretty heavily marketed to men – Old Spice Guy – and as someone who takes a bus/train every day I have to say men and women who eschew it are not very, um…considerate of their fellow passengers in the summer.

  44. McSnarkster
    McSnarkster July 29, 2011 at 3:43 pm |

    But I have never heard a man say that he feels guilty for working out because he knows he does it in part to fit the man=muscles mold, and that’s damaging to men who don’t. I have never heard a man say that although he makes more money than his wife and she wanted to stay home with the kids, he feels guilty for being the one who kept his job because it makes it harder for men who want to be stay and home dads. I have never heard a man say that even though he wanted to be a doctor, he felt an obligation to go to nursing school to show men that they could. And frankly, I don’t want a man to say any of those things.

    THANK YOU. There’s something really screwed up when somehow it’s “feminism” to get women to continue to question and feel bad about the things they do to themselves, but all the onus is still on women, not men. No, applying lipstick may not be a feminist act, but it’s not bad act, either, and if you really want to make your lips redder or pinker or mauve-er or coral-er or even purpler or bluer or blacker or beige-er, you should be able to do so without guilt or worry about what it’s doing to others. (And even if you don’t want to color your lips or eyelids or cheeks, but wear makeup because it does make you appear more socially acceptable and “professional”–why should the guilt/shame be on you, and not the social expectations that convince you to wear it? THAT is the problem, not what an individual woman does or doesn’t do to her skin.)

    Angelia Sparrow, ITA with you on shaving making the deodorant stick better. I can’t imagine not shaving in the summer heat, and I don’t even haul freight.

  45. Andie
    Andie July 29, 2011 at 3:52 pm |

    DP: I’ve seen this one pop up on a couple of blogs before and meant to ask about it. (Notably IBTP). Why is deodorant constructed as an element of the patriarchy? It’s pretty heavily marketed to men – Old Spice Guy – and as someone who takes a bus/train every day I have to say men and women who eschew it are not very, um…considerate of their fellow passengers in the summer.

    I should probably correct that.. it’s maybe not so much strictly patriarchial (except in the case of douches.. you don’t see many products for ball-washing available.. especially ones that are actually quite unhealthy) but it’s definitely tied in with constructions of shame and self-hatred surrounding our bodies in their natural state. For both men and women.

  46. SeteSois
    SeteSois July 29, 2011 at 4:22 pm |

    If you feel guilty about feeling guilty about eating, that’s not good either. (Trying to phrase this in a way that won’t make it sound like you should feel guilty about feeling guilty about feeling guilty about eating is hard though…)

  47. DP
    DP July 29, 2011 at 4:23 pm |

    Andie: I should probably correct that.. it’s maybe not so much strictly patriarchial (except in the case of douches.. you don’t see many products for ball-washing available.. especially ones that are actually quite unhealthy) but it’s definitely tied in with constructions of shame and self-hatred surrounding our bodies in their natural state.For both men and women.

    I get what you’re saying, definitely. There are a lot of products out there designed to play on insecurities and teach people their bodies are gross and wrong and bad.

    I’d just classify a couple of them – toothpaste, soap, deodorant, toilet paper – as a pretty good idea. Everyone’s body will get a bit gross w/o care.

  48. Emolee
    Emolee July 29, 2011 at 5:23 pm |

    @ Emily Hauser: “If the high percentage of women who spend X amount of time worrying excessively and without cause about size, shape, calories, etc, could stop doing that — how much time and energy would we release into the universe?”

    Amen. Great point. Reminds me of the Naomi Wolfe quote “Dieting is the most potent political sedative in women’s history; a quietly mad population is a tractable one.” There is definitely a causal connection between the impossible beauty standards placed on women and their continued political and economic disempowerment. It’s by far the only cause, but it’s a biggie.

  49. Doctress Julia
    Doctress Julia July 29, 2011 at 5:24 pm |

    ‘My mother in many ways is indebted to second-wave Feminism, but also holds sex-negative views. She believes that all pornography is demeaning to women, for starters.’

    Well, I would happen to agree with her. I don’t think she’s far from the truth, IMHO. And, if not all porn, then like 99 percent of it. While I consider myself ‘sex-positive’, I don’t agree at all that there is anything ‘sex-positive’ about pornography, which disproportionally hurts women. Porn, to me, has NOTHING to do with sex at all, and everything to do with subjugating women.

    I also don’t shave anything. Fuck that noise.

  50. Linda
    Linda July 29, 2011 at 5:43 pm |

    Is it necessary to see shaving your legs or wearing make up as conforming to patriarchial values? To see these expressions negatively, as the end result of patriarchial oppression and conformity, is to view our differences negatively rather than positively. Why not see this expressions creatively? I wear eye makeup because I like the color blue. I wear lipstick because I like the color red. We need to question why wearing blue eye shadow has become linked to femininity and pleasing men. This is not a creative response but negative. I don’t wear blue eye shadow or lipstick or shave my legs because I like to attract men, and men think I am less than without out, but rather, because I like the feel, the texture, the color, the difference, the variation. Likewise, I don’t shave my legs because I am natural and am not a victim of patriarchy ideology, but rather because I like the way it feels beneath my fingers. I like hair on my legs, I like the way it looks, it feels, it traps the water when I shower, I like the contrast between the white of my skin and the black of my hair. Not shaving my legs does not signal my radical feminist values or my non-capitulation to patriarchal values – if I choose to not shave my legs because it is required by the patriarchy, then this is a negative reason, not a positive.

  51. Tara
    Tara July 29, 2011 at 5:45 pm |

    These are things I struggle with to. This is where I am now:

    Shaving and makeup are such pervasive norms. Participating them is the default, it doesn’t make a person bad. But openly refraining from shaving and makeup are actually positive actions that, however large or small the individual impact maybe (ie, whether you’re in a hippie commune surrounded by other unshaved women or Julia Roberts showing armpit hair), it’s an impact for the good.

    That’s kind of how I think of eating meat. It’s just so normal, everything in society is set up for it. I don’t judge people (or myself) for eating it. Or shopping at mainstream stores with questionable labor practices/politics. But refraining from these things is still laudable.

    But everyone has a different plate, and it’s up to each individual to decide where our energies are best directed, depending on our own obligations, responsibilities, strengths, etc, each of us is on our own path, and we each have to take care of ourselves. As long as we’re not undercutting other people who are doing good things, no one should be judged for not doing everything, or even for not doing enough, because who’s really in a position to judge?

  52. Unree
    Unree July 29, 2011 at 6:13 pm |

    Must second Emolee upthread about the forced removal of leg and armpit hair. In my city the compliance rate is something like 90%. Speaking about “choice” here sounds cruel, as sophonisba said.

    I’ve mentioned having a (male) partner who tolerates my indifferent body-hair removal habits. It pisses me off, frankly, that I feel thankful for his tolerance and fretful about venturing out apologetic in the future, should we break up.

    Dunno if anyone here reads Dategirl, the Seattle Weekly advice column by Judy McGuire. It’s fun, but I got pissed off again by the July 13 column (can’t figure out how to do an HTML link here). The LW complained that her husband was being selfish and entitled, “a lazy bastard,” and demanding sex in obnoxious ways. For example, “c) After I told him my doctor had found something suspicious on my mammogram and I had to go back for more tests, he grabbed my breasts and told me that my tits were too fantastic for cancer. (I’m fine, but that doesn’t erase his behavior.).”

    To which Dategirl replied:

    “While women in LTRs might slack off in the sexy-lingerie or pubic-grooming arenas, the one place where I’ve found almost all men slack is in the romance department.”

    In other words, a woman who doesn’t wax her crotch is the equivalent of an aggressively boorish, inconsiderate, demanding man who grabs breasts and (in a part of the letter I didn’t paste) trashes the kitchen. Both are guilty of slacking off.

  53. Gabrielle
    Gabrielle July 29, 2011 at 6:19 pm |

    Sending you a <3! because you're awesome! Hope you had a wonderful Sabbath. Just wanted you to know I've officially given up shaving my legs and under my arms, and I'm trying to keep it up and not chicken out. So yes. Keep on keepin' on. I'm certainly not judging you!

  54. Politicalguineapig
    Politicalguineapig July 29, 2011 at 6:29 pm |

    1. I listen to heavy metal- not Gunz and Roses, but the local scene is heavily composed of straightish white males.
    2. I shave too, but that’s mainly because I dislike body hair on anyone. My favorite Olympic events are gymnastics and swimming- very little hair on either the men or the women.
    3. I don’t wear dresses or skirts, and I tend to boggle at people who do, or put skirts and dresses on their little girls. My li’l sis has started to dress really femininely lately and I worry about her. I know she’s dressing only for herself, but I worry that if anything happened, she wouldn’t be believed because of how she dresses.
    (short sundresses, not mini skirts, but still short enough to send my anxiety meter into orbit. I feel like I’ve got sniper’s sights on me if I leave the house in a longish skirt.)
    4. I started off as a fat kid, so at about second grade, I started to think of myself as a failed girl. ‘Girls” were skinny and sociable, I was neither. I just gave up on any hope of identifying with girls my age. To this day, the idea of ‘sisterhood’ makes me roll my eyes.
    5. I will never go to a march, ever. I just see it as a waste of my time.

  55. Lauren
    Lauren July 29, 2011 at 6:35 pm |

    Don’t feel bad about any of these things. There’s nothing wrong with being human :)

    On a side-note, I have a feminist side of me, too — in that I’m purely, plainly, and simply, feminine. Because I’m a girl. Not because I like dresses or flowers or butterflies or pink ruffles (I do) but because I have breasts and a vagina. I’m feminine. I have a friend who likes football and overalls and getting muddy and climbing trees and her favorite color is black. I can’t stand getting dirty and football gives me a headache (although I think overalls are cute and climbing trees is fun, as long as I don’t tear my favorite pair of jeans). But she’s feminine too. Because she also has breasts and a vagina.

    I think this whole feminist thing has gone to far. We’ve gone from one extreme — “Women belong only in the kitchen” — to the other — “Women should be men”. The fact is, women are different than men. We ARE, and we need to embrace it. Otherwise, it’s not “girl-power”. It’s just “man-power” all over again, with a different name.

    Be proud of your WOMAN-liness. Really. Remember — “You are no man!”

  56. Lottie
    Lottie July 29, 2011 at 6:52 pm |

    One thing I wonder about here is this idea that feminism is about choice. Is it? And in a patriarchal society can a woman ever really assume that a behavior that aligns with norms of female behavior is truly and completely a choice? I’m not sure feminism is really about choice. It seems to me to be about rights and equality. Sometimes I hear “feminism is about choice” as preventing challenges to assumptions.

    To bring this back to the topic, I don’t shave my legs (because I can “get away with it” due to how little and light hair I have), but I do shave my underarms. I could say that this is because I don’t like how I look with armpit hair. This would be true. However, I think the reason I don’t like how I look with armpit hair is that I live in a society where for women, armpit hair is seen as unattractive.

  57. Bridget
    Bridget July 29, 2011 at 7:23 pm |

    Tara, that’s a great way of looking at it. I agree.

  58. licious
    licious July 29, 2011 at 8:06 pm |

    We all have struggles, and I think it is important to recognize that these struggles not static. I do not shave my legs or my armpits. However, three years ago, I did. I was equally as feminist 3 years ago, I knew just as much about patriarchal body standards. But I shaved. So what changed? Who knows. Life? I started grad school in a new city, I had to make new friends, I took up playing a contact sport…I didn’t have time to shave! Periodically, maybe once a year, I shave my legs again. And I always think “wow this looks weird.” But who knows, maybe in a few years I’ll shave again. But for now, my preference is not to shave.

    My current struggle is about my facial hair. I have very dark, very coarse facial hair. I want to love that hair the same way I love the hair on the rest of my body, but I worry A LOT about what people will think and how they will judge me. It also grows SO FAST that it needs to be removed every day. I have had people make negative comments about my facial hair, which only makes things more difficult. For now, I just remind myself that for my mental health, it is easier to remove my facial hair, and like my other body hair, that might change in the future.

  59. XtinaS
    XtinaS July 29, 2011 at 8:34 pm |

    Politicalguineapig:

    I know she’s dressing only for herself, but I worry that if anything happened, she wouldn’t be believed because of how she dresses.

    For whatever it’s worth, women are typically not believed if “anything” happens regardless of what they’re wearing.

  60. duck-billed placelot
    duck-billed placelot July 29, 2011 at 9:01 pm |

    Emily, thanks for a poignant and lovely piece.

  61. Annaleigh
    Annaleigh July 29, 2011 at 9:02 pm |

    Unree: The LW complained that her husband was being selfish and entitled, “a lazy bastard,” and demanding sex in obnoxious ways. For example, “c) After I told him my doctor had found something suspicious on my mammogram and I had to go back for more tests, he grabbed my breasts and told me that my tits were too fantastic for cancer. (I’m fine, but that doesn’t erase his behavior.).”

    To which Dategirl replied:

    “While women in LTRs might slack off in the sexy-lingerie or pubic-grooming arenas, the one place where I’ve found almost all men slack is in the romance department.”

    In other words, a woman who doesn’t wax her crotch is the equivalent of an aggressively boorish, inconsiderate, demanding man who grabs breasts and (in a part of the letter I didn’t paste) trashes the kitchen. Both are guilty of slacking off.

    OMG, I have some experience in kinda in common with the LW (sexually coercive ex, who, upon learning I had found a lump in my breast and would have to have a mammogram made a “joke” about giving me an exam…which was just another reminder he was demanding sex), and I don’t shave my bush.

    I would love to give Dategirl a piece of my mind.

  62. becky
    becky July 29, 2011 at 9:09 pm |

    Lauren:
    Don’t feel bad about any of these things. There’s nothing wrong with being human :)

    On a side-note, I have a feminist side of me, too — in that I’m purely, plainly, and simply, feminine. Because I’m a girl. Not because I like dresses or flowers or butterflies or pink ruffles (I do) but because I have breasts and a vagina. I’m feminine. I have a friend who likes football and overalls and getting muddy and climbing trees and her favorite color is black. I can’t stand getting dirty and football gives me a headache (although I think overalls are cute and climbing trees is fun, as long as I don’t tear my favorite pair of jeans). But she’s feminine too. Because she also has breasts and a vagina.

    I think this whole feminist thing has gone to far. We’ve gone from one extreme — “Women belong only in the kitchen” — to the other — “Women should be men”. The fact is, women are different than men. We ARE, and we need to embrace it. Otherwise, it’s not “girl-power”. It’s just “man-power” all over again, with a different name.

    Be proud of your WOMAN-liness. Really. Remember — “You are no man!”

    i (wish to) strongly believe this is satire/sarcasm.

  63. Miss S
    Miss S July 29, 2011 at 10:59 pm |

    I shave my legs, under my arms, and sometimes my pubic hair. I wear deodarant, and wear make up. I love my body (unless I’m PMSing, and hate everything in the world) and wear heels and dresses when the occasion arises. I wear sparkly jewelry and flowers in my hair when I’m in the mood.

    I’m not ashamed about any of these things. Then again, I don’t really use the label feminist. I would identify as womanist. I have no shame in being a feminine woman. I own it.

  64. XtinaS
    XtinaS July 30, 2011 at 12:43 am |

    But she’s feminine too. Because she also has breasts and a vagina.

    I think this whole feminist thing has gone to far. We’ve gone from one extreme — “Women belong only in the kitchen” — to the other — “Women should be men”.

    I’m sensing a troll in the dungeon!

  65. Politicalguineapig
    Politicalguineapig July 30, 2011 at 1:06 am |

    Xtinas: I know that. I wish I could talk that little voice in my head into believing that clothes don’t make any difference.
    Also :re: Lauren- naw, my bet’s on hippie moonchick. You know, the type that crafts vaginas or hawks crystals. Actually, she sounds kind of like a neighbor of mine. (Yeah, I live in *that* kind of town.)

  66. Mizz Alice
    Mizz Alice July 30, 2011 at 8:52 am |

    I personally think that every woman should at least try not shaving for a while, just to experience it and see if they like it or not, or just to experience it in general. Why not explore the natural ways of our bodies?

    I also think we should stop worrying about food and weight altogether. I had a huge struggle with body image that created a very unhealthy obsession with food (mentally and physically). I put a conscious effort into focusing on how my body is beautiful no matter how much I weighed or where I stood on the “pretty scale”. I put a conscious effort into not caring what I ate or how often. I gained more weight, was much happier not caring about said weight, and over a year or so I ended up losing weight – simply by not dieting or worrying about my appearance or food consumption.

    This gave me more self-confidence, and then I stopped shaving everything. I got lots of weird stares, people who told me I’d be much prettier if only I shaved my pits, etc. etc. After a few years of not giving a shit and being happy with my body (it wasn’t easy at first going out into public with all my hair), I got a little bored and shaved my pits, it felt nice, so every so often I shave those when I feel like it. Then I ventured to shave my vagina out of curiosity, I’d never done that before, and was surprised at how neato it feels.

    That’s my story. I think we should all explore ourselves more, I think it will clear up some internal confusion within us on whether or not we choose to do whatever we do with ourselves because we really want to, not because of the societal pressures that are constantly surrounding us 24/7.

  67. ChristyMaria
    ChristyMaria July 30, 2011 at 8:56 am |

    I don’t feel like a bad feminist for shaving as I do completely believe that it should be left up to what the individual feels comfortable doing and I dont want to shame people for choosing to shave or not shave, but I suppose when the majority of people see shaving as the norm for women then it is not a completely free choice for the individual. It would be better if there could be a complete separation from the ideas of hairlessness and femininity.

    I have recently started epilating and I have to say that whoever invented it is both a genius (“woo hoo, the hair grows back so slowly! I hardly ever have to do it!”) and a sadist (it hurts like the fiery pits of hell.)

  68. Diana
    Diana July 30, 2011 at 10:52 am |

    Gabrielle:
    This is an issue which particularly affects trans women – if they don’t pay sufficient attention to their image, their faces, their hair, their makeup, they are misgendered, insulted, and assaulted. Telling a young trans woman that she’s being a bad woman, a bad feminist, for doing what she needs to in order to have a decent quality of life will probably hurt her in the same way that those people who tell her she has to look a certain way to be a “real” woman hurts her. By all means, say that these things are those that you think you shouldn’t do. But please don’t generalise it to others who don’t share your privileges.

    I couldn’t agree more.

  69. Adaquinn
    Adaquinn July 30, 2011 at 1:16 pm |

    I’ve been reading Feministe and XX Slate and Jezebel for quite some time now. I never really said “Dude back off I’m a feminist!” But I would say that the term applies to me. But feelings on what is or is not a feminist act would be “Am I doing this for myself or because it’s what others expect of me because I have ovaries” I don’t shave my legs, because well… it’s a hassle and the ascetics of it doesn’t mean that much to me. I wear make up only when I want someone to think “Wow, Quinn took an effort to look good here tonight” because I WANT to look particularly spiffy.

    I think that when anyone tells a woman what she should or should not do you’re moving against Feminism. Feminism, to me, should be about doing what YOU want to do with YOUR body, YOUR life and YOUR appearance. It’s about telling yourself and others that being who you want to be is important.

    I think a woman who stays home with her kids and cuts coupons and cooks dinner to afford it because she WANTS to stay home with her kids is a Feminist. I think that a woman who works 40-50-60 hours a week while her husband stays home with the kids, because she loves her job and knows her husband is a good caretaker is a Feminist. I think that anyone who can look at both of these situations and say “If it’s of their own choice and their happy, more power to them” is a feminist.

    I feel that if someone proclaiming to be a feminist tells me that I can’t do what I enjoy because it’s not ‘feminist enough’ should think about what feminism means to them.

  70. little sister
    little sister July 30, 2011 at 6:49 pm |

    Mizz Alice:
    I personally think that every woman should at least try not shaving for a while, just to experience it and see if they like it or not, or just to experience it in general. Why not explore the natural ways of our bodies?

    Agreed! Going all hairy for almost a year made me so much less fussy and more confident, it made hair removal really feel like a a choice. Now I wax sometime if I want to, but I feel there’s no pressure or shame involved.

  71. CassandraSays
    CassandraSays July 30, 2011 at 11:57 pm |

    I feel like, since none of us grew up in hermetically sealed rooms without patriarchal influence, it’s almost impossible to separate out what we’re doing because it’s actually our preference and what we’re doing because we’ve been taught that we must, in terms of this kind of gendering stuff. Like, I dislike body hair on myself and tend to remove some of it. But then, I also dislike body hair on men and won’t date a man who has lots of it (in fact I’ve dated men who shaved their pits and I loved it). So is that patriarchal influence or a personal quirk? I’m not sure, and I’m not convinced that there’s any reliable way to tell. I tend to wear makeup to go out to any sort of event, but don’t bother if I’m just walking around my neighborhood. I favor skirts and dresses when it’s warm or when I have my period (bless the lack of pressure on the abdomen that a dress provides), and jeans and boots when it’s cold or rainy. I’d be lying if I said that I always love my body, but I feel no guilt about eating at all. And, like the hair issue, I’m not sure how you’d go about figuring out what part of that is patriarchal programming and how the bits that apparently didn’t stick in my case managed not to.

    Also, honestly, I think this is an issue where feminists are often much too hard on ourselves. You do what you have to in order to survive in a world that is not feminist. Some things we may have been programmed to prefer, but as of right now we do in fact prefer them, so is it really useful to fight that preference? If going along with the patriarchal line in a particular area is causing us stress or annoyance or it feels unnatural and uncomforable and generally makes us unhappy, then yes, we should resist it and do our own thing. But when it’s a case where we’re actually OK with something (shaving, dresses) is it really worth fighting those tendencies just because they may have been influenced by patriarchy? On stuff like hating your body then yes, clearly it’s useful to fight those impulses, because they make us unhappy. But even then I don’t think feeling guilty if we can’t make the thoughts go away is useful to us, or to other women either.

    Basically I feel like if going along with a certain patriarchal dictate is causing a given feminist stress or unhappiness, then yes, she should probably push back and refuse to toe the line. But to insist that we must fight each and every point where something might be the result of patriarchal influence and feel guilty if we don’t…that strikes me as a waste of time and energy that could be more productively used elsewhere, as well as not very kind to ourselves.

  72. CassandraSays
    CassandraSays July 31, 2011 at 7:03 am |

    I’ve seen feminists critique feminine gender performance-related things and then turn right around and call other women who they don’t like “c*nt”. It seems to me that referring to someone you dislike as a female body part, as an insult, is far more harmful to women as a group than shaving your legs and wearing makeup could ever possibly be. Particularly if, when questioned on why you used that particular word as an insult, you get angry and defensive and argue that it’s OK to use words like that if you really, really hate the person you’re referring too and think they’re harming women. Eg, “Sarah Palin is a stupid c*nt”.

    I don’t really care about how other people choose to perform gender, but when people use words that reference parts of a woman’s body as the worst insults they can think of then that does affect me, and all women, in a very clear and concrete way. That’s kind of what I was trying to get at with the idea that maybe we could focus our energy as feminists on fighting things that are more clearly harmful in terms of how women exist in public space/are percieved societally than the femme stuff.

  73. Camilla Peffer @ Girls Are Made From Pepsi

    I loved reading this post. I feel that feminist guilt is something we really need to address, because occasionally you can be met with a ‘more feminist than thou’ attitude, basically synonymous with femme phobia. For myself, my brand of feminism is built upon the power of choice, but when I’m told that my love of the colour pink or the way I style my hair is nothing to do with my personal preference but some form of patriarchal control, I feel a little lost and confused. It’s as if choice is an illusion, and all my actions are mediated by some external force. That makes me feel powerless. I think I’ve begun to teach myself to not let other’s personal experiences and views permeate my own, but it’s hard when people approach you from a feminist perspective.
    You know, I don’t really feel like hair removal and physical appearance is a gendered practice anymore, but more like a class-based set of ideals.

  74. Politicalguineapig
    Politicalguineapig July 31, 2011 at 12:29 pm |

    I think a lot of women experience a bit of #3. I feel weird about eating out with my friends, especially since I know three naturally really skinny women. If I went out with a guy I don’t think I’d be able to eat at all.

  75. Natalia
    Natalia July 31, 2011 at 12:34 pm |

    I feel like, since none of us grew up in hermetically sealed rooms without patriarchal influence, it’s almost impossible to separate out what we’re doing because it’s actually our preference and what we’re doing because we’ve been taught that we must, in terms of this kind of gendering stuff.

    This.

    I feel bad about the stuff that makes me feel bad – as silly as that sounds. Like guilt about eating – I haven’t experienced that in a while, but when I did, boy could I relate to what the OP is talking about.

    Make-up and shaving don’t bring me any discomfort in the slightest, on the other hand. Body modification is something the human race has been into for a good long while. Obviously, it ties into societal norms – it always has and always will. I think one can acknowledge that, whatever modification one chooses to indulge in or abstain from. Going against the grain is hard, which is why I give props to people who do whatever the fuck they want on that front (I’m still debating getting a tattoo with my son’s name on it, at present – because “What will the bosses think if they see it?!” etc.)

    I view make-up like war-paint and enjoy putting it on. It’s about not letting people on the street and in the office see my true face. My true face is reserved for people who are closest to me. Is this an act I put on solely because I am a woman? Yes and no. Men also put on acts – though theirs tend to be more subtle. Men are not as stringently policed, after all.

    Incidentally, I think Alexander Pope had similar ideas about feminine adornment which he wrote about in a certain section of “The Rape of the Lock” – describing how Belinda puts herself together in front of the mirror.

  76. Claire K.
    Claire K. July 31, 2011 at 6:41 pm |

    Though I don’t think there’s any need to feel guilty over personal grooming habits, I do think it’s important to remember that these things are not a “choice,” or at least not a free one. It seems mostly pointless to me to evaluate how much of your own preferences come from patriarchal pressure and how much is inborn, because that’s something we can never know for sure. The important thing is that if your assigned gender is feminine and you happen to enjoy shaving your legs or wearing make-up you’re lucky– other people (depending on race, class and the gender norms they’re expected to live up to) don’t enjoy those things but face harassment and workplace discrimination (and sometimes worse, especially for trans women) if they don’t conform. We aren’t yet in a post-feminist world in which women can opt out of stereotypical femininity without consequences, so I think people who consider themselves feminists should keep talking about compulsory femininity even if they personally aren’t harmed by it. Certainly we don’t need to jump on Hauser for writing about the problem, or tell her, as some commentators seem to be doing, that she should just embrace her femininity instead of thinking about the ways in which it’s forced on her. Again, I’m not saying that there is one feminist aesthetic we should all conform to, but if feminism is about choice there has to be a choice and right now not everyone has that. Radical feminists who criticize other women for their grooming practices might be annoying, but they’re rare and not very powerful, so we’d do better to focus on the much stronger pressure from mainstream society which really can coerce people into gender expressions that aren’t right for them.

  77. Paraxeni
    Paraxeni August 1, 2011 at 12:44 pm |

    Is there any chance at all that people could stop saying how horrible/unsightly/disgusting facial hair is?

    @licious – I was where you are now. Everywhere I went, at least two razors came with me. On sleepovers I’d get up in the night, nip to the loo, and shave my face. Sometimes twice a night.

    When I moved in with my (then) best friend of 14 years she broke down in tears on the first night in our new flat. She had a “big horrible secret”. Yeah, she had facial hair that she had to shave or otherwise remove. She knew me and knew that I had facial hair, but to her it was “disgusting” and the most awful thing she’d ever had to cope with. Her life had been truly awful, all kinds of abuse, starvation, the worst kind of filth and poverty – but having a hairy face? That was the worst thing to her.

    Oddly enough I grew up with a mother who did not remove facial or body hair. I was proud of my pit hair, my fluffy bush, my facial hair. I thought it made me grown-up, developed. Girls at Brownies and Guides would actually come up to me, and ask to look at my pits, and would be horrified to see the hair there. I even said to a couple of them, with pity, “Don’t worry, you’ll get some soon”. I just wasn’t aware that removing every hair that grew on you was the done thing.

    It was only after some disgusting bullying at school (initiated by teachers to shame me) that I grew fearful and afraid of my body hair, and locked myself in the bathroom at home sobbing, as I removed what I could. Mother was mortified. I was also viciously beaten and bullied for not being ‘feminine’ enough, and not knowing how to wear make-up, or how to dress ‘tastefully’. One former teacher of mine, who I met up with last year, was horrified when she saw “This bright, individual, funny little kid [...] turned by shame and fear into someone desperately trying to comply, but unable to”

    Well fuck that. My life is difficult enough without spending 4 hours a day in the bloody bathroom, trying to alter my face and body to win the approval of society. If I want a beard I’ll have one, same goes for my ‘tache, my eyebrows, and my lovely hairy legs and pits, and belly hair. I actually envy my partner because her arm and leg hair is so thick and plush, it outlines her body beautifully and looks like a halo around her.

    If it wasn’t supposed to be there, it wouldn’t be – so I’m leaving it. If anyone has a problem with it then that’s their issue to deal with. I’m not suffering for other peoples’ hang-ups any more.

  78. Paraxeni
    Paraxeni August 1, 2011 at 12:47 pm |

    Oh, btw, I am a femme. My beard is accompanied by glitter, make-up, the flouncy wig of my choice, and amazing shoes. I am actually misgendered more often when my face is bald than I am with a beard. That always surprises me.

  79. KTanna
    KTanna August 1, 2011 at 1:34 pm |

    Thanks for posting this! I think that many of us who identify as feminists have something that they feel guilty for doing, as if it means that we are not “feminist enough” for doing it. I certainly do!

    I’ll add one: I wear push-up bras. I’m very self-conscious about my small boobs so I wear push-up bras to make them look bigger, because society and Victoria’s Secret ads lead people to believe that it’s a terrible, awful, bad thing to have small boobs. I kinda like the small boobs, really, but still. I wear push up bras. Sigh.

  80. Jadey
    Jadey August 1, 2011 at 1:41 pm |

    Paraxeni: Is there any chance at all that people could stop saying how horrible/unsightly/disgusting facial hair is?

    I will attempt to combat this trend by taking the opportunity to announce how very much I like A) hair, of all kinds, on all bodies, in all manner of places, and B) facial hair on women and femmes of all sorts in particular. I have my own pathetically tiny, practically invisible ‘stache that I will never, ever, ever tweeze or pluck or laser and would grow out longer and darker if I could (without a prescription – too much hassle for that at the moment). I’m not against people doing what they want with the hair on their own bodies, of course, but I do love a bearded lady. Facial hair is some of the most versatile and fascinating hair stylistically because it can dramatically alter the shape and balance of a face, even more than scalp hair – I say everybody should get the chance to join in the fun if they want to!

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  82. Kim
    Kim August 1, 2011 at 3:30 pm |

    This is why I’m not a feminist. That someone should feel guilty about their choices. That they are not feminist enough. That every freakin choice is a political statement. That you have “no choice” because of societal pressure. Hell, every choice you make is influenced by society and other people – that’s real life. Get over it! The pressure to conform to feminism is sometimes as bad as the pressure to conform to gender roles or religous doctrine!

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  84. James
    James August 4, 2011 at 5:40 am |

    With regards to shaving and make-up – why does one have to struggle against a female stereotype and become more “masculine” in order to be a feminist? As a guy who’s tried shaving as an experiment and realises how initially frustrating and painful it is, I can see why women would get sick of it, but the on the other hand, it does lead to a pleasing, smooth appearance that looks great with tights and is up to individual whether it’s worth the pain.

    As for make-up – I love make-up too! Perhaps patriarchy can be crushed not just by women casting off femininity, but by men embracing it. Breaking down the wall from both sides, as it were. Make-up in itself isn’t a terrible thing, but the problem is that it has become normal for women and abnormal for men. So what would be so bad about anyone who wants to wear make-up wearing it. I think it can add an allure or intrigue to someone’s appearance and I don’t think women should stop wearing it purely because they are feminist. Perhaps just encouraging more men to shave, wear dresses, and put on make up would do much more to crush the gender boundaries than becoming more “masculine”?

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