So far we've discussed sociocultural norms, and what body hair means for marginalized groups like those in the LGBTQ community. Now we continue on, looking at another group that faces criticism on a daily basis within American society. (View the previous articles here to catch up on the discussion!: Part 1 and Part 2.
Women and Body Hair
Focusing now on women, shaving has been seen as a mode for distinguishing what gender they identify with, and whether they consider themselves straight, lesbian, trans, or another sexual orientation, whether these assumptions are correct or not. In a study of female college students who were asked to grow out leg and armpit hair for 10 weeks, many participants felt first-hand judgment and even harassment for growing out their body hair. Breanne Fahs, a Women and Gender Studies professor, cites numerous stories of women of different sexual orientations who faced discrimination based on their body hair. If they were heterosexual, some women were confronted about their sexuality (being asked if they were becoming a lesbian), others were told it was not “ladylike,” and some that they would never “get a man” (Fahs 461). A bisexual woman named “Mona” was even asked by her mom if growing out her body hair was the next step she was taking to becoming a man (transgender). We can pull out that these assumptions were made based on a common factor— because these women had made the choice to not shave. These assumptions caused detectable discomfort and disingenuous behaviors no matter the gender the participants identified with or what their sexual orientation was. The participants of the study expressed that they felt that others had more of a right to tell them what to shave and how much, more so than themselves; emphasizing that sociocultural norms have hindered self-expression for “women” as well.
Family, friends, and strangers all participated in asking these women why they were doing what they were doing, showing that the issue does not dissipate at a certain level of familiarity. Fahs eloquently summarizes what it means to depilate when she says, “Women’s body alteration practices represent a tangible manifestation of how women (including feminist women) internalize social control mechanisms.” (Fahs 452) This study and statement reinforce the idea that society has made people feel that they have the right to tell others what they can do with their bodies. Those who do not follow social norms may face harassment or even assault for whatever gender or sexual orientation “rule” they are perceived to be breaking (Violence Prevention Works). Society has told people that they should feel justified demanding someone to change who they are so that they can be made to feel more comfortable. Coercive behavior like this cements the social controls that inhibit the expression of gender and sexual orientation.
Stay tuned for weekly installments of the essay, each discussing a different facet of the issue.