Hair and Privilege

To answer the question ‘What is Privilege”, I’ll start at a privilege socially barred to females, the one of body hair, a defining trait not only as humans, but as mammals.

I haven’t shaved my legs in 5 months. I’ve gotten comments that are less about how manly I look, to how much of an savage I am. I’ve been tomboyish most of my life, but as I allow this part of my body to become “naturally lush”, I suspect that what transgresses cissexual male norms renders a male into the realm of women, while what transgresses the cissexual norms for women doesn’t place them in the realm of men, but of animals.

What is the symbol and privilege that hair engenders?
For me hair has been an indication of vitality (fertility) and an accepted standard of feminine beauty. So what does it mean when a woman in a heteronormative society denies her symbol of fertility and shaves her head? Is it an autonomous action? Does such a thing exist?

 

Privilege exists as a function of hierarchy, but the curious thing happens with the privilege of personal grooming. To be bodily hairless is to represent youth, free of the responsibility of power. The freedom of the ‘girl’ is envied in some cultures (Japanese pop culture), but even then there is this shepherding of females into a fantasy outside of the human (male) realm. If a female is not a fantasy, she is an animal. If a female is not hairless, she is not young and pre-pubescent, therefore old and undesirable. How the placement of hair (and weight, on another note) determines the social treatment of females as humans or animals is a particular facet of misogyny that helps its’ identification.

The silent assignment of privileges contrasts violently with the spectacular consequences of not fulfilling these assignments. Through more exploration of these questions, this silence loses its hold and is eventually broken.

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3 Responses to Hair and Privilege

  1. emmettwynn says:

    I agree on many of your points, and what I find fascinating about this phenomenon is how deeply ingrained these conceptions of beauty are. For instance, I am aware of the oppressive nature of how for one to be considered femininely beautiful, their bodies must be hairless, but I cannot escape the fact that I do prefer that. I wish I could say that my rational mind could control to what I am attracted, but it cannot. Gendered norms of beauty appear to be so powerful as to resist rational modification. This is terrifying. Everything else I’ve been able to change. Am I weak? Am I to blame as perpetuating deleterious norms? These and more questions I ask whenever I realize how unfair that which I’m attracted to is.
    I have a question to pose to the two of you- do you see you man/woman/animal hierarchy as an extension or a substitution of Beauvoir’s Subject/Other dichotomy? It seems that, instead of “woman” being defined in opposition to one other, you have both “man” and “woman” defined in opposition to something else, which might be construed as “nature” or “natural.” That’s only one possibility, so I’m just asking what you think.

    • monicamrocha says:

      I think it’s near impossible to change what you are attracted to, even by reading the most convincing dissertation on the legitimacy of female body hair. I feel that this particular attraction works through a language of images than of words, so unless you started seeing photos of attractive people with body hair, it’s noble yet futile to try to change what you are attracted to.
      If you feel like it, flip through this. I’d be interesting to see what happens immediately then in a couple of days. wangclub.tumblr.com (women against nonessential grooming blog)

      It might be, and given that we have an intuitive social belief that we came from animals, there’s also the belief that man came from woman in the biological sense and in Judeo-Christian tradition. Perhaps we are defining ourselves from our origins as we understand them through these myths strained through a psycho-social lens as an exercise and exhibition of what we call free-will. Beauvoir’s subject/Other dichotomy could fit into this deifintion, though I suspect it wouldn’t be adequate.
      Thoughts?

  2. maddyzaleski says:

    Your statement at the end of paragraph 2 (“I suspect that….but of animals”) has held true in my personal experience. I stopped shaving sometime last year and my mom was horrified to see my hairy legs and armpits. I made no attempts to cover them, still wearing shorts and tank tops freely over the summer. She had a similar response to those that you had received. I believe her word to describe it was “uncivil.” I found it fascinating that seeing body hair on women you do not expect to see does not make them seem manly but gross, uncivil, or even unclean. Yet, when the male cross country team in my high school decided to shave their legs to increase their time there were jokes made about them being feminine or even gay. Why is it that when a women attempts to break from the societal standards of beauty she is uncivil but when a man does it he is feminine? It gives the idea that social hierarchy based on gender is set-up as: man-woman-animal.
    It is clear that our culture teaches women they must be polite, hygienic, etc. Apparently these things are what make us women civilized. I burp in public, show my hairy legs and armpits, talk about poop, and don’t care if I go a week without showering. I suppose some people would call me gross or uncivilized but I think the problem is not me but the unrealistic expectations placed on women by our society. Women may lose some privileges to being the bottom of our two-tiered gender system but we still have the freedom to break these gender norms if we aren’t afraid to be labeled as “uncivilized” or “savage.”

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