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Feminism and Pubic Hair: Don't Purge the Verge

08/12/2014 14:50 GMT | Updated 04/02/2015 10:59 GMT

In Tajikistan it's considered a thing of beauty to have one's eyebrows fuse in courageous rendezvous above the bridge of one's nose. Locally the monobrow is more a creature of myth, a shadow of the days before vanity whose memory returns occasionally in the guise of a mischievous stray hair I remove frantically in the bathroom mirror. Hair politics plays a greater role in our lives than we think: 'Trim that!' 'Wax this!' 'Dye those bits!' 'Grow this out!'--this is a vocabulary with which we're all familiar, and one symptomatic of an unwritten creed on where we should and should not sprout our protein filaments.

Particularly topical is the matter of vagina hair (or lack thereof). Were we to glance back to the 1990s we'd see a landscape bristled with many a hairy cooch, and comfortably so, for they were then deemed an inevitable feature of the female body. Nowadays they're more an endangered species, teetering atop the precipice from which the monobrow was hurled sometime during the late Stone Age. Ostensibly our culture supports the emancipation of women, but beyond that veil of what we're all-too-British to discuss there may be something unpleasant at work. To quote spiritual guru Kim Kardashian, 'A woman should only have hair on her head,' right?

Before I make for my political agenda it's worth dismantling the salient myth that's been tailing hairless vaginas for years: that they're more hygienic. They're not. As Emily Gibson said back in 2012, pubic hair's got a job to do: it's essentially battle armour for the groin, built to protect your majestic privates from the filthy critters of your sexual catalogue. In all seriousness, it serves as an effective bulwark against friction and chafing, not to mention its powers to keep your nether-regions dry and odourless. Its removal, on the other hand, leaves you with a set of wet, sore, and smelly genitals further prone to infections of all varieties, and worst of all resembling that of a pre-pubescent child.

So why do women do it? Besides the 'hygiene myth,' which can't seriously be a motivating factor considering we're not seeing women shaving their heads for the sake of cleanliness, the reasons appear to be socio-political. It would be easy here to link the hairless cooch with the recurring theme of most female beauty trends: the adulation of youth. But 'youth' in most aesthetic contexts earns its significance in its affiliation with fertility. A young, fertile female makes for easy mating, a safer birth, and a mother fresh enough to stick around for the kids afterwards. But hairless vaginas hardly scream 'fertility!' considering pubic hair tends to sprout before the development of the breasts and almost always prior to menstruation.

So what are we missing? What characterises an underage girl if not her impregnability? The simple answer is her weakness. She's young, both physically and mentally undeveloped, and in no position to pose a threat to an adult male. In truth I don't think it'd be fair to suggest most or even some men find this appealing in any sort of conscious way; rather it's worth acknowledging that the desire for a loyal, subservient, and above all pliable female partner is deeply entrenched in the male psyche. It translates occasionally into gay culture: the large, heteronormative 'tops' tend to pursue the smaller 'bottoms' who conform to nuanced versions of female beauty standards, i.e. waxed, bleached, and heavily moisturised botties. The power-play is the same, and works under the same complex scheme of subliminal signalling.

The shaved vagina, in addition to being an open landing-strip for STIs, is in many ways a white flag to the patriarchy. It's a demonstration of weakness, a weakness associated with those who've yet to acquire the full strength of womanhood, and plays directly into the hand of this nasty 'sub-dom' intergender dynamic people are convinced they enjoy in a 'non-misogynist way.' Sexual tastes are hopelessly tied up with personal validation, and the need to tear your hair follicles from your skin in a ludicrous act of self-flagellation, for the sake of making the patriarchy feel a bit more comfortable, is something I'm struggling to see in a feminist light.

If we reverse the pre-adolescent weakness of the glabrous girl, we might make another discovery: the power of hair. There's a reason our horridly gender-normative grandparents exhorted young boys to finish their crusts in interest of chest hair, and that's because it's a universal symbol of strength. It suggests age, experience, development, maturity, not to mention greater insulation for when the Ice Age rolls in. I'd like to see women wear their fur like a medal of honour, a dark and tangled mess that symbolises the years she's had and the experiences she got out of them. Womanhood is glorious, it's natural, and it's very hairy.