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The Hairy Feminist Manifesto: Reasserting the Rules of the Sisterhood

27/05/2015 11:36 BST | Updated 22/05/2016 10:59 BST

Describing herself as the kind of feminist who is 'shavy-leggy, fashion-fixated, wrinkle-averse [and] weight-conscious', this week Polly Vernon has declared that she will 'rewrite the sisterhood rules' with her 'Hot Feminist Manifesto'. Thankfully, feminism doesn't need Polly Vernon to make women's liberation accessible to the masses - that happened a long time ago. Much to Vernon's astonishment, and to the detriment of her impending book sales, it's generally accepted that you can be a feminist and still indulge in hair removal, earn a living as a sex worker or eat lettuce. Thankfully, modern feminism is an incredibly broad church, welcoming the likes of Taylor Swift alongside the old guard such as Andrea Dworkin. Jessica Valenti was correct to point out that the caricature of 'hairy-legged, flannel shirt wearing' feminists is now largely irrelevant.

In fact, all you really need to do to be a feminist is follow two simple steps. Firstly - and this one is kind of a deal breaker - you've got to be on board with the idea of gender equality. Secondly, you've got to be intersectional in your feminism. That means aiming not only to advance equality for able-bodied, cisgender white women, but to strive to liberate those who are oppressed by varying structures of inequality. And that's all there is to it. No one's going to rip up your membership card if you shave your legs or go on a diet. The reality is that feminism is all about choice, or more specifically giving choices to women even if you don't make them yourself. Whilst Polly Vernon may not choose to cast off the shackles of socially constructed femininity, I still have the choice to do so - and that's great.

So, whilst I would never deny that you can be a feminist and still have a Brazilian wax, that doesn't necessarily mean we should stop challenging the societal pressures implicit in several aspects of Vernon's 'Hot Feminist Manifesto'. Whilst one waxed vagina won't significantly set feminism back, it also fails to challenge essentialist notions about femininity and accepted portrayals of beauty. Ripping out all your public hair would certainly prove to be a hard sell if you factored out decades of societal pressure that have led women to naturalise the idea that their ordinary bodies are grotesque. When you consider the context within which these decisions are made, it becomes clear that Polly Vernon's choices are undoubtedly taking place within the wider structure of a society that still does not value women equally.

Whilst women have won key rights, true equality is undoubtedly still to be achieved. Despite significant advances in women's liberation, gender subordination remains, just in a stealthier form. For example; I have the right to abort, but I am still afraid to walk home alone at night; I have the right to own property, but I am still more likely to be assigned to a life of domesticity after childbirth; I have the right to vote, yet I am still dismissed in debates by my male counterparts. These are the kinds of issues that are most commonly dismissed as molehills, but which mount up to fortify gender inequality. Certain rights have been hard-won, but essentialist notions of gender roles remain. Perhaps, contrary to even my assertions, a militant and uncompromising feminism is becoming necessary to ensure that we don't allow new boundaries to arise where old ones were knocked down.