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Body-Hair Backlash: Why Women Need to Pick Their Battles Wisely

Posted: 19/10/2012 00:00

It feels like feminism is having a moment doesn't it? From the buzz around Lena Dunham's HBO drama Girls to Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard's angry speech against sexism and patriarchy, there's definitely something in the air.

Perhaps that's why female body hair has been everywhere recently, both in a debate that's been bubbling away for months and, quite literally, all over women's bodies. But is a debate about the rights and wrongs of hair-removal in danger of alienating a new generation of women who don't relate to the old bra-burning feminist stereotypes?

In case you missed it, the body hair brigade has been out in force recently: in August we had Armpits4August raising awareness and money for ovarian cancer, the new kids on the feminist block at the Vagenda blog have been ditching their razors and Emer O'Toole appeared "bravely" on This Morning bearing her underarm hair.

The debate has so far centred on the idea that women, while perhaps innocently shaving and waxing our limbs and lady bits, have actually been manipulated by a powerful beauty industry to endure painful, time-consuming and costly hair removal. Should we instead be embracing our body hair? There are certainly some vocal feminists who think the answer is yes.

I like to think of myself as one of a new generation of feminists and I'm proud to use the 'f' word to describe myself. I'm also quite a girly girl. I love red lipstick and doing flicky eyeliner, I sometimes wear dresses with frills and bows on them and I really do like pink. Does all this, and the fact that I sometimes shave my legs, mean I'm not allowed to be a proper feminist?

Debate that pits (get it?) women against each other, even if that's not the intended outcome, based on their lifestyle choices surely can't be called feminist? There is, after all, a scale on issues such as these. I shave my legs but I wouldn't get plastic surgery, for example. As we've seen with the ongoing debate about page 3, all too often we end up attacking women and their choices which surely isn't productive.

This tension between the feminist and feminine isn't new. In my scientific research (talking to my mum and her friends) they told me that, back in the day, they were regularly told off at feminist marches for wearing make-up. Bit counter-productive, yes? There are a lot of young women today who, like me, care about women's rights and place in society but who also like to be feminine.

While it's great to encourage women to break away from the pressures to look a certain way, dictated by razor companies urging us to reveal our inner goddess or mermaid or whatever, equally we must refrain from forcing another kind of conformity on women: that of the feminist ideals of the day.

The pressure on women to aspire to unattainable ideals of beauty is clearly a huge issue but we are battling on many fronts: against government ministers with huge power using women's bodies as a political bargaining chip, right-wing think tanks arguing for maternity leave to be scrapped altogether, and using our precious energy trying to explain to a man who pretended to be a domesticated animal on TV, what rape is (I'm looking at you George Galloway).

I for one am excited that feminism is undergoing something of a 're-brand' and women who didn't consider themselves as feminists are now claiming the word as one to be proud of. Let's not put them off by making them feel bad about wanting smooth legs on a sunny day. We need as many women on side as possible to fight the injustices that still rage. Let's instead pick our battles wisely and support each other, hair or no hair.

 

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