When I was growing up, I always wondered why my mother shaved her legs, and would say that her legs felt like rose bushes. In young womanhood, most of the women around me and all the women in the media removed their underarm and leg hair. By my limited, mainstream exposure to what patriarchal society defines as woman, I felt pressured to shave my legs and armpits, and did so for a few years.
When I was 19 years old, I started volunteering at a local feminist rape crisis centre and transition house (refuge), where I interacted with many strong, outspoken, passionate, and courageous women, who presented themselves in a multitude of ways. In addition to meeting many different women, I read plenty of feminist theory, telling the reality of women’s lives, including Andrea Dworkin’s ‘Woman Hating’. Dworkin states, “In our culture, not one part of a woman’s body is left untouched, unaltered. No feature or extremity is pared the art, or pain, of improvement.” (Dworkin, ‘Woman Hating’, p. 113).
I realized that women’s body hair removal is simply a patriarchal society’s invention (among many others), and one way to keep women occupied with their appearance, rather than fighting for their liberation.
I decided to stop shaving. Though I am self-conscious about it at times, I continue to fight this patriarchal socialization, and embrace my body hair. I hope the girls and women I meet will realize their do have a choice about body hair removal, and I hope the boys and men will respect this choice.
This article was written by SFN member Natalie Wlock, originally published in Pandora Press #5. Natalie is a radical feminist who has volunteered and worked in a collectively run feminist rape crisis centre and transition house (refuge).