My Friend James from Atlanta, Georgia, had chosen to shave his legs (yep, with a razor) as an assignment for his Women Studies' course. He kindly gave me the permission to repost his experience with photos. He might also pop in to answer questions and debate with ya'll. I salute James and his courage to carry out this project. It's high time we examine the gender issues we take for granted.
Enough of my babble, here we go:
For the gender project assignment, I couldn’t really decide what to do. As a man who identifies as a full-fledged feminist, and has done so well before this class, it was hard for me to find something that would put me outside of my comfort zone. I already don’t believe that masculine and feminine are even labels that we should embrace, as I tried emphatically showing the very first day by standing in the middle of the chalkboard. If I want to dance ballet, it should not be considered feminine; likewise, if a woman wants to play football, she shouldn’t be considered a Tom Boy. I’ve worn dresses; I’ve worn high heels; I’ve worn skirts; I’ve worn makeup; I’ve worn bras; my ears are pierced (although most of those things were done during Rocky Horror or Powder Puff). The one thing I hadn’t done, surprisingly, is shave my legs.
This change seemed to be the most appropriate for me because a.) I’ve already stepped out many times, as I’ve stated, and b.) I didn’t think anyone else would do this. I also decided to do this because lately I’ve read articles regarding women and shaving their pubic region. In today’s society, it is a guarantee that women will shave their legs, or else they’ll be seen as unkempt, gross, dirty, lesbian, or even the f-word (in the pejorative sense, of course). The goal posts are moving even farther and now women are expected to be totally clean-shaven in the pubic area, especially with the growing spread of internet pornography for what women should look like naked (I happen to be a “sex-positive” feminist, in that some pornography is ok, but that’s for another time). Although there’s some pressure on men to also be shaven, in my own experiences, I’ve seen it to be more of the man’s choice rather than pressure from his partners. In the case for women, I believe it to be the opposite. This seemed like low-hanging fruit just ready to be grabbed.
Before the day started, I didn’t expect much. People usually don’t look down when you’re walking; they look straight into your eyes—or your chest if you’re a woman. So with respect to other people, I didn’t expect to turn any heads or raise any eyebrows. As for me, I didn’t have many expectations about the entire experience, either. I just thought that it was going to be an annoyance more than anything, as I’ve frequently heard women complain about shaving. The women I interact with regularly are also feminists, so I expected positive reactions from them.
Sure enough, as the day went on, I didn’t even notice one person who looked at my legs or said something about them. I specifically wore shorts to highlight that they were shaved, too. It took a surprisingly long time to shave them, but I suppose if you’ve never done it before and it’s long that it won’t take a short while. At the end of the day I took pictures and posted them on my Facebook account to see many of my girlfriends comment approvingly. No guys really commented, which sort of surprised me. I half-expected some sort of homophobic statement from at least one guy and didn’t get it. Perhaps they didn’t notice the photo album.
What did poke out to me, though, was that if a woman decided to do the opposite of me, as in not shave her legs, I guarantee that heads would be turned. So while I didn’t expect anyone to really notice, it was a poke at gender not just because men traditionally do not shave their legs, but for the gross hypocrisy of what would happen if women didn’t do it. Sure, some people might make fun of the guy for shaving his legs, but a woman would be treated as an outcast.
As to gender in and of itself, I believe almost all of it to be a social construct. There are some biological differences in the brain, to be sure, but they’re very small and trivial at best. I was brought up as a boy, and I know that throughout my childhood I was constantly being hammered by male-affirmative messages and biases, and I think it's obvious that girls were also hit with lots of their gender-specific cultural influences.For example, a few months ago I saw in a Toys ‘R Us catalog listing children’s telescopes and microscopes with three different colors: pink, black and gray. The pink one, however, was the weakest in strength and ability. Obviously, a social message is being conditioned for how people think. A color that’s known to society as feminine and girly means you aren’t as concerned about utility of the equipment in science, and are more concerned about appearances. People often wonder why there aren’t as many women in engineering and science—my discipline—so the first thought was that women simply couldn’t handle that hard thinking stuff. It couldn’t be all of these gender roles being shoved into our faces since we were young children, not at all.
I think the reason for a lot of the arguments regarding social vs. biological is comfort and laziness. There is inequality in this world, and it’s just easier and takes less effort to just say “It’s obvious why things are the way they are, WE’RE BORN DIFFERENT!” I think a lot of these biological arguments also stem from the social conditioning aspect. For example, women are thought to understand emotions better than men simply because they’re more compassionate and empathetic. After all, in public policy polling, women are usually more anti-war, empathize with the plight of the poor more, and incidentally also vote more Democratic. So it must be our biological differences, right?
No, it is the result of social conditioning to pay attention to these things more. Women being more in tune with their emotions could be true in the sense that our environments often remind women they should be good at it and remind men they should be bad at it. That doesn’t mean that men are actually bad at it, but it is society reminding us that “this is how things are, so just accept it.” To wit, when women are taught that men are “hard-wired” to deal with math better than they are, rather than trying to work against this stereotype they simply accept it because how on Earth can they fight their own biology? You know, if women tried thinking too hard, their brains would overheat and they would get hysterical, or something.
So you have a perpetual sexist cycle going on here: there aren’t many women in hard scientific fields; biology prone people say it’s because men are better or that women aren’t interested because it’s how they’re hard-wired; women believe they’re hard-wired to fail at science and become disillusioned with trying harder, basically “proving” the biological argument; and then the cycle repeats.
This cycle needs to end, and it starts with people throwing aside this ridiculous argument that gender comes solely, or even mostly, from biology.