Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Hair Power

[I wrote this essay for an English class in 1993. I have posted it here as a contrast to my present domesticity. Although I would dearly love to edit it, I have presented it in its original form.]

I’m a woman. I don’t shave my legs. No big deal, right? European women don’t shave their legs or their armpits. Still, I have experienced a wide range of reactions varying from laughter to admiration to outright disgust. Why is this so? What is the big deal? It’s just hair. I think the strong response is due to the way women are portrayed in our culture: Powerless.
Jean Kilbourne, in her video "Still Killing us Softly," discusses the way advertising presents women. One of the themes in advertising is that of innocence being desirable. Women are often portrayed in ads as innocent and childlike; relatively hairless, smooth-skinned, large-eyed. Sometimes children are used in ads for adult products; with faces carefully painted with cosmetics, hair sprayed and teased. The message sent out is clear, to stay like a little girl with no knowledge of the real world and therefore powerless and dependent. As women age, they make efforts to stay closer to the physical ideal of innocence, not realizing the insidious connotations. Imperfect skin is disguised with cosmetics, legs are shaved, bikini lines waxed. Little girls, after all, don’t have a forest of dark hair on their calves. Little girls also aren’t powerful. They stay at home playing “house.” Isn’t that where “innocent” women should be?
Just as worldliness is power, so is masculinity. Men run the world. This is obvious no matter how you try to delude yourself. It’s true that we’ve had the feminine revolution, and women are now accepted in the workplace. Still, though, the working woman is still seen as a passive, sexual object. Fashion trends for the office feature short skirts and transparent blouses. Sexual harassment in the office is a huge problem. Women make less money for doing the same job as a man does. Despite all this, the modern office is made out to be a place of equal opportunity where men and women are treated the same. But I dare any woman in an office to quit shaving her legs and wait for her boss to notice. Depending on the employer, I’d say the response would be for her to do anything from shaving her legs to wearing nothing but long pants or she loses the job or perhaps get stuck in a back office where no clientele would see her. Sexual discrimination? In a sense, yes. Women are forced to be feminine, dependent. Hairy legs are masculine, and therefore powerful.
Women are taught from early on to shun power. This is how they have been manipulated so into believing innocence and femininity are desirable. We are taught to avoid masculinity at all costs. My little sister’s reaction to the hair on my legs was: “EEEEWWW, gross. You look like a boy!” “So,” was my response. She couldn’t tell me what was wrong with being boyish because she doesn’t consciously know. The concept of masculinity, thus power, being undesirable to women has slithered into our culture and has a strangling hold on us. A powerful woman is a “pushy bitch.” The same trait in a man makes him a “real go-getter.” Women aren’t portrayed as smart or having the power that comes with that. The new Teen Talk Barbie says: “Math is hard!” True, the phrases programmed into the doll were taken from actual teenagers, but this excuses nothing; it only reveals another, deeper layer to the problem. Through a programmed aversion to it, power is denied women.
In a small way, having hairy legs gives me power. I’m not afraid to look masculine and I’m not afraid to look worldly. If I’m more knowledgeable on a subject than a man, I’m not afraid to speak up and correct him. Not shaving my legs is a visible way to present an abstract idea. It’s a small protest to living in a world where power is available to women, but they have learned not to take it.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Uh, Kasmira . . . perhaps it only SEEMS like you're still having gender-identity issues in reading what you've written. You are allowed to enjoy/covet/desire any small appliance you want. Maybe it only SOUNDS like you are rationalizing/justifying.

Point: you entered your essay on your blog with some qualification. I really like your essay. You write so very well! Maybe it only SEEMS that you still hold the truths in your essay to be self-evident. I hope so.


If you chose never to shave again, (whether you like it or not) I would always find you very feminine. (keep in mind the term 'feminist')

At 12, my daughter is already shaving, which is her choice and her right. We both suggested otherwise, but trust her judgement, and respect her decision.

At 12, my daughter has perhaps more power than I, her father, socially and at home.

The term 'wife' is not easily digestible in our household. My 'wife' is appreciative of and is enjoying the efforts made by countless women throughout American history to make sexual equality a reality, though, sadly, it still is not.

The media professes to simply mirror social mores and priorities, but this is a LIE! the media purposely does much to maintain every kind of stereotype out there! For example, TV commercials still have male voice-over telling housewives what to do and buy.

I wish all positions of authority and power currently being held by men were transferred to women.

Of all the weapons of mass destruction, chemical warfare, etc., the absolute most dangerous, most insideous, and most prolific, chemical that exists is TESTOSTERONE!


8:12 PM  

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