Painting describing all the different types of tragic moustaches that one starts to see whenever Movember comes around again.

Really, New Scientist?

I do like New Scientist, its a good round up of what’s going on. In the issue from 30/01/2016 (issue number 3058), they published a letter on p55 which struck me as particularly off putting.

After some considerable thought, I’ve decided it’s not annoying, it’s not even a bad letter, the writer is making a struggling attempt to redress what they see as an injustice. I can see where the person who wrote it was going with it, but really what strikes me is that they did not delve enough into their assumptions and did not question their own logic. This stuff happens all the time. This is not unusual, but I’m going to use it as an example of entrenched attitudes that seriously are tiresome and damaging.

The Letter:

Hair today

Adrian Barnett suggests that the current trend for beards is an assertion of masculinity in the face of feminism (19/26 December 2016, p67). is not, then, time for woman to claim the same rights?

If facial hair is a sign of adulthood in men, why can’t leg hair carry the same badge of honour for women?

Social pressure imposes clean-shaven legs on Western adult females, despite the fact that this renders them permanently pre-pubescent.
When I question this I am told that men do not find hairy legged women attractive.

Are we to conclude that men prefer women who resemble under-age girls? Why can men decide to reclaim masculinity yet definitions of femininity remain so misconstrued and distorted?”

*

the annual tragedy of movember small

Ok, lets go through this and break it down a bit and see what’s wrong here.

“Adrian Barnett suggests that the current trend for beards is an assertion of masculinity in the face of feminism (19/26 December 2016, p67). is not, then, time for woman to claim the same rights?”

I actually have not heard this idea behind the trend before. There is a lot of discussion on the internet about it, many examples, there are actually quite an interesting series of discussions out there.

So this writer has assumed that men have ‘claimed rights’ about body hair – and women do not do the same thing, and questions why not.

Wearing a beard is a sign of a number of things in men. Fashion (think the Ned Kelly Beards), individuality (shaving into interesting shapes) hiding of flabby chins, laziness, dislike of shaving, comfort, warmth, dominance, liking the look, etc. Possibly some men might think ‘this makes me a MAN’ because hair on the face is dominant male characteristic. Think of Movember, when a third of the adult population get all excited about growing a mustache for charity. They don’t do it for charity, they do it because they want to see how they look with a mo, and if everyone does it at the same time for a good reason, it’s not something they will be picked on for.

“If facial hair is a sign of adulthood in men, why can’t leg hair carry the same badge of honour for women?”

Interesting one to pick. For a start, women and men both get leg hair. It’s not a unique female characteristic, as a beard is for a man, it’s a mammalian characteristic that is common to all mammals, like humans.

Characteristics that women have that men do not is a lack of strong facial hair, breasts, and a vagina. We can add in less muscle mass in there too.  The most obvious and prominent female characteristic women tend to have that is seen as ‘unique’, in regards to hair, is how they wear and style their head hair -women expect and do pay more for haircuts for example – women’s hair is perceived as worth more than a mans hair. Women also tend not to lose hair and go bald as some men do. THAT is very much the only point of biological difference.

If we look in trends of head hair, think of the ‘man bun’ – men with long hair putting it up in a bun, a very traditional way for women to wear their long hair to stop it getting in the way. Styling is no longer unique for genders as it once was.

Western women are expected to get tend to the following thick hair if it is going to be visible in public : leg, underarm, stomach, pubic region, upper lip, and between eyebrow (and if you’re not lightly haired and living in western society, also arm hair). I find it interesting that in the above letter, the body part that women are suggested  to pick for a thick visible hair ‘badge of honour’, is a region that in a huge chunk of women will be hidden by clothing much of the time as women wear pants a lot. Leg hair is only seen if someone is not in pants/leggings/boots, and  in shorts, short skirts or swimming. Men’s facial hair is seen ALL THE TIME.

The only equivalent thing I can think of for women to stop/start doing is ‘stop wearing makeup’ or ‘grow your lady mo or eyebrows’ – and this is done pretty regularly any way.

I am at a loss to think of an equivalent, biological,  ‘badge of honour’ that any woman can do to equal the growth of a beard.

“Social pressure imposes clean-shaven legs on Western adult females, despite the fact that this renders them permanently per-pubescent. “

I think they might actually mean “Social pressure imposes clean-shaven legs,underarm, stomach, pubic region, upper lip, arm and between eyebrow hair on Western adult females, despite the fact that this renders them permanently per-pubescent”.

Hair taboo and hair acceptance is a trend that also comes and goes. It’s gone very much to extremes of removal of hair at the moment –  hairlessness in porn is confusing the matter, but before porn there was plenty of artists throughout the renaissance who left out hair on nudes.  It seems there has always been a distate of haired women in western society. Getting rid of all visible body hair other than head hair, and whether this renders women per-pubesecent, is again a whole nother topic I may go into one day when I’ve sorted through my head about what it means and done some more research. I think that’s a can of worms and I can’t be flippant about it so I’m going to consider it for another post.

Also, you should totally read this article about how utterly off it is if you’re referring to woman as ‘females’. Female is an adjective not a noun. It is degrading. This is why Star Trek got their Ferengi, the most horrifyingly openly sexist race, to call women ‘females’. Ferengi females were forced to stay in the home, naked, kept by their men – and were not allowed to make profit. This in a star faring race. It made for many an ‘amusing’ episode –  and was addressed finally and seriously in the last season of DS9. (I digress, into Star Trek. EVERYTHING TURNS INTO STAR TREK EVENTUALLY!)

“When I question this i am told that men do not find hairy legged women attractive.”

Wait, what? A women’s ‘badge of honour’ is how men find them attractive or not? What is this person actually trying to say or argue? When did this become about what men want?
There is a deeply entrenched social meme that has stated, and EVERYONE goes along with, that ‘visibly hairy legs on women are ugly’. It’s way more complicated than men not finding women’s legs attractive, it’s a collective agreement in our society that women find their own legs ugly with dark thick hair on them and purchase the products they need to deal with it. It’s in a lot of people’s best interest to keep this going. There is a lot of money in the world spent on beauty products. 4 Billion turnover a year in Australia alone is massive.

The image presented to women of the sort of beauty a woman should aim for,  is very much a shared, created, faked, idealistic, un-achievable standard that has billions of advertising dollars behind it. It is pushed at everyone all the time. You cannot escape seeing it, you can probably escape doing it, and you have to ‘grow a thick skin’ to avoid mind being taunted or shamed over spurning it.

Every model, known personality, and TV star who is a woman, shaves and plucks and trims bits of them to fit into that standard so they are not mocked or shamed.  Advertising tells you the best things to pay for that will help you to this goal. Women (and, many men in regards to their own body hair etc,), agree. Thus, it’s the norm.

A huge part of this comes from capitalism, the need to sell a product to make someone ‘feel better’. Problems are invented by companies who want profit. It happens that playing to various traditional weaknesses of both genders works for this, and we get this self-enforcing, positive feedback loop of dream creation/dream selling,where people find it hard to step back and go wait, what is going  on here?

Individuals often reject bits of the collective norm, it’s hard to do and you have to see the norm as toxic to do so. That is hard to do, and I cannot blame anyone for missing it or not seeing it.

People also live in this society and you do have to follow rules in order to actually have a realistically comfortable life. Ie, you must be clean and neat in order to attend a workplace, to earn money to pay for food/shelter. This means you must wash, you must buy and maintain clothes, you must have a minimum standard of grooming – and from the agreement this is true, they can edge in other products (fashion, grooming products, higher standards, goals).  Women are expected to groom a bit more by wearing a varied range of clothing – but it’s not mandatory. Men in offices are expected to wear long sleeves and suits on even very hot days, and they have a series of set styles and colours they can wear without also being mocked.  Outside offices, there are uniforms or at least uniform appearances you have to maintain to be allowed to function at a job. It’s very insidious and it’s there in every bit of our lives. Society accepts that, and also builds on it.

This all goes way, way beyond men’s sexual agenda, and the repression of women’s right to choose to not remove hair that men dislike –  it goes into those society imposed rules that everyone follows so they don’t get shamed. Yes, this wrong, yes, we should be pointing out or exposing this as total nonsense; we need to think beyond the concept of “women’ want to please men” and say “society is toxic for all genders and oppresses women and minorities the most” and look at why and what we can do about it.

“Are we to conclude that men prefer women who resemble under-age girls? Why can men decide to reclaim masculinity yet definitions of femininity remain so misconstrued and distorted?”

I don’t conclude that first sentence at all from any of these statements, this is a simplistic argument not well presented, possibly there was context cut from the letter which would have made it make a bit more logical sense. We cannot conclude that from this argument. Sexualising of small girls is very much a thing that does occur, and I’m not going to start talking about that in this post.

The last question is the interesting one though. It makes the assumption that only femininity is distorted, and men are ‘allowed’ to do stuff.

Men don’t need to reclaim masculinity.

The whole western world is drenched in misogyny and male dominated power structures, there is nothing to reclaim. ‘Reclaim’ would imply a power that they had that is lost or was taken, that they want back. Male dominated society still has most of the power.   This is why there is a movement called ‘feminism’. To equalise the balance.

Women can only do well if they work by the rules set up and maintained by 2000 years of catering for male needs wants, and desires. Masculinity is the standard the world is set up for, women are (still) trying to claim equality,  a voice,  representation that is fair – and some men find that a threat and push back. A better question here would be around why some men think they have lost the power struggle for dominance of masculinity because they can no longer effectively silence the voices of those they’ve spent oppressing and silencing. And why a beard makes them feel better about that. I’M A POWERFUL MAN SEE MY BEARD?

Wearing a beard may be satisfying for a few men who feel threatened by the impact of women speaking out more, sure. And probably it’s a trend that will vanish and horrify the children of those people in years to come when they see what their parents looked like when they were younger.

Definitions of femininity are surely misconstrued and distorted, but so are definitions of men. Women are the weaker sex, the hysterical sex, the pretty sex, the slutty sex, the should-be-there-for-my-viewing-pleasure sex, the emotional sex. Men are the logical sex, the powerful sex, the protecting sex, the leader sex, the competent sex, the strong sex, the muscly sex.  It’s twisted and weird and horrid and entrenched. Everyone needs to be able to step back and look at the assumptions.

Everything you say about gender and like and looks, look at the assumptions. QUESTION EVERYTHING!  I make assumptions all the time, but I’ve realised that I do this. That’s what I’m posting for.