It’s summer now, which means that it’s time for the yearly ritual of unveiling my legs. A few times lately, people have complimented me on my brand of feminism—on being passionately feminist as well as charming, engaging—and they’ve said things like, “You know, because you shave your legs and everything.”
I’ve just smiled and nodded, but in fact, I don’t shave my legs, and haven’t since the spring of my first year in college, 15 years ago. I remember the decision as a real moment of clarity; I think I’ve always been someone who questions assumptions, and I’d begun avidly questioning gender role expectations. I realized, this shaving thing doesn’t make much sense. Men don’t shave their legs. What does it mean? Is it some kind of symbol of infantilized womanhood? So I stopped. And let me just point out that me not shaving is actually quite noticeable—I’m not one of those girls with diaphanous blonde leg hair who stop shaving but no one can tell. It made an impact.
The response of some of my friends was interesting. Several of them stopped shaving, too (although I believe they all eventually returned to it). Two friends—fairly thoughtful, culturally oppositional people—felt uncomfortable about this decision. They said, “Well, you’re just doing it because you’re not so good at shaving, right? It’s not political, right?” Of course it was political. Several people also pointed out that I might limit my potential dating pool, to which I responded—and I stand by this—that hairy legs are actually a great litmus test. Any guy who wouldn’t find me appealing with hair on my legs is not the kind of guy I’d want to hook up with anyway. And about eight months after that decision Walter Biffle bounced into my life, guitar in tow, and found me incredibly appealing, hairy legs and all (and has, in fact, never seen me with shaved legs).
But that’s not the moral of this story. There is no moral to this story. To tell the truth, since coming to
But I don’t think I can do it. I get to a point where I think, “Hmm, yeah, maybe I should just give up the fight and shave,” and then my analytical brain kicks in. Feminist philosopher Susan Bordo says, “The difficult issue, for me, is figuring out the meaning and consequences—both personal and political—of my actions. In having a face-lift or in having my ‘Jewish’ nose bobbed, what norms would I be servicing? What effect would those actions have on my sense of who I am? …On the values I am communicating to those who look up to me for guidance? On shaping, in my own small way, the culture of the future?”
And then I envision the actual process of shaving. It’s been fifteen years since I’ve done it, and the thought of buying a razor and getting in the tub with it and then scraping all my leg hair off just seems ridiculous.