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Davis, California

Thursday, October 28, 2021

(Re)Fashioning Gender: The Hairy Truth

As proven by the sudden abundance of scraggly beards and hair just long enough to pull into man buns, No-Shave November is officially in full swing. In addition to raising cancer awareness, this month-long event has another side effect. Hair – whether it’s on your head, your face, or your body – can be as much of a fashion statement as the clothes you choose to wear. On the other hand, if individuals choose to defy the gender binary and either keep or remove hair from places that it’s generally expected to be, there may be other implications that are largely related to socially constructed gender stereotypes.

If women participate in No-Shave November, for example, it can become less of a fashion statement and more of a social commentary about how rigid and confining gender roles can be. The same goes for men who choose to remove hair from places like their legs, armpits, etc. The choice to go against the norm when it comes to one’s own body hair – whether or not it’s out of a conscious effort to make any kind of statement at all – is an inherent refusal to participate in a heteronormative stereotype that largely influences our society.

It has somehow become commonplace, at least in North America, to relate the absence of hair to femininity and the appearance of hair to masculinity. But it’s important to address the idea that this is just a socially constructed concept. Women are not born wishing for smooth, hairless bodies, nor are men born dreaming of the ability to grow full beards or hairy chests. Rather, these notions only come about after years of exposure to all kinds of normative influences, which make up a kind of collective dialogue about gender roles. The problem with this is that many people might participate in this dialogue without necessarily being critical of why that is.

For example, most girls I know, myself included, began shaving their legs and armpits around the age of 12, which is way before I even knew what the hell a gender role was. So was I removing my body hair because I had some kind of ingrained hatred for it? Not at all — it was more about doing what was expected of me. All of my friends were doing it, the women in magazines were doing it, even my mom was doing it — so why wouldn’t I? That’s a question that may not be asked very frequently. As a result of that, expectations about gender are misconstrued as natural, validating the stereotypes that make up gender roles.

In the case of body hair, these stereotypes revolve around the idea of perfectly hairless (and perfectly altered) bodies for women and affluently hairy bodies for men. I’ve talked to girls who say they shave because it feels “cleaner” and boys who say they would never shave because hair feels “manlier,” which seems to indicate a pretty big divergence between the ways women and men perceive their own bodies. While women typically view their hair as a negative, dirty aspect of themselves, men view theirs as a positive, desirable one — and if either gender chooses to transgress that perspective, it becomes scandalous.

That stigma around hairy women and hairless men implies obligations for both genders to maintain. Furthermore, it creates a dichotomous perception of gender, which is extremely constricting. So this No-Shave November, I urge you to participate with a mindset that accepts all types of gender expression — hairy or not.

To reach CHELSEA SPILLER, email her at ctspiller@ucdavis.edu.

 

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