In a time of immense social and political upheaval, it always amazes me that people have time to be worried about things like pubic hair. Truth is disintegrating and democracy is collapsing around us, but you’re worried about what shape my pubic hair is trimmed into? Weird flex, but okay.
The pubic hair debate is one that seems quite silly and trivial, but actually encompasses big questions about female autonomy, sexual expectation and our old friend, misogyny. To start with, let’s do a quick questionnaire to figure out if you get to have an opinion on what women do, aesthetically, to their vaginas. First of all, are you a medical professional, who sometimes needs to shave pubic hair out of necessity? Secondly, are you an omniscient, unchallengeable source of wisdom about what ‘beauty’ means? Thirdly, are you a woman? If you answered ‘yes’ to any those questions, congrats you’re in the gang. If you didn’t, your opinion about what I do with my body hair is about as relevant as goldfish’s opinion on whether Brexit means Brexit.
The pubic hair debate always enrages me because it feels like pocket sized misogyny. It’s lurking there, just out of sight, and it sounds unimportant and funny when your male friends, or brainwashed female friends say ‘oh, but it’s just dirty when women don’t shave’ or ‘I only fuck girls who are clean shaven’ or ‘it just looks so much nicer.’
Let’s be real meta for a second and remember that our aesthetic values are constructed, validated and maintained by the patriarchy. A lot of things that men (and women) think are individual sexual preferences are aesthetic ‘norms’ that rest on the male gaze and misogynistic sexual expectation. You only like thin girls? You think girls with short hair aren’t feminine enough? You only date men over six foot? Those things feel like preferences, but they’re often ideals of gender normative beauty that you have been taught. Male babies don’t slip out of the womb and start crying at the sight of female pubic hair.
Lots of our aesthetic preferences are drummed into us, and pubic hair is an extreme example. You have to actively look for porn where woman have pubic hair. And of course, male actors in porn are often clean shaven, but I’ve never heard a woman express that she wouldn’t sleep with someone who doesn’t shave. Porn has a lot to answer for, and teaching men that’s alright to expect women to be hairless is one of its biggest faults.
When you think about the language people use when discussing pubic hair, it becomes clear that these aren’t cases of individual people expressing innocent, unbiased preferences. The idea that it isn’t ‘clean’ is, scientifically, absolute nonsense. We have hair there to protect us from getting disease. Just like eyebrows, pubic hair exists to keep sensitive parts of our body clean. Also, just for the record, the vagina is a self-cleaning organ and it does a very good job. It amazes me that men who probably don’t do their dishes until small ecosystems have started growing on them become beacons of cleanliness when it comes to the female body.
The pubic hair debacle often falls into another problematic narrative arc, which is the idea that you are a ‘bad feminist’ if you do shave. Feminism is about choice, and let’s give women the benefit of the doubt when it comes to what makes them feel most confident. Does shaving your legs align with patriarchal expectations? Oh boy, does it. Do I shave my legs because it makes me feel sexy and also extremely smooth, like a dolphin, and do I also make people touch my freshly shaved legs so they can make noises of appreciation? Hell yeah. Am I bad feminist? I don’t think so, because ultimately, women can make free choices that happen to align with patriarchal standards without supporting those standards in and of themselves. Let women do what they want with their own bodies and trust that we are clever enough to decide what feminism means to us.
Most importantly, the female body is subject to one master alone, and that is the female entity that occupies it. The idea that men get to decide what women do with their body hair is fundamentally sexist in itself – it would be sexist for a man to tell a woman that she shouldn’t shave. I frankly don’t want to hear any vagina based chat unless it’s sheer, unadulterated adoration. Men who think that they get to decide what vaginas look like shouldn’t be allowed within ten feet of one until they learn to at the most, grow up, and at the least, be quiet.