September 20, 2008
Representations of Feminism–Putting on my Hairy Legged Feminist Pants
I have been absolutely fascinated by this discussion (started by Lauredhel) on Hoyden About Town about this opinion piece (written by Monica Dux) in The Age.
While reading the discussion I decided that I really needed to make a ‘hairy legged feminist’ icon. An ‘unfeminine monster’ icon seemed quite appealing as well. It started out as a simple task–I considered taking a photo of my own hairy legs, or finding a CC-licensed image on flickr to use as the focus of the icon, but decided against that idea based on my recent work about the problematic practice of cutting up of women’s bodies with photography. Another option was to use a hairy legged spider, but decided against that because of the possible negative interpretation. Instead I chose to make myself a pair of hairy legged feminist pants. I still haven’t made the icon, but I now have an awesome pair of hairy legged feminist muppet skin pants!
I made them using faux fur for the legs and a t-shirt waist band using a similar method to the one I used for my bias cut skirt. In order to highlight the hairy leggedness of the pants I added the waist band very low on the hips and cut a ‘v’ shape into the back, making them stretch cotton on the waist, hips and bottom.
While I was at the opp-shop looking for a recycled t-shirt to make the waist band out of I found this gem, which perfectly matched the bright blue fur:
A quick hack of the diamante L O and E and I had the perfect feminist embellishment:
But enough about my awesome pants and on to some thoughts about the discussion that inspired them. I must say that I can sympathise with both writers in this discussion. As someone who grew up as a post-feminist, rejecting the patriarchy and supporting ideals of equality, but preferring to call myself an ‘equalist’ believing that the word ‘feminist’ implied man-hatred and a reverse inequality, I have first hand experience as one of the typical young women Dux refers to in the article.
If young women don’t consider the feminist label to be important, or are allergic to it, wouldn’t it be simpler to do away with it? By ditching the word we could, perhaps, protect the core values of feminism while discarding the apparently unsavoury associations, the stuff that turned women off. After all, what’s in a word?
This pretty much sums up my whole feeling about feminism as a young person.
And while I can not recall a specific conscious fear of being perceived as an unattractive hairy legged lesbian, I have no doubt that the stereotype had a role in my reluctance to identify as a feminist–I think Dux is right on the money with that one. I remember the first time I was told that someone I knew was a lesbian, to which my response was “but why? she is beautiful, she could have any man she wants!” Please forgive me, I was 12, and I re-tell this story now not so much to embarrass myself or offend others, but rather to illustrate how deeply the idea of this kind of stereotype really is ingrained in mainstream Australian culture–the idea that lesbian=undesirable and therefor somehow lesser was my conclusion based on what I had absorbed from various sources while growing up. Thankfully the friend I was talking to at the time was a little older and wiser and was able to discuss with me the idea that being a lesbian was not actually about rejection from or towards men, but rather about actually *liking women*, and I am grateful to this day for that life changing conversation.
So I do agree that the negative perception of women who are any combination of hairy legged, make-up rejecting, saggy boobed, lesbian, comfortable shoe enjoying, and/or unfeminine is a genuine problem for feminism. But here is where Lauredhel makes a very important point–one that does not seem to come across in Dux’s article–it is the negative perception of these qualities that is the problem, *not* the women who possess such qualities. It is a mistake to try and sell feminism with the soothing sentiments of ‘it is okay girls, you can have your lipstick and you equality too–those big bad hairy legged lesbians are just boogey-feminists designed to scare you’ because women who fit varying degrees of the above description are really real, and they deserve our respect.
Women who don’t shave or wear makeup are not clichés. They are women. They are human beings. They have the right to not shave; they have the right to not wear makeup. They have the fucking right to exist.
I shave my legs and my armpits. It’s a personal choice; albeit propped up by the Patriarchy. I do not wear makeup, heels, the color pink or lace. I am a lesbian.
What am I not? A cliché.
Now time has passed, books have been read, life has been lived, and I am a proud to call myself a feminist. I am, perhaps, a post-post-feminist. And I have been watching the thread over at Hoyden with a curious fascination.
Most of the time my legs and pits are hairy, sometimes not depending on my mood, but really who the fuck cares? I am mystified that I so often need to both defend my right to have my body in its natural state and continuously reassure others that I don’t think less of them or their politics based on their personal hygiene practices. Calyx summed it up nicely in a comment on the Hoyden thread with an hilarious quote from Judy Horacek:
Men think feminists spend all their time not shaving under their arms when really that takes no time at all.
No time at all. Well, except maybe for all that time explaining why my hairy legs are not the problem with feminism…