No Shave November
This is a piece written by my amazing sister, Maddie!
“No Shave November” has long been a popular excuse for many male identified high school and college students to show off their abilities to grow facial hair, and compare levels of “manliness” with their peers. When I was in high school, there was a contest at the end of November during a lunch rally for young men to show off their mustaches and beards, and this past November, a bulletin board in my dormitory building was decorated with different styles of facial hair, and a sign up sheet for those daring to take the “no shave November” challenge. I have never been one to conform to gender norms as I am often loud, interrupt others during intense conversations, and frequently wear sweatpants to class (amongst other things), but since the sixth grade I have taken the time to meticulously shave my legs and underarms to what I thought to be smooth feminine perfection. For this reason I put my name on the list, and beginning November first I stopped shaving any part of my body for four weeks.
Due to the time it takes for body hair to grow, my experience during the first two weeks of November was nothing more or less than physically uncomfortable. During the third week, however, I became more and more self-conscious and found myself wearing increasingly feminine clothing, as to compensate for the fact that I was demonstrating usually “masculine” physical characteristics. This phenomenon highlights the concept addressed in the article “The Social Organization of Masculinity,” when it is said, “masculinity can only exist in contrast with femininity (p.68).” This point is further solidified when the author discusses how the words “masculine” and feminine imply something beyond sex characteristics, and imply a difference in, and classification of, gender (p.69). Without previous notions of what it meant to be “feminine,” I would not have considered not shaving masculine. The construct of masculinity is further demonstrated by the fact that most men and women alike have the natural ability grow body hair. This shows that body hair does not equal maleness in any biological sense, and that the notion that body hair is not feminine is purely a construct.
During the fourth week of November, my body hair became very noticeable, and one of my male friends asked to compare underarms. Mine were far less hairy than his, and he seemed to be extremely pleased that I wasn’t more “manly” than he was. I found myself relieved in a sense as well, because this comparison reaffirmed my femininity. After this experience, however, I was forced to question: why is appearing feminine so important to me? Why would it be so wrong for me to have won the “hairy armpit” contest when it was a contest after all?
While this interaction was uncomfortable, it is unfortunately not surprising, as “male bodied” people have been told that they are inherently stronger, braver, more active, and ultimately more important by media, their families, cultures, and even medicine and science. The article “Egg and Sperm: A scientific Fairy Tale” by Emily Martin discusses the difference in word choice that is used to describe the egg and sperm during conception. Sperm, which are associated with men, are thought of to be “more productive” than eggs. Martin states: “ It is surely no accident that the ‘remarkable’ process of making sperm involves precisely what, in the medical view, menstruation does not: production of something deemed valuable” (p.10). Martin also cites words from medical texts like “velocity”, “propel”, “fuel”, and “penetrate” to describe male reproduction, while the same acclaimed textbooks will refer to the egg as helpless until “rescued” by a man’s sperm (p. 12). This is information is taught to young adults and teen-agers in health classes and sex education programs, and the vocabulary and medical inaccuracies teach males that everything about them, including their bodily fluids, are “better than” all that is female.
The reaction I received from my female identified friends regarding my body hair was either that of disgust, or in some cases admiration. It surprised me that so many people were afraid of their own bodies, and caused me to question why the removal of body hair was considered attractive in western culture in the first place, as the practice of shaving is not common around the world as was discussed in class. When one shaves their legs, under arms, and in the case of many women, genitalia, they appear more childlike and prepubescent. If a woman is considered girlish in the eyes of man, she is automatically devalued as a mature being.
Although I have since shaved, it was for reasons of physical discomfort rather than a fear of not being feminine. Participating in No Shave November helped me to realize that while I had previously believed that I did not conform to gender roles, my “femininity” was something I was incredibly defensive of. As pointed out in the article “The Social Organization of Masculinity,” the notion that men and woman are physically different and therefore are emotionally and mentally different as well could not be more false, as the construct this idea has created causes women to remove evidence of physical maturity. Emily Martin emphasized the construct by revealing the biased language and medial inaccuracies used to describe human reproduction. As learned in class, shaving is a practice culturally unique to the United States, and I wonder how globalization has spread this phenomenon to other cultures. To me, the growing body hair ended up reaffirming my femininity, because I was no longer trying to virtually emulate a prepubescent child. I am concerned for the women of the world who are being taught that this is the ultimate way to become feminine.
Martin, E. The egg and the sperm: a fairy tale. Chicago: University of Chicago Press,1996
Connell. The social organization of masculinity.