Jun 17 2005

We Wear Short Shorts

Salvador Dali "Self-Portrait as Mona Lisa" (1954)

American women, and I suppose some American men, too, if they are pretending to be progressive, view the Veiled Woman as a grim symbol of Muslim paternalism run amok. In the US, the veil is the logo of terrible oppression.

I’m not saying veiled women aren’t oppressed. In certain parts of the world, girls who saunter through the public square in a pair of hot pants and a tube top get acid thrown on them. That’s no trifle. Still, I wonder how much of the American distaste for the veil is rooted in the conviction that pre-menopausal women ought to pretty much wear hot pants all the time?

But I digress.

To those Americans who gaze about the landscape, observing satisfying amounts of cleavage and sighing the relieved sigh of American entitlement because, although women here may earn less than men and are more likely than men to die in poverty, at least they can run around in hot pants, I have this to say: Pause a moment. Reflect.

Your liberty is not what it seems.

For although the consequences of an appearance infraction are not often, for the busy Western gal-on-the-go, immediately life-threatening (although they certainly can be), the pressure on her to cave in to patriarchal mandate, looks-wise, is every bit as strong as it is for a Pakistani woman. Western women may run little risk of acid attacks, but are nevertheless very strongly compelled to conform to standards which are, when viewed objectively, just as soul-suckingly asinine as the veil. I have recently held forth on the relationship of women’s clothing to patriarchal horndoggitude. Today I allude to — that’s right — facial hair.

In a recent issue of Bitch magazine is an article* containing this statement: “These days, women’s removal of their facial hair is just another concession in the militarized zones of masculine and feminine, where women must still conform or confront considerable judgment and ridicule.”

The most common reaction to a chick with chin hair is, according to a study cited in the Bitch article, “disgust.” Avoidance of which is a motivating factor in the idiotic daily shavings and pluckings to which American women subject themselves, so thoroughly has this patriarchally-induced bit of the feminine ideal gotten itself lodged in our cultural consciousness. A woman who is old, or who has not gotten a boob job, or who wears no makeup can be tolerated in certain situations, but a five-o’clock shadow is beyond the pale on any occasion.

Just how facial hair came to be the exclusive purview of men — since, believe you me, there are legions of fuckin’ hairy chicks out there — I know not, but it would not surprise me to learn that it is the result of the ever-increasing compulsion to exaggerate the physical differences between the sexes. The greater the perceived difference, the greater the ease with which the lies of patriarchy can be foisted off as truth. I drop no bombshells when I remind you what happens when one group of people perceives differences in another group: the differences are seen first as threats, and then as rationalization for hatred, and finally as carte blanche for the dominant group to kick the other group’s ass.

Ass-kicking: the cornerstone of patriarchy.

But dang it, I digressed again. Here, you will be relieved to know, is my point: as the Pakistani woman obscureth her identity with fabric, so doth the Western woman obscure hers with Nair. Neither is particularly allowed not to. Regardless of the idiosyncrasies of local custom, patriarchy will not suffer a woman who does not strive with her every fiber to achieve success in the mastery of feminine drag.

* Dowl, Aimée. “Beyond The Bearded Lady: Outgrowing the Shame of Female Facial Hair.” Bitch No. 28, Spring 2005: 54-59.


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  1. rhondda

    I howled at this. Yeah, thanks, the daily plucking of chin hairs has got to go. Perhaps, I could start a bearded lady contest. The longest chin hairs win. Who can avoid the temptation the longest. Take that patricharcy!

  2. Lauren

    I have one solitary chin hair that grows in WHITE! What the fuck? I have a million moles on my body and not one of them grows hair. But my chin?

    I may actually write about this later. Lots of body image discussions lately.

  3. dread pirate roberts

    got here from alphabitch. great post. when i read your comment about fashion dictates to my dear partner she reminded me that just yesterday she had remarked that “thong underwear must have been invented by a man.”

    when we lived in santa cruz, ca i met two women with visible facial hair. one was an instructor at ucsc, where i once had a lowly job surveying empty seats in classrooms in use. i had to enter the room, announce myself as doing a survey for the registrar’s office, count, and leave. already shy and being extemely self conscious of everyone staring at me, i exited a class one day hyperventilating as usual and thought “did i just see a woman with a mustache?” the next time i went there i was a bit better prepared and indeed the instructor did have a decent mustache. ok by me.

    i met the other woman in my later gig as a property manager. she was younger, a student, and had a wispy mustache and goatee. we would nod and smile when encountering each other in town, sometimes exchanging pleasantries. i didn’t tell her that i admired her naturalness, thinking it better to just relate to her as another human. i think she knew that.

  4. Wordlackey

    I know one woman who can grow a mean goatee. I think she looks great with it. She’s getting it electrocuted/electrolysized though. A shame. I, too, blame the patriarchy. And fashion mags. And advertising. And, well, a host of influences.

  5. yankee transplant

    When I lived in Boston, there was a couple who I used to see downtown-both red-headed women, clearly partners. One of them had a serious beard. I remember reading in the paper once that she was continuously the target of ridicule from complete strangers and it made me so sad. She was so beautiful to her partner, clearly, and so brave by anyones standards. This is a great post. You always make me think.

  6. Twisty

    Yup. A chick with a moustache may as well be holding up a sign saying “your whole system is bullshit!” And of course, nobody wants to hear that. A dominant culture will go to great lengths to stifle its dissenters.

  7. Anonymous

    It seems today that nothing is natural to women. A woman is always born defected and from early puberty is encouraged by society to change, mold herself, work to make herself acceptable: wear makeup, push-up bras, shave your legs, faces, shape your eyebrows… Is it then any surprise then that there are hardly any girls/women who feel good about their appearance?

    When youger I felt a monster because of my small hint of a moustache. Nobody else seemed to have such, so I thought myself a horrid exception. Gradually I learned of other women with same “affliction”, and even saw a documentary which stated that more than 20% of women have facial hair. WHY AREN’T THESE THINGS TOLD TO YOUNG GIRLS? Instead they live their early years of womanhood believing they would belong to a freak show.

  8. Buffalo Gal

    I have a few facial hairs, that due to poor lighting in my bathroom, I only notice when in a restroom with bright fluorescent lights. Thus, the hairs don’t bother me at all.

    On the other hand, I can’t decide whether to shave my legs or not. I don’t in the winter, when I never wear skirts or shorts. Most summers, I expect the hair to bleach to unnoticeability, but as I age, I find this not to happen. Don’t know why. So this summer I’m shaving, except when I forget and then I have stubble, which I think is less attractive than either shaved or full hairy. Pathetic, yes?

  9. Twisty

    The question to ask is: why am I shaving these hairy hams? To avoid the possibility of ridicule in the public square by capitulating to patriarchal tyranny? Or because I like baby-butt legs?

    Remember: Razors don’t oppress people; people oppress people!

  10. leslie

    The tyranny of the razor is amazingly understated. I read the “Bitch” article and while I think it was a great piece and fully agree with it I was surprised at the understatedness of other bodily hair “problems” women are expected to eradicate. I know that by claiming the facial hair one is appropriating the masculine in a more obvious way but it seems to me that there is equal pressure, if not more in some communities, to remove leg and underarm hair. At what point can you personally say, “Enough. Any alteration I undertake to conform with societies’ standards of feminine beauty undermines my ability to portray my personal beauty.” Until we all see that, questions of facial hair (or other hair, or “excess” weight or any other body image issues continue to lie in the purview of the patriarchy.

  11. Kim Wells

    I think the prohibition against hair for women is more about this culture’s obsession with youth. Think about it– most people get really hairy as they get older. My chin hairs have multiplied with age– I only had one at 21, now I have two or three (35). My grandma has more. Our legs go from dewy fine hair as kids to dark, coarse stuff at about puberty.

    The hairless shaved “Brazilian” really makes a woman’s privates look like a little girl’s. And where that look is most fetishized is in porn mags and movies. It’s the same with the “no hips, no curves but boobs” fetish.

    If you look like a mature woman, perhaps with a little tummy pooch and a bit of hair, in this culture, you are shunned. God forbid you have a monobrow….

    But don’t forget that women also benefit from and uphold the patriarchy. I know of few men that would submit to brazilian bikini waxing. Or the ‘etc etc’ of women’s hair removal. But I still like my legs to be smooth. And sometimes wax my eyebrows. But I draw the line at applying hot wax to any part of my body that is covered by my bathing suit. :)

  12. Twisty

    Kim, I definitely agree that there’s a whole lotta youth-worship going on. Youth and beauty are absolutely conflated in our culture’s notion of the feminine. Which notion stems wholly from male prurience. Mature women who capitulate to society’s hairless mandate are in fact simulating pubescence. They are also surrendering control, ceding over some element of their actual selves, to what is perceived as the higher purpose of patriarchally-defined femininity.

    By the way, although women do uphold patriarchy, I strongly disagree that we benefit from it in any way.

  13. alethiography.blogspot.com

    I’m a bit late to the party with this one, but I feel strange reading of women who have “one or two” facial hairs, though I know it’s pretty common. I could basically grow a beard (and mustache, to a slightly lesser extent) that would make at least an adolescent boy proud.

    I’ve never grown it to its full extent, so I’m not sure how fluffy it could really be, but I have an extremely dense profusion of extremely dark, heavy beard hairs. Plucking is not an option (I could spend half an hour a day and not be done), and my life as a good citizen would be basically forfeit if I let it grow, so I shave it M-F and usually let it grow on weekends and holidays.

    I don’t really like the counter-argument (to shaving) that goes “but women are so beautiful in their natural form!” It still gives priority to beauty, it’s just that we’re now going to redefine it to include beards and hairy legs. Eh.

    During some of high school I did not shave my (very hairy, not at all of the “you can barely see it” or “bleaches in the sun” variety) legs, and I enjoyed it. I hate shaving. But I’m too wimpy to feel like quite that much of a freak in public (I know this is a personal failing), so I do shave, at least in the summer, and occasionally during the rest of the year. I wish it weren’t so.

    I don’t wear make up or fashionable clothes or uncomfortable shoes or do anything to my hair beyond washing and brushing it (no drying or curling, etc.), but I don’t know if that’s so much a brave stance against the patriarchy or just, you know, basic laziness and wanting to have a comfortable and easy life.

    Aside from these little moral dilemmas (generally resolved, conveniently, in the direction of what makes me most comfortable), I have quite a nice life.

  14. Twisty

    “But I’m too wimpy to feel like quite that much of a freak in public (I know this is a personal failing)”

    No, no, no! It’s not a personal failing AT ALL. It’s the fucking patriarchy’s fault. Patriarchy compels women against their will to perform behaviors that are of no benefit to them except insofar as they provide some small respite from community ostracism. There’s nothing failure-esque about wanting to live a life free of ridicule.

  15. thebeardedlady

    Um, the party’s over, I know, but here I am anyway, because I have a beard (which I shave) and with that comes constant, daily fear of humiliation. And I’m so happy you wrote about this. I wish I had the courage to just let my beard grow, but I get a lot of hateful abuse already for being non-sexbotual, and I’m scared to face any more.

    I’ve been reading IBTP for, oooh, about two weeks now, splashing about in the archives, and it has already made me a better, saner person to know that I am far from alone in my beliefs and nascent suspicions about what is wrong with the world. Twisty, you rule. You write with such clarity about things which make me incoherent with rage. And reading the comments from other patriarchy-blamers makes me feel less crazy, paranoid, over-sensitive (all things I am accused of being whenever I mention that perhaps, you know, some of this shit is fucked up), and more like an intelligent woman who can see the wood for the patriarchal, woman-blaming, woman-hating bastards that are messing up my life.

    Thank you Twisty. I really mean it. I think you might have saved my life.

  16. nhakram


    “I don’t wear make up or fashionable clothes or uncomfortable shoes or do anything to my hair beyond washing and brushing it (no drying or curling, etc.), but I don’t know if that’s so much a brave stance against the patriarchy or just, you know, basic laziness and wanting to have a comfortable and easy life.”

    Same here! And why shouldn’t basic laziness and a comfortable and easy life belong as much to women as to men? I hardly care about hair/fashion etc and don’t see why I should if my brothers don’t have to. (Not planning to get married/pop babies anytime soon =)

    I’m definitely privileged in Pakistan – although Twisty, women here probably need Nair waayyy more than your post lets on. It is SUCH a big deal for a girl to have a mustache here, and just bleaching is not enough because threading in parlors is so ubiquitous, there is “no excuse for hairy upper lip!”

    Oh and have you seen some of the skin-bleaching ads here? Lovely colonial legacy, this complex about complexion. One bleach cream is called ‘Brido’ and the ad is all about a dark village woman who gets spurned by a slick city dweller. She then uses Brido and he immediately falls in love with her and yay marriage! The message: poor brown women, this cream is the key to your salvation! Racist, classist AND sexist all in one unholy trinity. Boggles.

  17. nhakram

    That should read “definitely privileged FOR A WOMAN in Pakistan”

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