Hi! I'm a 25 year old woman - and I wanted to ask you about something that's been gnawing at me: I've found, that no matter how "feminist" or "not feminist" a guy is - there's still an ingrained idea of beauty and body hair (particularly pubic hair) acceptability that dudes have (of course women have it too, but I'm not having sex with them). Its pretty much programmed in. I know, as a feminist, I should not care, but i have a desire to look attractive to men - and I just haven't found anyone who truly celebrates bushes - and celebrates the deliberateness of the choice to keep it… and the worst part is I can feel my own "feminism" slipping away, as my preferences in grooming slowly change to accommodate men's standards. Particularly when I think of the time and money that goes into grooming, and the fact that you become just another person re-enforcing pre-existing standards if you DO shave, it bothers me. HELP! What's the idea of "self" that one should hold on to when navigating questions of sexual relations?
As if it’s not hard enough to find someone you want to get nasty with, it truly sucks that women have to live in fear of being scrutinized from head to toe even in our most intimate moments.
Just because you hold feminist values, does not mean that you will/can stop caring what your partner (no matter how temporary that partner may be) feels about your body. Good sex is about trust and pleasure. And if we cannot trust our partner to be attracted to us, pleasure doesn’t stand a chance in the bedroom.
In the two main places where we get to see representations of vaginas, porn and sex scenes in films, the hairless version dominates. Hell, these days, even the parlour aunties have no shame advising that “Beta, bikini wax toh is in aaj-kal!”. In public spaces, mostly hairless women are visible, and it’s a reasonable assumption that they are probably well shaved/waxed/laser-ed down there as well (regardless of whether the assumption is actually true or not). So sadly, it is really not a surprise that the bush isn’t celebrated.
I want to validate what you said about grooming taking time and money, and often PAIN, unnecessary PAIN. Feminism is more than an ideological belief and always requires putting in the work on yourself and your surroundings to make it a more equitable world. We are glad you are putting in this work. BUT we just want to point out that moving the feminist cause along is not your sole responsibility, so be gentle on yourself when you fall short.
Ultimately, you have to identify how much of the idea of self you want to hold on to when it comes to your values around grooming and sexual relationships. It’s okay to sit in the discomfort of your values not aligning with the reality of your actions. And perhaps you could consider even discussing it with your partner. Maybe you will find that they are not particular about hairless vaginas anyway! Or that they do care, but your conversation is challenging their perspective (and perhaps yours too). And if your partner just doesn’t get it, what does that mean for your relationship? If they have hang-ups about YOUR vagina’s look, what else could they have potential reservations about when it comes to grooming, beauty standards and presentation? How much and which one of are their expectations is allowed to erode your beliefs?
We know these aren’t the straightforward answers you were looking for, but we hope we gave you some food for thought as you continue to navigate your beliefs.
May 2nd, 2020
Sometimes, your questions keep us thinking about them even after we post the original answer here. To keep track of these thoughts, we use this additional segment.
A lot of people struggle with what is feminist and what is not. They assume it is purely a set of specific actions taken in their daily lives that dictates which group they fall under.
Certain things that especially cis-women do, like care-giving, cooking for others, or shaving (when talking about this question), can make those women feel like other “feminists” are denouncing them, or they don’t belong in feminist spaces because of their choices.
Subha, perhaps you would find it useful to dig deeper into your grooming practices, how shaving makes your body feel, and what makes you think that you are not feminist enough.
What does a non-feminist body look like? Inversely, what does a feminist body look like?
The Second Puberty