The Great Pubic Hair Debate Or Hands Off Our Pubes

20 Mar

Lady GardenThis week, Independent Voices published a piece called ‘Debate: Is Pubic Hair a Feminist Issue?‘. The piece was, a follow-up to Louisa Saunders’ earlier article, ‘The Politics of Pubic Hair: Why Is a Generation Choosing to Go Bare Down There?‘ where Saunders attempted to discover why a generation of young women were choosing to shave their pubic hair. The article was sparked, in part by a night at the theatre watching her one of her daughters in a production of Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues. During an interactive segment of the show, the audience were given a large piece of paper and encouraged to write what their vaginas would say if they could talk. Saunders, who was watching the piece with her younger daughter, admitted that she was “too British” to join in, that was, until she noted that a young woman had written “I need a shave.” Upon reading this, Saunders “snatched up a pen” and promptly responded with “No. You DON’T.”

Saunders impassioned defence of pubic hair is great, it’s honourable; but is it right to tell women what to do with their pubic hair? If a woman has a strong enough conviction to say: “I would quite like to shave my bikini line.” Should we automatically say, “No, you don’t”? No, and while Saunders refers to Ensler’s play throughout the article, the play itself talks about so much more than just bikini waxing. The Vagina Monologues is a play about acceptance, loving your body and most importantly celebrating the vagina. Yet Saunders picks just one monologue to support her argument saying: “Those familiar with The Vagina Monologues will remember that it contains an entire sequence concerning pubic hair. In it, a woman describes in eye-watering detail the painful process of removing her pubic hair at the request of a lover – the smarting, the soreness and the vague discomfort of trying to comply with the fetish of a sexual partner.” There are many monologues in the script; from the infamous Reclaiming Cunt where the writer strips the word back to its real meaning, to Because He Liked to Look At It, a piece which explores one woman becoming more accepting of her body through her partner’s desire to simply look at her, to the moving My Vagina Was My Village, which was compiled from interviews with survivors from Bosnian rape camps.

This is not to say that Saunders is wrong; she provides figures from a recent study at Indiana University that reveal that two-thirds of the 2451 students questioned in the female, aged 18-24 demographic, admitted to partially or completely removing their pubic hair in the month before the study. She also offers advice from Emily Gibson, director of the health centre at Western Washington University in the USA, who said in 2012 that [Pubic hair removal] “naturally irritates and inflames the hair follicles, leaving microscopic open wounds.” But it’s clear from Saunders’ article that she doesn’t believe women should tamper with their pubic hair too much, why then, should women not have the choice to change what they want, according to their personal preference?

If Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues was about celebrating the female body in all its forms, then feminism should be about celebrating every woman’s right to bodily autonomy. Of course, for some people, the very nature of changing your bikini line whether slightly or drastically, raises questions – why are more people – not just women – choosing to do this? Is it because of embarrassment? Are bikini waxes simply becoming more accessible and more affordable? Is it because people are becoming more influenced by what they see in pornography? Is this just how caring for the bikini line has evolved over the last century? Is it, perhaps because women are increasingly under pressure to remove their pubic hair because of their partner, friends or even society?

If this is true, and we feel that young people, particularly young women, are being forced to have their bikini lines waxed or shaved, and are even being told by their prospective partners that they should before they will sleep with them, as one Twitter alleged, then it’s not waxing and shaving that we have a problem with; it’s about the lack of bodily autonomy. If this is the reason, then we need to look at how to change this, how to let every person know they have a choice over what happens to their bodies, that they have the right to refuse, and others have to respect their wishes. Perhaps we’re all a little “too British” and we should talk about the subject of pubic hair more openly, and in a less judgemental way?

If a woman, or any person wants to do anything to their pubic hair, or anything else on their body, it should be up to them; this kind of decision should not be made under duress. But one thing is for a certain, many men and women trim, wax, shave or pluck their bikini lines of their own free will. But choosing to do so doesn’t it doesn’t make you any less of a feminist, or even a person. Deciding to take a razor to your pubic hair does not make you an enemy of the sisterhood, so as long as it was your choice to do it then why all the fuss? Surely, in 2013, it’s unreasonable to judge women, and in fact, any person by the modifications they make to their pubic hair?

So, ladies, gentlemen, if you’re happy trimming, waxing, shaving or leaving it well alone, keep on keeping on, your opinion is the only one that matters.

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