Upon my return from my amazing vacation to Hawaii, I saw that American Apparel had put pubic hair, or merkins, on its window mannequins. According to American Apparel, they did this to show the “rawness and realness” of sexuality. My feminist colleague, who writes a blog called The Feminist Cupcake, addressed the issue. Her main point,
It doesn’t matter. What matters is that you own your crotch, make decisions based on your relationship to your parts, and voice the opinion that other feminists have a right to be masters of their bodily universe and self define. In other words, it doesn’t matter if you choose to sport a 70s style full-fledged bush or not – as long as you think about it and make a choice based on your needs. This is the gray land of actual feminist empowerment.
While I agree with her on some points, I think there is a larger analysis missing from this conversation. But before I get into that, I want to assure you I’m not some old lady feminist who hasn’t attempted the bikini wax or the Brazilian. I’ve done it all and continue to believe, in the words of Eve Ensler, that “hair is there for a reason.” If you’ve ever tried to pee with no pubic hair, it goes everywhere. You need a mop instead of a few pieces of toilet paper. This fact alone is crucial in analyzing the importance of the bush.
Three years ago I taught a Women’s Studies class called The Female Body: Women’s Health, Sexuality and Reproductive Rights. There were forty people in the class. We got into a discussion of the shave/wax versus au-naturele. What amazed me the most about this group of young women, mostly junior and seniors, and many of them from the College of Nursing, was their complete lack of awareness about why they shaved or waxed. On the whole, they all felt that 1) pubic hair was dirty; and 2) men would not have sex with them if they had pubic hair. They also discussed the policing of their bush by men. For example, a woman was talked about at a party by other men “Don’t get with her, she isn’t clean.”
Roger Friedland’s Huff Post article addresses this lack of awareness. If boys only see depictions of hairless women as they grow up, they will not be prepared for the bush they might discover as they grow up. And they could be contributing to a culture that tells girls and women our bodies are not “right” unless they are plucked, waxed and shaved.
And while Emily McComb’s article in XOJane mirrors The Feminist Cupcake in that it doesn’t matter and we have better work to do, I have to disagree. The policing of women’s bodies, in whatever way it is policed, is a problem that is directly connected to sexual violence. As long as there is any policing of women’s bodies, there will also be men who think they have the right to do what they want with them. To say that it’s ok as long as you know why you do it is too simplistic. It’s too simple because so many young women, particularly, do not know why they do it. They just do it because their friends do it and it’s what they see in magazines and porn.
One of the best moments of the this class I taught was when a group of students decided to do their final presentation on images of porn from 1970 to today. One young woman was lucky enough to have a father who had saved all his old playboys. I was blown away by the beauty of the women’s body in her own form, no fake boobs, no shaved or waxed pubic hair. Below is a NSFW example.
If you open any Penthouse or Playboy today, all you have to do is replace the head and you’re pretty much looking at the same body, no pubic hair and breasts that will never fall into their armpits when the model is laying down. It’s boring. It does not reflect the diversity of women’s bodies. And most sadly, it reinforces a culture of body policing that requires we are all thin, big boobed and alike.