ASU’s Extra Credit for Defying Society’s Body Hair Norms
Have you ever thought about challenging society’s views of body hair – as a female by not removing leg or underarm hair, or as a male, by shaving it all off? Perhaps you have your own set of ideals in which you believe a woman’s skin should not be “marred” by hair, or that a man should leave his own body hair well alone, and that nobody should contest these societal laws.
A professor of women and gender studies from Arizona State University is awarding her students with extra credit in class for doing just that – going against the grain of what is considered “the norm” for body hair.
Professor Breanne Fahs says that there is a big difference between a woman imagining what it is like to not remove any body hair, or a man stripping his body of it, and actually going through with it. She also believes that there is no better way to learn about societal norms that to see how people react to a person violating them. “There is really no reason why the choice to shave or not should be a big deal,” she said, “but it is – as the students tend to find out quickly.”
To gain extra credit in her class, Professor Fahs’ female students need to stop shaving (or waxing, if that’s their thing) their leg and underarm hair for 10 weeks, with male students having to shave all hair from the neck down for the same length of time, documenting the process in a journal.
Some men already partake is what is known as “manscaping”, which is the act of removing some of their unwanted body hair. Because of these, the male students gain their extra credit from not only getting rid of their body hair, but maintaining that look for the whole time to give them some insight into the laborious process that women who regularly shave have to go through.
One student, Stephanie Robinson, didn’t want to participate in the social experiment to begin with, and didn’t decide to until her third class. She said that lots of her friends didn’t want to know about the assignment and that some of the reactions to her not shaving were quite surprising. “My mother was distraught at the idea that I’d be getting married in a white dress with armpit hair,” she said, recalling that strangers would appear disgusted at the sight of her underarms. “It definitely made me realise that if you are not strictly adhering to socially prescribed gender roles, your body becomes a site for contestation and public opinion.”
Kurt Keller, a former student of the class, explained that although his leg-shaving was questioned, he felt comfortable, helped by his classmates who were going through the same process with him. He believes that shaving – or not – can be an expectation placed on a person by their partner, but it must be a person’s own decision. “I really hope that people, including myself, can treat our bodies with respect, regardless of relationship expectations,” he added.
“It is interesting how peer pressure within the class can create a new norm,” Professor Fahs said. “When practically all of the students are participating, they develop a sense of community and enjoy engaging in an act of rebellion.”
When it gets down to it, some women like to shave, some do not. Some men like to leave their body hair well alone, some like get rid of some or all of it. It doesn’t matter what society tells us what we should and should not do – it is not society’s body hair, it is ours, and whether we want to shave it all off or not, is not society’s business.
Image Source: ASU News