It’s now 2014, and fourth wave feminism is continuing to spread across Britain and beyond like some kind of fabulous disease. From the perspective of a woman who, less than two years ago, was so clueless that she thought feminism was just a sort of religion for angry women who hated men, I’ve felt the effects of the new wave – you might say I’ve seen the light. More and more women are beginning to question the representation of girls in advertising, in film and in music. More women are beginning to question the deeply ingrained and often overlooked sexism that takes place day to day.
I study English at Uni. Alongside sleeping until mid-afternoon a few times and going to a couple (or several) less lectures than I should be, I do occasionally read the odd novel or two. The distrust and downright hatred of the female body and female sexuality is a theme that pops up an unsettling amount. I’ve just managed to plough my way through John Milton’s Paradise Lost which, apart from not being the jolliest Christmas vacation reading, has a fair few instances of this very theme. When Milton’s version of the biblical Eve is tempted by the serpent (or the devil in disguise) to take the apple, the description of the temptation is packed with more sizzling sexual tension than the entire trilogy of Fifty Shades of Grey (which is possibly about as sexy as Coldplay’s last album). Sex and sin go hand in hand, and, in a way, Eve’s sexuality is associated with her disobedience. The woman’s body is simultaneously almost revered for its beauty, but feared for its sexual power. Cue distrust and even disgust, the like of which there aren’t few examples in literature from all ages. In T.S. Eliot’s poem The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, the speaker sees (and admires) female ‘Arms that are braceleted and white and bare’ until – horror of horror – he notices that ‘in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!’
Has anything really changed? The sort of shock and disgust at finding hair on a woman’s body in Eliot’s poem, written not far off a hundred years ago, might seem comical but can we really say it is any different to the predominant attitudes in the modern Western world? I’d say no. The women we see on the television, on the big screen, in porn, are (nine times out of ten) completely hair-free and damn happy about it. Journalists might pick up on a comment Cameron Diaz might have made about pubic hair being there for a reason and assure us that 2014 is the ‘year of the bush, promise’, but the reality I see around me is an intense pressure to stay perfectly plucked and hair-free that isn’t going anywhere any time soon.
The beauty industry pushes and pushes us to worry about more things, change more things about ourselves so that we might one day reach that all-too-elusive image of perfection they bombard us with. Girls are urged to remove hair from their legs, underarms, vaginas, bottoms, upper thighs. Personally, I like having the feeling of having smooth legs, but I don’t think that a woman ought to feel like less of a woman if she chooses to keep her hair. I’m also aware that years upon years of advertising campaigns (or perhaps advertising assaults might be a more appropriate term) have conditioned me into feeling physically uncomfortable with having unshaven bodily hair. The nauseating amounts of shame heaped on female pubic hair is one of the beauty industry’s biggest triumphs – managing to make society think that it is both unnatural and dirty means a hair-removal industry worth millions for the fat cats at the top.
Shaven or un-shaven, a woman is a woman. I don’t believe that a woman should have to feel uncomfortable with unshaven body hair, or that she should have to feel that she is in some way less attractive. We have reached a point where plenty of young women can’t bring themselves to have sex if they haven’t shaved. I don’t feel that this should be the case. How about; you shave, you don’t shave, when you want, according to your personal preference, without allowing yourself to feel ashamed, or unnatural, or disgusted. The pressure on women to have completely shaven privates, like a child, to me speaks of a society that is fundamentally uncomfortable with female sexual maturity and always has been. Perhaps 2014 need not be the year of the bush, exactly, but perhaps it could be a year that sees girls doing what they want with their hair without feeling uncomfortable or dirty. And if they want to leave it the way nature intended, who the hell are we to judge?