Friday, October 13, 2006
Does this razor make my feminism look bad?
When I was a girl, I saw being able to shave as a marker of becoming a woman. It seems silly to me now, but when I was a girl, I thought the day I was able to shave would be a day I was a step closer to being a grown woman. Being a woman meant that I was able to make my own decisions. I would be able to decide how to dress, where to go, who to go there with, how to spend my day, where to work, if I was going to do the damned dishes before going to bed -- it meant that I was going to be independent, a full-formed person. And, in my young mind, being able to shave was connected to that. So was getting my period, but that's a very different story.
My mother never taught me how to shave. She never told me when I could start. She never told me not to do it. She let me make my own decision about when to start, how often to shave or not to shave. I knew she shaved, I knew her razor was sitting on the rim of the bathtub and so, one day when I was probably about 12, I decided I should start shaving. And I did. I did a horrible job of it too, but hey, that wasn't what was important to me. What was important was that I was making a decision, for myself, to do this. I shaved weekly (I'm one of those women who has very thin hair and it comes in blonde, so you really can't see it for a long time) until I was in college. Why? Because I wanted to. Because I thought I looked better that way. Because it was my decision.
And when I decided I didn't want to shave anymore? I stopped. It wasn't a huge, dramatic decision for me. I just realized it was taking too much time, I was cutting myself too often (unfortunately, the Lupus can make my hands shake badly. Ugh.), it was too much trouble and well, I didn't really mind having hairy legs. And my boyfriend didn't care one way or the other, so why should I do something I didn't want to do anymore? So. I just stopped. That's all. Over and done with. And that decision felt just as right to me as the decision to start shaving when I was a girl -- because it was mine.
I have never felt pressured to shave my legs and I sure as hell have never felt pressured to get a bikini wax. Makeup? Eh, sometimes I feel I need to. Like on job interviews or to weddings. So, I do. I don't feel any real resentment about that, because it's more like I'm observing a social nicety than giving in to the patriarchy. I mean, men put on dress clothes and clean up a bit more for those occassions too, so it's not like it's completely unequal. I wouldn't take a job that required me to wear makeup every day, though. Or stocking or heels or skirts or dresses. My new job requires me to dress up a bit more, but in no way do I have to wear dresses and skirts and makeup every day, so that's okay with me. (Considering that right now I can wear jeans and tees to work, switching to more structured shirts and pants isn't that big a deal. Makes me feel a bit more adult too.)
So, I don't really get a lot of the angst about shaving/makeup/heels/whatever. Maybe that has to do with the way I was raised. My mother rarely tried to get me to conform to 'feminine' ideals -- once she realized how much that made me rebel, anyway. Sure, she always complimented me when I wore dresses, but she never really tried to force me into them. (Hell, they didn't bitch when I started wearing jeans and tees to church and I know that drove them crazy.) Maybe it has to do with the fact that, for me, making the choice to begin shaving AND making the choice to stop shaving were BOTH empowering. The same with wearing makeup. I made the choice to being when I was a girl and made the choice to stop when I was an adult. Both felt right for me at the time, neither felt like I was giving into any sort of patriarchy. (I always thought makeup was like painting when I was a girl anyway. And gods, did my poor parents hate some of my paintings ;)
I think I'm trying to say that making a decision for yourself is empowering, period. Owning what you're doing and the reasons that you're doing them is empowering. Some of those decisions are easier to make as you get older, because you're more comfortable with yourself and your body and who you are in the world. That's understandable. I couldn't have made the same decisions at 12 as I did at 25. But having the freedom to make those decisions is what matters, it's what allows you to grow and develop and make mistakes and learn and realize who you really are.