I keep saying I'm done writing or reading or thinking about the politics of body hair. I don't think the conversation should be retired — it still has merit in a feminist academic sense, and it certainly takes a financial and emotional toll on a lot of women (a burden that is not equally applied to men). But I just don't find much newness in the stalemates that go around and around—biological instinct vs. cultural conditioning, female agency vs. internalized sexism—in the bottomless echo chambers of the internet. It's just kind of like GUHHHHHH at this point.
The bottom line is that women can do whatever they want with their body hair, but should not be made to feel like they must do anything with their body hair. (The other bottom line is this Toast article, which is everything.) The end.
But this Vice essay, essentially a drooling James Joyce love letter to female body hair by Jon-Jon Goulian, caught me by surprise. It is honest and, um, detailed, and engrossing, no matter your level of body-hair exhaustion.
While I feel obliged to mention that women's basic equality should not only become palatable/urgent to the general populace when it's repackaged in terms of hetero male boners (men should care about this shit BECAUSE IT IS CORRECT, not because it benefits their personal crotches), Goulian's male perspective on female hair is compelling and—dare I say—effective. This parable, for instance, is simple enough to use on your most boneheaded evo-psych-barfing friends:
Now, I said to Kevin, imagine that we are going to build a new society from scratch, different from the one we have now, a society in which men and women will be treated differently only if there is a fair and rational basis for doing so. And to make sure we approach this task impartially, and that we don't simply rebuild a society that makes life as advantageous for ourselves as possible, let's imagine that we have no idea what our gender will be in this new society. Woman or man, we have no idea. It's not in our power to choose. And since it's entirely possible we will be women, we have to be very careful, because any social mores that disadvantage women could potentially hurt us. With all of this in mind, consider the following five approaches we could take to the issue of body hair: 1) both men and women should leave their body hair alone. Maybe some mild trimming around the nose and ears, but otherwise nothing; 2) both men and women, at great expense of time and money, and occasionally with great discomfort (rashes, ingrown hairs, stubble, etc.), should obsessively remove all of their body hair; 3) only men should obsessively remove all of their body hair, and women can do whatever they want; 4) only women should obsessively remove all of their body hair, and men can do whatever they want; or 5) both men and women can freely choose to do whatever they want, shave or not shave or occasionally shave, without advertisers and fashion magazines pressuring women to turn themselves into hairless mutants, and without women feeling ashamed, as many of my female friends do when they've been too busy to shave, when people stare at their hairy legs on the subway.
On what possible grounds, whether moral or aesthetic or hygienic or biological or any other grounds you can come up with, would a rational, self-interested person who stands an equal chance of being a woman in our hypothetical state of hairiness choose option #4?
And then...Goulian really gets going, really throws out any pretense that he gives a fuck about safe-for-work logic and propriety. He is pro-body hair because, as he states in the first half of the essay, he understands the politics of women's choices, but he's also pro-body hair because DUDE REALLY FUCKING LIKES BODY HAIR. He doesn't have to justify his attraction any more than women have to justify the shape and hairiness of their bodies. Sometimes we just have things, sexually, and it is okay to have things and this thing is no weirder (perhaps less weird, even) than its inverse—than exclusively lusting after and objectifying the hairless.
And with hair, of course, comes sweat, and with sweat comes pungency, and pungent hair is suggestive of what? The vagina. A woman with a hairy body has essentially four vaginas—two armpits, the asshole, and the vagina itself. How could this be a problem for a man who calls himself a heterosexual, and who, suspiciously, claims I might be gay without really knowing it? Put yourself in my place, Kevin, in the following scenario: a phenomenally hairy woman is on top of you, fucking you vigorously. One of her armpits, dark and dense and moist, is pressed over your nose. One of your hands is buried in the other hairy armpit, massaging the wet sweaty hair in your fingers, while your other hand is fingering her asshole and occasionally bringing the tip of your middle finger to your nose to take a good deep whiff. It is at this point that your mind wrenches free from your body, no? You are no longer present on this planet. You are floating in an ether of pure vaginal splendor. A warm vaporous bath of sweat and hair and funk and pungency. I don't know how else to put it. I can't make a better case. If I haven't convinced you, you're hopeless.
Objectification and fetishization aren't the solution to inequality. Like I said before, women deserve the right to do what they want with their body hair because it is objectively correct—not because some dude is "brave" enough to admit his attraction to it. But I think Goulian knows that, and his attraction itself isn't wrong. It's not everyone's cup of hairy, smelly, armpit-tea, but it's his.
Image via indigolotos/Shutterstock.