Wax On, Wax Off: Feminism And The V Word

The one rule of being male and talking about feminism is don’t do it.

Julie Burchill once noted that the successes of the women’s lib movement of the 60s largely boiled down to easier access to contraception and abortions; things that made men’s lives easier (as she put it).

Yesterday, a friend sent me a link to a new ‘feminist’ campaign, which you can see here.

“On Thursday 3rd October, Mother London is launching Project Bush, a call to action for women to stand up to the pressures of modern society and present their bushes in all their glory. Whether waxed or never tended, young, old, black, brown or white, we want to display London’s lady gardens in all their variety, and demonstrate the choice that many young women – particularly – may not realise they have when it comes to waxing.”

My first thought was ‘Finally!!! Ladies, get your euphemisms out, this is PRECISELY what Emmeline Pankhurst had in mind.’

That’s right, kids, there is an actual campaign to photograph vaginas to remind or teach women that they don’t need to wax off all their pubic hair, that there’s an element of choice involved.  Aright, vulva if you want to be pedantic.

Because apparently women are too stupid to have worked that out for themselves.  To be honest I think that’s an unpleasantly sexist undertone, which is ironic if you think about it.

Only they don’t use either V word or refer to pubic hair, because we’re all too squeamish and infantilised these days, so it’s ‘lady garden’.  To be fair to the campaigners, at least they didn’t call it a twinkle.

I’m hopeful, but not very, that this latest slice of fauxminism is the brainchild of a man with an agenda.  In fact, I would love to have been in that meeting:

Ladies, sorry, feminists, relax; you’ve got a man here to sort out your issues.  We’re gonna’ fix women’s problems and achieve full and unambiguous equality within the year. Don’t worry your pretty little heads about it – I’m a man and fixin’ stuff is what men do.

For starters, I want each of you to lift up your skirts. Yeah…there we go, that’s the stuff… Women, be proud of your femininity – that’s step one right there.  Now for step two we’ll be moving on to one night stands and how they’re essentially feminist, so each of you will be letting the side down if you don’t come over to mine for some casual sex.  Your appointments are set out in the timetable I’ve provided.  Bring a friend.  

What? No, the pay gap comes later, then we take on the boardroom; it’s all there in my step-by-step proposal in simple words that even women can understand.  First though, I want you girls to make out.

Or as Ryan Gosling’s character put it in Crazy Stupid Love “The war between the sexes is over. We won the second women started doing poledancing for exercise.”

But sadly I suspect that this wasn’t the work of a chauvinist in femme clothing, even if it’s precisely the sort of thing you’d come up with if you, for sake of argument, wanted to discredit feminism as a serious body of thought so that actual misogynists could continue to ignore it.

The campaign claims to seek a wider discussion about the relevance and meaning of feminism today.  This in itself is laudable if it’s genuine: we’re heading with glacial pace towards some semblance of gender equality, but with 3 female CEOs of FTSE 100 companies, we’re not exactly there yet.  Besides which, ideological battles are never won in perpetuity.

In 1979 the UK elected a woman as prime minister – in 2010 the highest profile women in politics were the wives of the leaders of the main parties.  And the focus was almost entirely on the chicness of otherwise of their wardrobes and hairstyles.

SO there’s work to do and glass ceilings to smash.  Taken further there’s a question of whether feminism should be about achieving specific goals and thereby creating a world in which feminism is no longer necessary, or whether it’s actually about a more pervasive female self-understanding, about the issues women face and what it might mean to be a woman.  Personally I’d opt for the former, but that’s because I’m not convinced it’s desirable to treat classes of people as homogenous entities, even loosely.  Admittedly that might partly be because as a straight, white male (and thus one of the traditional beneficiaries of patriarchy) I’ve never had much of a need to identify as part of a particular group.

Privilege checked.

This sort of attention-grabbing stunt deflects from that – it implies that while women rightly deny that they should be defined by their sex organs, nevertheless let’s all just concentrate on them. It’s worth noting that the pressures of modern society encompass more than just the Brazilian conundrum.

The subject-matter is actually serious – we’re talking about female ownership of their own bodies after all, which is an issue in the liberal West same as it is in more aggressively male-dominated societies.  But the presentation seems to trivialise it, by focusing on a bit of muff fluff.  One wonders what campaigners against female genital mutilation and circumcision might make of it.

That’s a problem because if something’s trivial, it can be dismissed.  And if it’s trivial but it gets coverage then it allows people to dismiss it and people and things related to it as inherently shallow.  It allows for an easy cop-out: women have what they need (ie they can vote and get a job) and the rest is just whining about men, spouting trite touchy-feely maxims, crying misogyny when it’s not there and getting in a tizzy over minor issues – silly women with silly women’s problems.  And while we’re on the subject dollface, don’t be so hypersensitive and moody; it’s just a bit of a laugh (is it that time again?)

All of which is patently wrong.

And again, this campaign infantilises women, because whether it’s by men or women or both, it explicitly says that women need to be told that they don’t need to be told what to do with their own vaginas.

For what it’s worth, I think it goes like this regardless of your gender: if you expect someone to go down on you it’s considered good manners to have the occasional trim.  Beyond that, go crazy or don’t – it’s your downstairs mix-up, not mine or society’s.

The counterpoint to all the above is that women should be free to say and do more or less as they please, which is obviously true.  Accordingly, it’s not appropriate for me as a man to wade in criticising and issuing demands and generally telling women what to do, or how to go about realising their goals.  But if feminism is genuinely interested in gender equality then I probably shouldn’t be excluded from the conversation by virtue of possessing a y chromosome.

Also, one might wonder whether the efforts and resources of feminist organisations might be better directed towards substantive issues such as domestic violence and the slut shaming culture that no number of Sex and The City reruns can kill off.

One last thing – surely by now we ought to be comfortable with using proper words when we talk about down there.  At the very least we should be over the simpering twee of flower and fufu.  We’re all adults, let’s call it what it is:

A vajayjay.

4 thoughts on “Wax On, Wax Off: Feminism And The V Word

  1. Yeah, well, (in the US) FLOTUS getting bangs was a big deal.

    There is seriously a project that campaigns to remind women that they have the choice to wax (or not)? And the photographic examples of choices made by other women will remind young women – particularly – that they are free to make a similar (or different) choice? And this will generate a discussion of what it means to be a modern feminist? Okay. And this is a result of a number of feminist groups coming together. Maybe they are trying to attract the demographic of women who don’t identify as feminist by showing them that they are possibly a victim of unrealized grooming opportunities?

    Okay, I’ve got nothing…

    As someone who works in a female dominated profession characterized by chronically low pay (that I truly believe is an important profession), it’s hard to take something like this in the serious way it’s intended. Of course, I’m not sure women in the US are facing the same kind of pressure women in London are facing over “required” waxing, so maybe I don’t fully understand the implications. There is something of a sad joke in the library world that’s along the lines of “What came first: Low pay or women librarians?”.

    1. Given American cultural dominance, I suspect that not only are the pressures more or less exactly the same as they are across Europe, some of them are American in origin.

      So we exported ideals of feminine beauty to the new world – you guys reciprocated with total body hair removal.

      The fact that you and, say, everybody you know doesn’t feel that it’s a particularly significant issue, or even (possibly) considers that that aspect of your own personal grooming is a war ground over which you have little or no control speaks volumes about the value of this campaign…

      1. Or I just meant that it’s not particularly common, as the cost is high (typically over $50 for one session). Hair removal and waxing is not American in origin, though the glamorization of it might be.

        Maybe you’re right, maybe my options have been taken away. Before I head to the salon next time, I’ll ask around and check with others before I make whatever choice I’ll be making. Asking others opinions and their preferences will make my personal decision that much easier. I can’t believe I hadn’t thought of that before. Thanks.

      2. You’re welcome.

        It’s not enormously common here either. In this part of the world we’re convinced that it was America that taught us to hate and fear body hair, regardless of the truth of the matter (one of those mysteries that will never be solved like the enduring popularity of Bieber)…

        Tell you what, when you ask around before your next salon trip, probably best to ask a man.

        LOL winky face emoticon etc.

        World’s gone insane.

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