Socialization

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Goddess V often tells me I think too much. I smile at her and say, “Ya think?” She’s right, mostly, but the deal is, I enjoy thinking. It’s part of who I am. I can sit quietly alone, with no TV, no radio, no distractions, and think—about all kinds of things. After writing my last post about gender roles, I’ve been thinking about socialization in general, and about how it defines us in many ways we don’t readily consider. Take women’s underarms for example ☺



The practice of eliminating body hair, both for men and women, is evident throughout the ages as far back as 3000 years B.C. and has ebbed and flowed from one culture to another. Men have concerned themselves with body hair on again and off again, and to a much lesser extent, so have women. Historians generally agree that shaving for American women began in 1915 with an ad in the up-scale magazine, Harper’s Bazaar. The ad featuring a photograph of a young woman dressed in a slip, a robe covering one shoulder, with her arm raised above her head to reveal a hairless underarm. At the time the term underarm was considered objectionable and unfit for print, so the ad copy was skillfully crafted and began: “Summer dress and modern dancing combine to make necessary the removal of objectionable hair.” Within a few months however, ad men through caution to the winds and began writing ad copy like, “The Woman of Fashion says the underarm must be as smooth as the face.”

The HB ad was the first in an onslaught by male marketeers to convince high-society women it was time, in fact, “necessary” for them to deal with not-so-feminine tufts of hair that someone, presumably the opposite sex, ostensibly found to be “objectionable.” An altruistic motive? Hardly. American women represented an untapped market for razors and assorted other toiletries the marketers themselves had yet to fully envision. Yes, American women had more than hair under their arms. They had big dollar signs. In the eyes of consumer marketeers, they were little more than juicy, low-hanging plums just ripe for the picking. By 1915 McCalls was running similar ads directed at middle class women. Bolstered by sheer and sleeveless dresses that were gaining popularity in women’s fashions, the movement toward redefining femininity in America was well under way.

Women’s razors and depilatories made their debut in the Sears Roebuck catalog in 1922, the same year the company began offering dresses with sheer sleeves. By this time however, the underarm battle had been largely won. Advertisers no longer felt compelled to explain the need for their products and could concentrate on distinguishing themselves from their competitors. The anti-leg hair campaign was less intense with the volume of leg ads never reaching the proportions of the underarm campaign. At the time there was little practical need for smooth legs. Hemlines that had risen during the Roaring Twenties plummeted in the 1930s. It wasn’t until Dr. Wallace Carothers at DuPont invented nylon in 1938 that an affordable alternative to silk stockings became available to the masses. Nylon stockings first went on sale on May 15, 1940, selling 780,000 pair the first day and 64 million the first year. Presumably, women rushed home to try on their first pair of nylons and decided it was time to start shaving the legs too.


According to one major razor manufacturer, a female who begins shaving at age 12 or 13 will do so about 6,336 times throughout her life. This equates to the average western woman dedicating approximately 32,000 minutes, or 533.34 hours, or 22.22 days of her life denuding her legs and underarms of unsightly hair. When I compare this to how I spend darn near this much time in my car each year just traveling to and from my job, I suppose 22.22 days in a lifetime is not that big a deal.

Then again, when you multiply 22.22 days by the number of shaving women in America: that’s many hundreds of years worth of otherwise productive woman hours that are wasted balancing on one foot in the shower! Next, consider how just one particular model Gillette razor recently earned $400 million in sales during its first year in the marketplace. It’s easy to understand why Proctor and Gamble was willing to plunk down $57 billion to acquire Gillette in 2005. In our age of global marketing, countries in which women still do not shave represent an opportunity for huge additional revenues, which is why companies like P&G are presently engaged in campaigns designed to convince those ladies they need to get with the program. The impact then, of cultivating women as consumers of razors, is massive--on our time as individuals and on our economy. But that’s not the half of it.

Shaving underarms and legs has become part of our western socialization and has helped to define our expectations for the female gender. When we see a woman raise her arm, men and women alike expect to see her armpit to be clean shaven. When we don’t we are taken aback, repulsed even. Stop for a moment to consider the true power in this: something as natural as underarm hair, which was given by Nature to every female on the planet, is now seen as being unnatural and decidedly unfeminine. Perhaps even more importantly, this has helped to defined how many women think of themselves as females. I dare say there are few women in America, sporting more than a few days’ growth under their arms, who could look at their image in a mirror without grossing themselves out.

For the most part, media advertisers must first persuade us to entertain a negative self image, simply because this affords them the best opportunity to present their products as solutions for correcting that imagined negativity. Make no mistake. This means there is a direct (and critical) correlation between our investment in negative self image and our investment in advertisers’ products. Witness Gillette’s TV and print ads for the premium-priced Venus razor for women that “brings out the goddess in you.” The logic is elementary, and damned insulting if you ask me. You know you’re a goddess wannabe. But you don’t use a Venus razor, so you’re not. What’s more, you can’t look like the mile-long-legs-to-die-for model in our ads. But never fear, ladies, Venus shaving system for women to the rescue. Simply shell out the bucks for one and voila, problem solved.

Dr. Rita Freedman, nationally known author, speaker and women’s psychology expert, writes in her book, Beauty Bound, “Body hair signals sexual maturity as well as dominance. Females are socialized to censor body hair, just as they are taught to repress their sexuality. The silky legs and hairless underarms of a child-woman connote her sexual innocence, even as they make her more sensuous… part of a social myth of female beauty which serves to keep women in their place as ‘the fair sex,’ powerless, weak and properly submissive.”



This is not a call to ban the blade among women. It’s just a shame shaving has been foisted on females when it should be a matter of choice. It’s equally a shame men and women alike have been condition to grimace at the sight of female body hair. Nonetheless, despite rising female authority, and despite a 2004 European study* that may indicate an increased incidence of breast among women who shave and use deodorant, I doubt women will toss out their razors the way feminists discarded their bras in the 1960s. Not any time soon anyway. Smooth legs and hairless armpits may or may not be good things, depending on your point of view. As Rita Freedman states in her more recent book, Bodylove: Learning to Like Our Looks and Ourselves; a Practical Guide for Women, “Good looks are a real source of women’s social power and can be useful in a variety of situations. There’s a difference between pursuing beauty joyfully and pursuing it desperately. Looking attractive is part of the game of living. But playing with your image should feel like fun, not a contest in which you always wind up on the losing side.”

Speaking of contests, below is a European ad for breast cancer awareness (the English version) that won an award in an advertising festival in 2005. Had this billboard appeared on an interstate in the United States it probably would have stopped traffic.


*The US study, by Chicago doctor Kris McGrath of Northwestern University, and involving over 437 women with breast cancer, suggests that deodorants or antiperspirants might be linked with breast cancer, but only together with underarm shaving. It is the first evidence of such a link but is far from conclusive. The study found that the more zealous the underarm regime, the younger the women were when diagnosed with cancer. Those who shaved at least three times a week and applied deodorant at least twice a week were almost 15 years younger when diagnosed than women who did neither.
This issue first gained publicity in the 1990s when a hoax email was widely circulated. It claimed that underarm shaving creates tiny nicks, allowing chemicals from deodorants or antiperspirants to enter the body and trigger tumors.

10 comments:

Wondering said...

Interesting post and very informative. I will be a hit at the next party with triva about women shaving. I know men have started to be concerned about excess body hair. Will this follow womens trends?

Lady Julia said...

Excellent piece - most interesting. Thanks for writing it.

Queen'sKnight1 said...

It's really interesting that when adult films became widely available, female adult actresses did not shave their pubic areas. As the medium became more widespread, there was a trend toward slightly trimmed muffs, then "landing strips", and then completely bare genitals.

Personally, the bare genitals seem just too little girlish. To me, the woman with a full bush is incredibly sensual, far moreso than those without.

Wouldn't it be poetic justice if societal norms evolved toward women being comfortable with all their natural body hair, while men were more or less expected to be smooth skinned?

R. said...

I lived for several years with a woman who didn't shave her legs. As much as I like smooth limbs I always thought her lack of social conditioning much of what made her special.

Sheen V said...

I shave my pits & pubes as a sign of submission to women.

Aradia said...

Wow... great post Veezknight. I have been trying to catch up on Y/your blog today, and I have really been enjoying both of Y/your posts. Very informative, insightful and most certainly gives U/us food for thought.

Seriously, have you considered writing a book about these things? If you haven't, think about it. I personally believe that what you and Goddess V have to say would be readily accepted into everyday Vanilla life, and might actually help S/some to embrace W/who T/they really are.

For instance, Women might realize that it is not good to try to be submissive when They aren't and that it is okay, even encouraged by enlightened males to embrace Their Dominant sides.

On the flip side, it might help more men to stop repressing their natural submissive tendencies, stop trying to be "macho", and catch on to the fact that many Women want a man that can, and will fall to knees in sheer adoration of Her.

Please keep up the great posts.

My best,

Aradia


ps... GoddessV, W/we miss you at the Board. Please come visit U/us again soon.

slave2Catwoman said...

I am SOOOO happy milady shaves her underarms. To show my appreciation, I often lick away any perspiration from them. WHen I and another of her boys do this in tandem, we can bring her to orgasm. Win/win situation, if you ask me.

Anonymous said...

Hi all, this is Pierre from Belgium, I'm feminist, in my forties. First of all, I'm French-speaking so my English is not very good.
The post of VeezKnight is very interesting, there is some information missing about the recent past.
I'm very involved by female body hair (FBH) because my wife does not shave her armpits for several reasons and when we go to the beach or the pool, people look disgusting to her, some say "monkey", "go shave it". This is relatively recent (1995) and is really a sexist discrimination as I also have body hair but nobody bashes me. BTW, this kills the legend about hairy European women. During summer, you will not see a single woman with leg or armpit hair in France, Belgium, Spain, UK.
I was curious to know why FBH suddenly became a problem for a lot of people. I've made some researchs on the Internet and I've found that FBH was taboo for centuries, it was forbidden to display it on statues and on pictures, it's only since ±1850 that a painter has showed a woman with pubic hair visible. Then, movie industry began circa 1896 and the MPAA, a puritan censor group from Hollywood, explicitly mentions it was forbidden to show FBH in movies, surely because it was too erotic and a woman should be equal to a man if she sports hairy armpits, as Aristophanes already described 400 years BC in "Lysistrata". This is the reason why there are almost no movies showing FBH. Even "historical" movies, supposed to describe human life in the Middle Age show shaved women, which is as anachronistic as if they had a cellular phone ! During centuries, only rich people shave, while 95% of the population was starving.
An ad from 1924 said
«Perhaps, because of an old-fashioned scruple, you have hesitated to rid yourself of the disfigurement of underarm hair. Are your arms constantly pinned to your sides? Or do you scorn to wear the filmy or sleeveless frocks that the vogue of the day decrees? In either case, He is apt to think you lifeless and behind the times. He will notice you holding yourself aloof from the swing of convention»

Such advertisements raised women’s anxiety, shame and self-consciousness, sending them scurrying to stores to purchase fashionable contraptions that scrape away hair, flesh and blood.
Disfigurement of underarm hair (for a woman of course, no problem for a man), WTH is this ? We all know that marketing uses every possible means but this was really a shame. Nowadays, ads say to women "shave and you will be attractive and feminine". But FBH is a sign of sexual maturity and thus, a sign of femininity, as breast. So women remove an obvious sign of womanliness to be more feminine ? Am I missing something ?

Susan Basow, a feminist and teacher at the university said in 1991

«In my research, I found that in the U.S., prior to 1915, very few women removed underarm or leg hair. Then Gillette began "The Great Underarm Campaign" to get women to shave with their new safety razor. The ads emphasized "smoothing" the underarms and had a racist tone (to make skin "white" and "fashionable" at a time when waves of "dirty" "old-fashioned" immigrants from Eastern Europe, Italy and Ireland were flooding the U.S.). In the 1920s, the female "look" was a boyish and youthful one (the flapper), but this is also when women had won the vote and were leaving the domestic sphere for the public one. Ads emphasized the importance for women to manage their appearance in order to be sexually attractive to men.
Ads emphasized attractiveness, neatness, cleanliness, and modernity. Given that women were behaving more like men (in terms of jobs and education), the gender lines became drawn on women's bodies: men are hairy, therefore women must be hairless. Legs, leading as they do to the crotch, also have a sexual association. Shaving them can be viewed as a means to socially control (modify) women's untamed sexuality.»

I have spoken with hundred of women in Europe about FBH and I was amazed to hear that 50% of the women shave only because of peer pressure ! They don't want to suffer, to waste time and money but can't stand unkind remarks.
Note that men have decided for women's bodies during centuries, what we see now in 2007 is pure atavism. So when referring to the past, we should keep in mind that even if women were shaved, it was because of patriarchy, as for the rest of women's life.

There is maybe a new trend about FBH. French actress and former top model Laetitia Casta appears in the last movie of Pascal Thomas "Le grand appartement" where she sports proudly her hairy armpits, saying it's sad that women have to be smooth and look like children. She said to journalists that female body hair is very erotic and glamorous and that a lot of men love it.
English comedian Shazia Mirza made also her coming-out, she has decided to stop shaving since 1/1/07, see her website : http://www.shaziamirza.org/hairywomen.html
She made a documentary «Fuck off, I'm a hairy woman», I've watched it last week on a Belgian channel and it was really amazing : all the men are disgusted by FBH, there was a guy saying to Shazia "You don't respect me because you force me to see your FBH, you are intolerant." :(
Shazia staged her very own hairy catwalk event at London’s Café de Paris. "It's a bit of freak show, but it's a nice one." teased Mirza as she invites her hirsute models to the stage.

I don't ask that women stop shaving but that women who choose not to shave would be left alone. FBH is a sign of sexual maturity. For me, a woman without FBH is like a woman without breast or head hair, she misses a part of her femininity.
Pierre.

Anonymous said...

This is one of the best blog posts I've read in a long time. I'm a submissive guy, and also a feminist, and I have to say that most online writing about femdom is marked by a male, and therefore dominant, perspective. There's a lot of crap written with only skin-deep differences to "straight" porn, and all the issues of objectification and commodification of femininity that entails. oh the irony :P

To stumble across some sincere, interesting writing on D/s makes such a nice contrast to all the rubbish floating about most of the interwebs. Keep it up!

RenéD said...

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