What could the internet have found so revolting? You’d think the subject matter of the twitterati’s latest target was a new sex tape that involved both necrophilia and bestiality and was thus finally shocking enough to horrify the mainstream judgement cloud that is Twitter (until the next trending topic came up, of course). Or perhaps it was an Actual Bad Thing like a celebrity domestic abuser.
Ah, me, no. The grossest thing the internet could imagine was a woman somewhere out there in the world, not applying sharp metal blades or hot melted wax to her skin. The horror!
We, the reasonable majority, might start to think about the women that we know, how in particular, they are not one unshaven day away from causing us to vomit every time they walk into a room. We might start to think that a twitter storm implying such a thing might start to make women put down, self-conscious and shamed. We might come to believe that sentiments expressed with such internet behavior are foolish and harmful, and that we need to push back. And we would be right.
The Occasion: No Shave November. Also known as Movember, or Novembeard, NSN is a yearly tradition in which people don’t shave for a month, in an effort to raise awareness and money for prostate cancer research. As you may be able to tell from the latter naming options, it has traditionally been focused on men. I don’t really have a problem with that. I understand that cancer research and awareness can be best served by snazzy, hip campaigns that appeal to people’s self-interest and sense of identity. This tactic can go terribly wrong, of course, as we’ve seen in the ‘pinkification’ of breast cancer. But in general, it’s fine for Movember to involve mainly men and market the idea mainly to men and even to emphasize the manliness of beards in order to do it.
But. But! When a phenomenon like No Shave November goes viral, it becomes so decentralized as to lack any organization that could alter the event to be more inclusive. This has obvious benefits, since it’s supposed to be, in some ways, something that people (read: men) just do because it’s fun and silly and exciting and yes, also because it’s for a good cause. Unfortunately, this means that the public face of No Shave November, as analyzed through twitter, becomes a cesspool of male privilege and pangendered body shaming.
“No shave November does not apply to females… I repeat: No shave November DOES NOT apply to females. That is all”
“Just Witnessed A Female Who C L E A R L Y Started -No Shave November-. Ughhhh. Nasty AF”
“No shave November doesn’t apply to women. That’s disgusting.
“No Shave November is meant for men, NOT women!!!”
And I could go on and on and on and on…(note: these came from all genders).
Seriously, now? Has women’s body hair been killing people? Engaging in public urination? Eating people’s hamsters without justifiable cause? No? Oh, it’s just existing on women’s bodies in a totally sanitary and natural way in the same way it does on men’s bodies. And that is apparently enough to provoke an onslaught of self-indulgent narcissistic personal preference sharing tweeting, all of it entirely oblivious to the vast social and political consequences of such an overwhelming condemnation of women who do not shave their bodies.
I, for one, am fed up. Fed up with the silliness of caring so much about what other people look like, even when it doesn’t affect you. Fed up with the totally unfair beauty standards to which women are held and shamed if they do not. Fed up with the internet helping to create a society where it’s ok to make a perfectly normal preteen girl feel like she’s less of a woman if she doesn’t pull out the razors immediately on her twelfth birthday. And really really fed up with a culture that focuses more on the fact that women aren’t shaving than on the fact that they’re fighting prostate cancer.
But what is to be done? The internet is a devastatingly unappealing place at times, but it would be politically lazy to therefore do nothing. We have the choice to let the internet conquer feminism, or to make feminism conquer the internet.
Sexists may be all over the internet for now, but remember: their public forums are ours as well. We can use the same tools and turn their awful messages on their heads. We can call out sexism where we see it. We can spread supportive, healthy messages to the entire Internet community.
And we already are! The feminist blogosphere exists, of course, but even just in this case, check out this woman, who is calling out sexism. And this guy was really happy we, the anti-sexists, existed. Sure I received some unpleasant replies to my requests for a saner, less misogynistic world, but again, if the sexists can use twitter as a public forum, so can we. We can say things like, “Stop shaming women for their personal choices. Especially if they’re trying to fight prostate cancer” We can even change some minds. We can hopefully reach many who may be made hopeful by the sheer existence of those willing to question the assumption that women must naturally have a higher standard of beauty inconvenience.
A woman who doesn’t shave her legs does not harbor the seeds of destruction of a civilized and hygienic society, and one who does it in the name of raising money for prostate cancer research is praiseworthy, not disgusting, and she should be lauded, not shamed. This is worth saying. Over and over again, in conversation and on the internet. It may be saddening or disturbing that it has to be said at all, but that is no excuse for inaction on our parts. If feminism has done anything, it has given us a voice. Let’s use it to make a more equal society, 140 characters at a time.
Also check out a friend’s take on the same issue at Teen Skepchick.
If you want to donate to the cause, check out the Prostate Cancer Foundation