Humans are not brought into this world comprehending what is it mean to be a men/masculine or to be a women/female; they take the meaning of it from their parents, peers, and society. This learning process of shaping them starts when the infants take their first breath and continue to different stages of their life (childhood, Adolescence, etc.) When the infants are assigned to one category in the binary system “boy/girl”, the whole world around them start to teach practices/norms that would fortify them to fit into the binary system.
For an instant, parents tend to buy pink clothes for girls, because “they assume girls like pink”, and blue clothes for boys. Also, the parent buys different toys, tools, music instrument for their kids. School also participate in shaping kids by providing them with different sport etc. Kids learn a great deal from what we provide them with to play because they are like a blank sheet of paper, they will become whatever their parent, society and so on write on it.
This emphasis that that family, society, religion, and media are playing a huge role in creating social norms, and they are also responsible for teaching individuals which set of behavior and practices that are considered acceptable in a group or society, and which are not. Unfortunately, these traits and behaviors that are considered culturally appropriate with “masculinity” or “femininity” are often harmful to men and women and symbolize inequality. This norms and others are referred to as part a cultural process of “gender fortification” by Anne Fausto-Sterling, which it creates gendered boundaries between “masculinity” and “femininity” within our homes and society.
In addition to “pinking girls and blu’ing boys’ practices” used to differentiate between women and men, “body hair” was another interesting norm that commonly used within our society and family. As quoted by Bobel and Kwan, Toerien and Wilkinson, “hairlessness norms mark femininity as clearly different from masculinity; femininity becomes associated with “tameness,” docility and immaturity, while masculinity is associated with power and dominance.” (Bobel and Kwan, p 15) This practice of hair removal placed upon women is a lifelong struggle, it controls them, and it makes them inferior and subordinate to men. Nevertheless, females who choose not to shave were perceived by society as imitating the character of the opposite sex such as “power”. Because our society and culture have made body hair a source of political contention. As quoted by Frank, Toerien and Wilkinson stated that ”constructed as masculine, hair, when visible on a woman’s body, represents a symbolic threat to the gendered social order.” (Frank, 281). Meaning that women who don’t shave are openly resisting to obey men as well as challenging the practices dictated by patriarchal expectations.
Furthermore, considering women depilation and its impact on their social identity categories such as sexual orientation, race, social class; it turns out that women who do not depilate have been traditionally seen less attractive than women who are hairless and smooth. As quoted by Frank, Basow stated that “Due to the social perception that women with body hair are less attractive and personable.” (Frank, p 282) It is always a socially unacceptable thing for women to appear in public with body hair otherwise, they will become vulnerable to the danger of bullying and social isolation from men and even from other women. With that in mind, women of color and the working-class are more harshly judged when not depilating than white and upper-class women. As stated by Bobel and Kwan “Femininity is a white middle-class signifier against which women of color and working-class women have been defined as deviant, thus requiring that they meet the standard of white, middle-class femininity to avoid being positioned as vulgar, pathological, tasteless, and sexual.” (Bobel and Kwan p,16) While deciding not to remove body hair may seem like a simple decision for some women, but for other women, it’s an unaffordable luxury.
Sometimes, these norms and practices that our parent our society teaches us might change or shift from one category to another over time. Nowadays, it has become the norm that men today are rethinking their masculinity by following a more feminized behavior such as removing bodily hair. In the United States, Men’s Health and Esquire were two of the well-known magazines that encouraged men opting for the same grooming rights as women. As stated by Frank “heterosexual men are increasingly encouraged to be groomers and consumers in the beauty market” (Frank, 270). These magazines use arguments to encourage men to depilate and strive to achieve an ideal male body. On account of such magazine’s men are constantly consuming body images of the perfect male who attract all women, clean/healthy, rich, have control of his body powerful.
Amongst the arguments that became popular about body hair for men is that body hair is a medical issue. Dermatologists began to advise men to look into depilation and inhibitor creams to manage excess body hair all for the sake of health and looking ‘clean’. The media also shifted the body hair norm which was associated with masculinity by using men as an object of the gaze. Contrary to the past where natural hair was a norm for men to represent their manhood, power, attractiveness; the message to males now become that body hair is no longer lend to sexual attractiveness nor did it boost what is to be masculine. According to Frank, “hairlessness may now be considered a new norm for men” (Frank, p 282) This affects the self-esteem of men and begin to change their views on their natural hairy bodies. Frank continues that, “the emphasis on ”looking clean” may actually be more about establishing a particular raced and classed aesthetic that would set middle- and upper-class white men apart from other ”dirty” racial and class Others.” (Frank, p 287) Clearly, the message here is if you are not ‘clean’ you are poor, dirty and undesirable.
Moreover, “Manscaping” which the practice of removal or trimming of hair on a man’s body for cosmetic effect is used to divide men into race and class categories. Therefore, it resulted in a “masculinity crisis”. As quoted by Frank, Bordo stated that “individuals turn to their bodies in an attempt to establish a private domain in which a sense of control and self-esteem can be reestablished.” (Frank, p 280) The media raises awareness of men toward their bodies by embedding the idea that if you are a man and you lost control over your life, social class, sexual orientation, race; at least you can take control your body image by “manscaping”
It would seem that now both men and women all on even ground in that, they are depilating for the same reasons. However, this idea of the hairless body for both men and women does not signal equality, but rather a sense of false equality only on a surface level. An example of that is that women have to adhere to the social norms of appearance by removing body hair; while men don’t. In other words, men can still have some power if they keep their body hair, however, women may even lose employment opportunities or become social rejects because of not removing hair. Furthermore, it is important to remember that this notion of hairlessness came about in order to create more male consumers, as stated by Frank “it is not surprising that these magazines represent male body depilation as a mechanism for increasing, rather than reducing, one’s masculine capital (Frank, 294). As can be seen, “Manscaping” was only a mechanism for enabling the magazines and the beauty market to double and maximize their profits. For the most part, the essence of depilation was not set to make body hair as a signal for equality between men and women. But instead, it divided men and women as well as men and women among themselves to create a sort of social monopoly if you will. Hence, creating more groomers and consumers.
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