Breanne Fahs, associate professor of women and gender studies at Arizona State University, is offering her students the opportunity to gain an extra credit, they just need to do something a little unconventional….at least as it relates to school.
From Arizona State University
Female student participants stop shaving their legs and underarms for 10 weeks during the semester while keeping a journal to document their experiences. For male students, the assignment is to shave all body hair from the neck down.
“There’s no better way to learn about societal norms than to violate them and see how people react,” said Fahs. “There’s really no reason why the choice to shave, or not, should be a big deal. But it is, as the students tend to find out quickly.”
Stephanie Robinson declined to participate in the project during the first two classes she took with Fahs, but took the plunge during her third opportunity. “It really was a life-changing experience,” she said.
“Many of my friends didn’t want to work out next to me or hear about the assignment, and my mother was distraught at the idea that I would be getting married in a white dress with armpit hair. I also noticed the looks on faces of strangers and people around campus who seemed utterly disgusted by my body hair. It definitely made me realize that if you’re not strictly adhering to socially prescribed gender roles, your body becomes a site for contestation and public opinion.”
Robinson says part of her motivation for deciding to participate in the exercise was that in previous semesters she felt left out of the sense of the camaraderie of the students who were all bonding over their body hair, or lack thereof for males in the class.
“It’s interesting how peer pressure within the class can create a new norm,” Fahs said. “When practically all of the students are participating, they develop a sense of community and enjoy engaging in an act of rebellion together.”
Fahs said there’s more of a tendency on the part of women who stop shaving to be concerned about the reaction of their romantic partner. Men who shave tend to focus more on what other men think. Both genders bump up against sexism and heterosexism in their experiences, albeit in different ways, she explained.
Student Grace Scale once dated a man who decided one evening to tell her about all the things he “hated” about her body, including the hair on various parts of it. “This was the first time that anyone had critiqued my body in such a way, and I didn’t even have to think twice about the following breakup,” she said.
Scale says she was surprised by the strong reactions of some of her male friends during the 10 weeks. “One of my dearest friends – at the time – compared my underarm hair to ‘the sludge in the bottom of the garbage can,’ and continued on a rant about how growing body hair had a direct correlation to challenging men’s authority and position in society.”
Jaqueline Gonzalez credits the body hair project with helping to shape her into the activist she is today. “The experience helped me better understand how pervasive gendered socialization is in our culture,” Gonzalez said. “Furthermore, by doing this kind of activist project I was no longer an armchair activist theorizing in the classroom. So much is learned by actually taking part in the theory or idea we learn in the classroom, and we could benefit from this type of pedagogy being taken up by similar classes.”
Here’s the question, WOULD YOU DO IT?