I feel a little silly writing a post about shaving just weeks after we published “Another Gosh-Darned Shaving Post”, but it’s ok! The decision “To shave? Or not to shave?” is predicated upon a complicated cocktail of personal preference, body autonomy, societal pressure, hygiene considerations, and who knows what else. So really, shaving is just a window that provides insight to these things and how they fit together. In this sense, this post isn’t *actually* about shaving. It’s about this thing called a “Patriarchal Agreement”.
The Patriarchal Agreement:
The lovely Luz Delfondo first introduced me to the concept of a “Patriarchal Agreement”. Essentially, the patriarchal agreement is when a person chooses to give up power, or conform to the patriarchy in some way in order to gain more power in another way.
For example, if a waitress finds that it gets her better tips, she may choose to wear more revealing clothing. She may be perpetuating an oppressive model of how women should look or behave in the long-term, but she also gains extra money (power! autonomy!) in the here-and-now. I too, have made patriarchal agreements, and recently one of those agreements has been to shave.
Here’s the situation:
I’ve been working as a freelance environmental consultant for a little more than a year now, and although I love the freedom of freelance, it can be hard to find contracts. The money is getting tight, so I decided its time to start looking for a full-time job. However, I refuse to sit at home applying to jobs online, letting my application get lost in a pool of 300+ job-seekers. It’s just not my style. When I look for a job I suit-up and go to networking events.
Networking events are AWESOME. You get to meet employers and gain their goodwill before they ever even look at your resume. So far as I can tell, it’s hands down the best way to job-hunt.
I, for one, am not going to show up to a professional networking event showing hairy legs or pits. One of the only things you can do at a networking event that will make employers less likely to hire you is showing “bad personal hygiene”. Usually this means smelling bad, but generally, the idea is that so long as you are not somehow repulsive, networking is a better plan than not-networking.
Unfortunately, some people find female body hair repulsive.
I consider myself a rather practical person. When you stop to think about it, in most cases, shaving legs or armpits really isn’t all that practical. Hair on legs provides greater temperature control, armpit-hair helps wick away moisture, and you can save tons of time and money by not shaving your body hair!
Please note: this isn’t to say that people should stop shaving because shaving is impractical. Lots of things are impractical, but we still do them because we like the way it looks, or its fun, or…we just want to do it: no reasoning required!
But sometimes shaving is practical…
…like when societal expectations regarding body hair could potentially have a significant fiscal impact. Like when I go job-hunting at a networking event.
Can we just stop for a moment and reflect upon how ridiculous it is that we live in a world where my decision about what to do with my body hair could have major financial repercussions? We all know that my body hair has NOTHING to do with my ability to do my job competently. Yet we also know that I would be a fool to show unshaven legs at a business luncheon while job-hunting. I’m hoping for a $50-60K salary job, so essentially, the decision whether or not to shave my legs could potentially cost me ~$55,000 per year!
Shaving is my patriarchal agreement. Yes, I would prefer not to shave. Yes, I understand that by “giving-in” I am perpetuating a patriarchal idea of what a woman’s body should look like. But getting that job is going to give me more money and power. Furthermore, since I work in the scientific field (where women are underrepresented), simply being there will help normalize the idea of women working in that field, and help pave the way for future female science professionals.
Having the awareness that I am making a patriarchal agreement is very empowering. I don’t feel like I am being forced to shave when I don’t want to. I feel like I am making an active choice. I am the driver of my life. And I am choosing to sacrifice one thing to gain another.
Still, some of my friends protest:
- Why not just wear clothing that covers those parts of your body? Honey, it’s been HOT lately. And I am already nervous enough talking to potential employers. I don’t need another reason to sweat.
- Do you really want to work for a company that won’t accept you for who you are? Of course I’d like to work for an awesome, accepting company that would take me regardless of body hair. But its not a given that I would choose this accepting company over another that might offer me more interesting work, better pay/benefits, a nicer work environment, etc. I want to keep my options open before I inadvertently start filtering choices out based on people’s unfair, and largely unconscious revulsion at female body hair.
I can see why these options might make sense for some people. But at the end of the day, you have to pick your battles, and to me, body hair just isn’t that important. If it was, I probably wouldn’t shave: I have trouble sacrificing strongly-held values for personal monetary gain. But body hair?? Pshh… no biggie.
Once I get a job and hold it down for a while, I will probably feel comfortable showing unshaven legs and pits. But even if that never happens, body autonomy is a small price to pay for landing the right job and the money, power, and influence that goes along with it. I don’t want to limit my options by “being intolerant” of others’ unconscious, ingrained repulsion of the hairy-female.
I believe I do far more to progress my personal autonomy– and frankly, the autonomy of women everywhere– by succeeding in a science-career than I would by holding tight to my preference not-to-shave. I’ve made my patriarchal agreement and I am content with my choice.