Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Do hairy legs conform to the dress code?

I haven’t completely figured out the dress code for my workplace yet. Different people dress with different levels of formality, and I haven’t yet determined if we all can wear casual clothes or if only the admins and techs can get away with it. I’m fairly confident that I can dress down, too- so the standard dress code would be what a typical Delmartian would wear around town (a couple of ticks up from my standard wardrobe). I’ve been dressing up slightly more than necessary, largely because the clothes I own are split into two categories: ratty-clothes-I-wear-all-the-time or nicer-clothes-I-used-to-wear-to-meetings-and-conferences. The first set is out, so I’m working with the limited options provided by the second until I find some work-appropriate summer clothes that I actually like.

The new mystery I’m trying to solve is whether Unshaven Female Legs can be accommodated within the dress code. At my last job, I held off on wearing shorts or short skirts until I witnessed someone else (a man, of course) bare their Unshaven Legs, but after that I had no compunctions about displaying my own leg hair. Here, though, the workplace is less casual, and while I have indeed observed Men with Unshaven Legs wearing shorts, I have not seen any women wearing shorts at all.

At the company picnic last week, I was torn between exposing myself as one of those radical man-hating feminists who ignore their personal hygiene, or maintaining the nonconfrontational persona I’d been cultivating during my first few weeks on the job. I’d decided to go with shorts, but ended up changing into jeans just because it was cold- and it was a bit of a relief. So my Unshaven Legs have yet to be exposed to my coworkers.

Why don’t I end this silly dilemma by doing something crazy like shaving my legs? The main reason is my philosophical opposition to removing body hair- I feel that the standard of beauty that shuns body hair infantilizes women, and I will not be a part of its perpetuation. It could be argued that keeping my legs covered is of no use in subverting these norms, so I might as well just shave them, but I feel that displaying shaven legs would be expressing compliance with the standard. It’s like the difference between allowing other people to assume that you are, say, a Democrat, and going out and buying a Hillary ’08 shirt to perpetuate their error.

(I did shave under my arms last year for Brianna’s wedding, because the only dress I could dig up for it was sleeveless and I didn’t want to attract more attention at the reception than the bride. I still felt disgusted with myself.)

I also don’t want to spend the time or money that body hair removal entails, and the environmental impacts of the increased use of water/ soap/ razor blades/ plastic packaging are unacceptable to me. (Dan and I are currently bickering about the environmental costs of his facial hair grooming.) I’m truly taken aback when I hear playground chat about getting waxed every month, and when I see shaven legs it feels like I’ve entered some strange alien culture. Unfortunately, it is the one I live in, and I need to decide exactly what I’m willing to give up to subvert it. Even though I realize how piddling my “sacrifice” would be, it’s never easy to give up privileges….


Crystal said...

This is a dilemma for me too. I think it's very OK to be cautious about confronting social norms, especially at work. I have a tendency to run headlong into social norms, despite my attempts to be careful, and some people just aren't ready for anything that is even a little outside their comfort zone.

So I wear long pants almost always. Sometimes I'll wear a long skirt with thick stockings. Rarely, I'll shave -- generally for conferences, or company visitors. But I work with engineers, who typically are strongly conservative. We're already a pretty "progressive" company since 2 out of 6 engineers are female.

Once in awhile, if an intimate conversation comes up, I'll mention something like the fact that I haven't used anti-perspirant in years. But I try not to say something shocking more than once a month.

I'm reminded of one friend's frequent refrain "Don't scare the straights." Yet sometimes it's necessary, you know? The status quo will never change if we don't say or do something, but it has to be gradual, or else people will dig in and reject it. Unfortunately, I frequently seem to find the line only after crossing it.

You probably have a little more freedom to try a display of "Unshaven Female Legs" since you're working in a college environment.

Best of luck with whatever you decide!

poz said...

Regarding facial hair: I choose to shave because I think I look better without a beard. Keeping a beard and not looking like a wildman requires grooming anyway and the difference (at least for me) between that grooming and full shaving is really quite small.

I find that people relate to me better when they can see my face well.

The hair on the top of my head: I find it a hundred times easier to keep when it's short. When it's longer, it's in my eyes, it's hot, and it takes a certain about of effort to keep it tangle free and clean. (And of course, hair cuts are environmentally sound. :-) )

I am not an anthropologist, but I don't think the leg shaving is "the man" trying to infantilize women. Instead, I think it's an act of accentuating a gender difference in order to appear more attractive to potential mates.

I use deodorant because I sweat a lot and "natural" is not pleasant. The best deodorant I have found is this one: (That website looks like snake-oil with the hair products, but the deodorant works.)

It's literally a rock. It's unscented, it's natural, it lasts pretty much forever, and it works. It's not an antiperspirant, it just keeps the stinky bacteria from growing. I get it from my supermarket.

Sarah said...

I am not an anthropologist, but I don't think the leg shaving is "the man" trying to infantilize women.

Consciously to individuals, no (at least usually); way-back culturally, I'd argue yes. Even accepting the emphasizing-sexual-dimorphism argument is tricky, because that also rationalizes corsets, footbinding, and breast implants. While men are also subject to societal standards of attractiveness based partly on sexual dimorphism (height, broad shoulders, muscular build) it's rare for them to go to the same extremes to reach them as women do to reach theirs- and the social punishments for failing to do so are far less.

I use baking soda as deodorant, which works pretty much the same way as the crystal I think....