When did pubic hair become so demonised?
“Pornography is a parody of love…” (Martin Amis)
I’ve been working for an adult chatline for over a year now, and of course when I signed up I expected to tell a few lies – the size of my modest chest, and what I was wearing. In fact, what I’ve ended up lying about most is neither of these. It is claiming to be completely shaven, ahem, down there. I don’t always lie. If a caller asks me the very frequent question, “whats your pussy like?”, without giving a preference for shaved, I might say, “well its got hair, is that okay?” And many of my younger callers, in spite of being very sexually active, have been known to give the response “whoa, I’ve never seen that before!” as if it is totally out of the ordinary. Which it seemingly is in the modern world. But why? And more disturbingly, is it right to want to look infantile?
Of course, its not difficult to pinpoint the root of this – in its increasing dominance and accessibility, the pornography world has become more powerful in its influence over us. My generation is probably the last one to have experienced its first glimpse of porn as an abandoned page under a hedgerow, as the internet throws up ever graphic films to an ever wider audience, at such an early age that it’s probably a framework for their idea of sex. Young men’s idea of what sex should be is being driven by porn, and these days that’s all about smooth and shaved.
Am I the only one discomfited by this? There is a lot of thought amongst liberals right now, including feminists, that pornography is a reflection of sexual freedom, and can be empowering. Really? Personally I would say it is the most repressive it’s ever been; we seem a long way away from the natural looking, pubic-hair endowed girls on the straightforward naked photos of 1970’s pornography. The feminist Katie Glass recently attempted to make a feminist porn film for the “female friendly” website Shhh.com, documenting the process in Marie Claire. Halfway through the process, as she witnessed the uncomfortable filming and objectification of the female “star,” no matter how hard she attempted to avoid it, she started to want to distance herself, confirming that so-called feminist pornography was just as exploitative as any other form. Any actresses in the field are the living embodiment of “the princess of pop pornography,” from Roger McGough’s poem “SWALK,” who, “invites rape by proxy.”
Don’t get me wrong, I know that there’s only so much moral high ground an adult chatline worker to take. As I provide a similar (if much more human) service, I understand the male desire for pornography, which has always existed in one form or another. But when it shapes ideas about what sex and women should be like, that is more dangerous. And when that idea is looking like an underage girl by shaving off pubic hair, that is even more dangerous. Sigmund Freud believed that pubic hair was put there as some sort of barrier to sexual liberation – but, whilst undeniably interesting, Freud also said a lot of things that it might be time to discredit, this included.
The idea that pubic hair is a bad thing has gone beyond the sexual and into straightforward female aesthetics. I heard one girl saying that she would consider anybody with such hair “a hippy.” Lets clarify something quickly here; I’m not a “hippy.” I’m not one of those who think looking your best is “counter-feminist.” I’m always adorned with make up and perfume (for me, not men). But I can’t get on with the idea of stripping your adulthood away for sexual reasons; it seems a perverse contradiction. I shaved it all off once after a serious sexual assault in order to feel cleaner; I hated the way it looked and quickly realised I had made a mistake, simply pushing myself a little closer to the object my attackers expected me to be. 38% of rape victims never tell anyone; but if the modern world endorses us looking like defenceless objects, and pornography portrays us as little more than that, then it isn’t making the world any easier.
Of course, the choice to shave pubic hair, like anything else aesthetic, is purely personal. I myself am happy with enough of a trim to stop a pair of French knickers from looking indecent, but that’s it – for those whom shaving feels right, that’s one thing. For the rest of us, it’s time this expectation was stopped.