Daily Mail: Female students at an Arizona university have been offered the change to earn extra credit by not shaving their armpit hair for a whole semester. The unconventional offer was made by women and gender studies professor Breanne Fahs as a way to get her students to challenge social norms.
Male students on the Arizona State University course are also able to apply for extra credit, but to qualify they have to shave all their hair from the neck down.
Fahs, professor of women and gender studies in ASU’s New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, encourage her students to document their experiences in a journal for the 10-week semester.
She said the social experiment helps students analyze society’s attitude to genders, with female students facing ridicule for having hairy armpits, and the men gaining insight into how much pressure is put on women to stay hair free.
“There’s no better way to learn about societal norms than to violate them and see how people react,” Fahs told ASU News.
“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.”
Many of the students who have taken the hairy path to extra credit described it as a life-changing experience, and said they were shocked at the reaction from their partners, friends, and family.
“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,” Robinson said. “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.”
That act of rebellion isn’t quite the same for males as females, according to Fahs. It’s not uncommon in our society for some men to engage in “manscaping,” removing hair from some parts of their bodies. For the extra-credit assignment, she asks male students to shave everything below the neck and maintain it for ten weeks. This makes the process labor-intensive and gives men some insight into what women who shave go through, she said.
Some male students have come up with strategies to add a “macho” element to the project. “One guy did his shaving with a buck knife,” Fahs said. “Male students tend to adopt the attitude of, ‘I’m a man; I can do what I want.’”
“Although a co-worker questioned why I shaved my legs, I felt comfortable in my own skin,” says a former male participant, Kurt Keller. “It helped having classmates who were so willing to lay it on the line too.
“I think shaving is an expectation that partners can place on each other because of personal taste,” Keller said. “However, just because a boyfriend or girlfriend pressures you to shave, it must be your own decision. I really hope that people, including myself, can treat our bodies with respect, regardless of relationship expectations. If your partner expects you to do something that feels unnatural, at that point there needs to be a separation, or at least a discussion.”
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 ten 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.”
Gonzalez isn’t the only person who believes projects like this should be implemented elsewhere. “I’ve been surprised by the amount of positive feedback I have received,” Fahs said. Faculty members at other universities are considering using the exercise in their classes. Fahs said she looks forward to seeing how the exercise works in other settings. “There is a big difference between imagining not shaving and actually trying to not shave,” she said.
And the American Psychological Association was so sufficiently impressed with the body hair exercise that the organization gave Fahs the Mary Roth Walsh Teaching the Psychology of Women Award through Division 35 in 2012. She has had papers about the project published in academic journals, including Feminism & Psychology, Psychology of Women Quarterly and Gender & Society.
Who verified that the men shaved all their hair below their necks? If this experiment is your “life-changing” experience, you may want to check out this and speak with a veteran or two.
But if you think this course is bad, check out her latest offering:
MAS 598: Trash, Freaks, and SCUM (Society for Cutting Up Men), “circus freaks, white trash, scum and SCUM, dirt/housework, black rebellion, trashy novels, abject bodies, radical eco-activism, dumpster diving“
FYI – The SCUM Manifesto is a radical feminist manifesto written in 1967 by Valerie Solanas. It argues that men have ruined the world and that women should overthrow society and eliminate the male sex.
Guess if you eliminate the male sex then us women won’t have to worry about shaving!