The rise of femi-archy


Today I got into a bizarre fight on Facebook with a small group of feminists.   I have only myself to blame – I should know better than to try to argue that an issue which a number of self-declared feminists have decided is clearly a case of sexism, is actually nothing of the sort. But I’ve never been very sensible where keeping my opinions to myself is concerned, so in I waded.

The issue at hand was an article in The Pool entitled ‘The Dorchester wants its female staff to shave their legs’. The story focused on a list of guidelines that the Dorchester hotel provides for female staff, including such requirements as shaving their legs, applying full makeup, washing their hair, manicuring their nails, cleaning their teeth and applying deodorant.

Now, firstly, the fact that the Dorchester even has to add ‘wash your hair’, ‘brush your teeth’ and ‘use deodorant’ to their list of guidelines, is worrying. And I don’t think anybody actually objected to these particular rules. But the one about shaving legs (even if wearing tights) was particularly contentious, as were those concerning manicures and makeup.

My mistake, of course, was to argue that asking women to shave their legs, keep their nails in good nick and apply make-up when working in a public-facing role in a high-class London hotel is hardly a big deal.  And is it sexist? Well, asking women to shave their legs for a public-facing role doesn’t qualify in my book, given men have to keep their hairy legs covered, and either shave their faces or keep beards neatly trimmed. But oh, the outrage among the feminists when this was pointed out! What was it, they demanded to know, that I found quite so disgusting about women having hairy legs? Why are hairy legs allowed on men but not on women? Well firstly, as I tried to point out, I don’t find hairy legs per-se disgusting on women or on men, but I do believe that a woman displaying hairy legs looks less professional than one with clean-shaven legs, just as I believe a man looks more professional with his hairy legs covered by a pair of trousers.

On and on the arguments raged – surely I would agree that asking women to wear makeup is a feminist issue given men don’t have to? Well, yes, okay, but don’t most women choose to wear make-up when they want to look their best? Is it so unreasonable of a top London hotel to ask its customer-facing employees to try to look their best while at work?

Oh, but that’s the very problem! insisted the feminists. It’s our very belief that women look better with makeup than without, that need to be addressed, and when the Dorchester, which embodies “the very essence of patriarchy” starts telling women what they can do with their bodies we really do need to shout about it.   Well, maybe, but I still think this is a storm in a posh tea-cup, and maybe the feminists would be better off directing their anger at the big issues that are really annoying them, rather than picking on a small issue because it’s easier. And why is it that none of them have yet picked up on the irony that they are all brow-beating and patronizing me for not agreeing with their point of view? If they were men it would be a clear case of ‘mansplaining’. Maybe we need a new word – something like ‘femsplaining’?

Sadly, what started out as an enjoyable debate, gradually deteriorated into insults and name-calling once I made it clear that I was not going to be swayed in my opinion. And this got me thinking – what is it about us women, that we so often seem to be our own worst enemies? Often the worst critics of a woman’s appearance or intellect, are other women – certainly we tend to be more vocal in our critique than men. Why do we find it so hard to believe that we can all want equal rights for women, while not necessarily agreeing on every single facet of how an ‘equal’ society should operate?   Surely those who argue for the rights of women to be hairy and make-up free, should be equally happy to advocate for the rights of women to continue to shave their legs and wear make-up if they choose to?

And now I finally see the point that I was missing the whole time – of course as long as society dictates that women look better with clean-shaven legs and makeup, then the majority of women will continue to adhere to those unwritten rules, whether or not they actually wish to. So the only way to change society’s expectations, is for ALL women to stop shaving their legs and stop wearing makeup, whether or not they wish to. This, presumably, is what the feminists were trying to get me to see, and what I was so stubbornly refusing to understand. Essentially, it’s not about replacing a ‘patriarchal’ society with one in which all women and men are equal – instead it’s simply about replacing it with a ‘femi-archal’ one (yes, that’s another made-up word) in which those who don’t wish to shave their legs or wear make-up get to tell the rest of us that we may not do these things either. So it’s not actually about equal rights at all – it’s just about who gets to write the rules.  Well I said it in my original comment on the Pool article and I’ll say it again – “Not in my name!”

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7 Responses to The rise of femi-archy

  1. Theresa says:

    Excellent Kate, my argument exactly. The irony of being bullied by people who are trying to force one to see their side of the argument. They are also reverting back to Gloria Steinem style feminism, been there, done that. It is possible to be a feminist and shave your legs. Try being hairsuit (really) and live in a climate where the average summer temperature is 36 deg.


  2. miyagiyoda says:

    It’s important to unravel sexual mores and social mores, but it’s no simple thing given how intertwined we have them psychologically in our culture. Shaved legs and makeup are absolutely sexual mores. They have no bearing on neatness, professional conduct, nor efficiency. Forcing women to wear skirts and not pants as part of their uniform is too. A dubbious floral blouse instead of the shirt and tie option. Determining length of hair rather than simply out of face. The same rules should apply to men. Why can a male employees not wear makeup, or the skirt uniform, or have long hair worn it of his face? Many men already shave their legs and it’s gradually become a moot point, but why can’t a female employee have a neatly trimmed mousache if male employees are allowed facial hair? If your rule requires a gender pronoun, then it’s probably a sexual more. It only sounds absurd because of easily we conflate sexual mores. All that said, good manners is about making others feel comfortable, but it also requires us to be clear about how inclusive “others” is.


  3. Brenda Busschau says:

    Well done! I shall follow you with interest.


  4. Margaret O'Neil says:

    Well said Kate. I look forward to reading more on your blog


  5. D.K. Sultanti says:

    From the gaslight ventilators
    Autumn winds are blowing down
    One a thousand business women
    Shaving legs in Camden town

    Steam escapes from open bathrooms
    Hair is washed in porcelain bowls
    Touch of makeup, a pinch of rouge
    Standard woman from standard moulds

    I’d like them smooth says the Dorchester
    I’d like them clean says the Ritz
    I’d like them looking the same says Browns
    With a pencil skirt plus bits

    We know the horse is drawn by the cart
    And the is dog wagged by the tail
    But unless we listen then decide ourselves
    We’ll forever be eating quail..
    Or never answering mail..
    Or hashtag sunset sail…
    Or search for a rhyme and fail 😦


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