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!”