Shaving and Success: When does feminist practice compromise feminist ideology?

When I first fell down the feminism rabbit hole in my early years at university I, and my classmates, were encouraged to apply our new-found ideology to our lives in whichever ways we felt comfortable.
My story was one which I’m guessing was mirrored by many other twenty-somethings; I stopped shaving and wearing makeup, avoided binding clothes and ditched heels. I also had some pretty uncomfortable conversations with my then boyfriend and learnt the hard way that ‘feminist’ is still a dirty word.
I eventually reached peak in my ‘radicalness’ (which I suspect some would rather refer to as ‘militarism’) and began to wind back many of the changes I had made. I started to wear makeup again, grew my hair and stopped yelling at men on trains who unwittingly invaded the personal space of their female co-passengers.*
Some changes however, I kept; I haven’t worn a pencil skirt or a pair of heels since 2007 except when in costume.

The truth is, that whilst I still appreciate the theory behind many of these feminist practices, they are not always, well, practical.
I recently had a discussion with a woman that I was friends with back when we share gender studies classrooms – she is undertaking a masters of law now and has recently started shaving her legs again. Some of her feminist friends have given her shit for it, but the reality is that she simply cannot expect to advance professionally if she continues not to.
“But that’s FUCKED!!” you say, “fight the power!”
And oh how I agree. But where do you draw the line between damning the man and damaging your opportunities? If wearing mascara and skirt is necessary to get you into the boardroom, then is it more important to take a stand and be left outside than to access your potential to be chairing the fucking meeting, skirt and all?
Because the way I see it, the end-game of feminism is to achieve equality. Pretty basic. But it appears that the path to success is paved with compromise, and sometimes I’m not sure whether the practice is still truly feminist if it prevents the end result.

I have no answers here. A part of me sees frightening parallels between the above and the argument that women should exploit their own sexual objectification in order to gain power. Which I do not endorse.
So tell me blogosphere: what kinds of compromises do you make to get by in the actual fucking RL? And what will you not change for anyone, anytime?


*Total bullshit, I still yell at people on trains.


7 thoughts on “Shaving and Success: When does feminist practice compromise feminist ideology?

  1. Very, very true. My one compromise is make up. I’ve resisted it for a long time, and I think it’s shit that women have to waste minutes of their day, everyday, to cover their faces in paint, because their natural faces are apparently not fit to be seen. And I truly think I’m beautiful without it. Unfortunately, once I started working I realised that people took me a lot less seriously without make up. It could be due to the fact that I have small features and look very young, but it definitely seems that I need to put this nonsense on my face to be respected and get ahead in the corporate environment.
    I’ll never wear heels though!

    1. As the friend I mentioned in the post put it: ‘I have to do all these things so that I can make it to the inside, and then destroy them from within!!’

      I just can’t help but feel conflicted by having to work within the framework of patriarchal norms in order to dismantle them. It doesn’t seem very efficient.
      But alas! You are correct – no one takes you seriously in a professional environment unless you wear make-up!

  2. In this case, alterning one’s appearance is done with the goal of dominating a social scene, not with the goal of attracting a mate. Does it matter? Does it mitigate the compromise for women if we admit that men have to make similar concessions and can’t be taken seriously unless they have something like a noose around their necks?

    I think that using your appearance to underline your authority is just part of the game. Being attractive helps everyone, male or female. And of course it is “selling out”. Who cares, though?

  3. I really enjoyed this! I think that in terms of achieving an ultimate goal some ideas and thoughts about how to get there would need to be sacrificed. I think that people cannot be static in what they believe as things are constantly changing and to achieve what you want you need to be flexible. In terms of feminism, I agree, it shouldn’t be the case that your friend needs to shave her legs, but at the end of the day sometimes, the things you want to accomplish cannot be done by brute power. Again, fantastic post!

  4. In the end I think when we do things like wear make-up and heels and shave our legs, it shouldn’t be for anyone but ourselves. It is completely wrong to feel that we have to do these things in order to be classed as proper women, but I also think it is wrong to judge a woman who does these things for herself, simply because she wants to. Doing ‘female’ things shouldn’t necessarily be an indication of a female who has conformed to a certain view of what it is to be a woman. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your post, it was really insightful and made some fantastic points!

    1. I think the phrase ‘doing it for myself’ can be misleading. Our choices and actions do not occur in a vacuum. One of the hardest things for me to confront when I was new to feminism was that some of the things I did ‘for myself’ or ‘because I wanted to’ were in fact, heavily influenced by social norms and by a patriarchal framework. For example, when I was asked ‘why do you wear heels?’ I might answer: ‘because they are fun! and my legs look awesome! I wear them because I want to wear them.’
      Upon deeper interrogation of my motives though, it became obvious that my desire to wear heels was borne of a desire to look and feel attractive. I don’t mean to suggest that women wear heels simply to attract a mate, but I do believe that our fashion choices are situated within the paradigm of the male gaze.

      That said, I do not wish to remove all agency from women’s choices, regarding fashion (or anything else for that matter!) I just think it is important to critically evaluate all the factors that contribute to our choices.

      Thanks for your input! I love getting comments.

  5. why hello! you know me in IRL so you know I struggle with my feminist ideology vs my feminist practice. I do wear pencil skirts and make up at work. I sometimes wear heels, and actually dedicated last summer to learning to wear them all day long (WHICH IS FUCKING MENTAL). And a lot of it does come down to wanting to succeed at work, and yes, being found attractive. Because of my blog, which many of my friends and colleagues read, I feel compelled to make myself more ‘palatable’ in other ways, i.e. looking nice. “See, I’m not a big scary feminist”, I want to tell people, “I’m wearing eyeliner!”. I guess in a way I am trying to normalise feminism (“This is what a feminist looks like”) and all that, but in another way, existing as a feminist in the real/corporate world is really scary.

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