Weddings and Body Hair (it grows back)

It has happened.

I’ve been asked to be in a friend’s wedding. I’ve read so many blog posts about this exact situation, and now here it is.

I was excited for my friend and excited to be asked, but literally the first thought in my head was “I bet she’ll want me to shave” and there it was, a sick-scared feeling in my stomach. And later when I was telling another friend about it, I cried. Sobbed, really. About my leg hair.

My crying baffled me at the time (it’s just HAIR. It grows back), but after some thought, it does make sense:

- I’ve thought about hair a whole lot over the past couple of years, and made it a really big deal.
– I think I’ve been using my body hair as a sort of shield against insecurity: “look how much I don’t care about your beauty norms!”
– Related: I think I’ve sprouted a whole new set of insecurities about not looking insecure. Somehow I’m afraid with hairless legs and pits, people will look at me and think “oh, too bad she doesn’t just love her body the way it is.” Which is ridiculous, but gives me some insight as to how my subconscious is apparently percieving people who shave.
– I think I also was upset because I felt the very familiar feeling of being trapped into doing something I don’t want to do, just because “this is the way we do it.”

But heavens, it is just hair. It grows back. And whatever I do with my body hair, and for whatever reasons, and whether those reasons are selfish or feminist or patriarchal or just I-want-my-friend-to-feel-great-about-her-wedding, it’s still just hair. It grows back.

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Confronting Casual Racism: Interview Fail

“We have a no-tolerance policy for addressing racial slurs and racial jokes. You notice a colleague consistently not addressing racial jokes made in his presence. How would you respond?”

I was asked the above in a job interview yesterday. Regardless of its poor wording, I was happy to hear the question because I thought it’d be a great opportunity to show that I’m interested in and passionate about the subject. Welp.

My response was something like “I would tell them that ignoring instances of racism is what is causing racism to continue; I think the reason people think racism doesn’t exist in our society is exactly because it’s so seldom confronted and talked about. I’d give them an example of how addressing these things doesn’t have to be tense or difficult.” And if the person continued anyway? “Hmmm … [twenty second pause]… well, that’s difficult. It would be a different decision every time it arose… but I guess no tolerance means no tolerance, so I would go to someone who I thought was better at communicating to the person than I am, and ask them to have a conversation with them.”

Alas, we always tend to concoct much better answers on the way home from the interview. This is not a difficult question, and I wish I hadn’t paused for so long. I gave the impression that the only reason I brought the situation to someone else’s attention was because rules are rules, and no tolerance is no tolerance. Puke. It would not be a different decision every time it arose–the facts are simple. The colleague is working with children, and not addressing overt racial slurs or jokes should be absolutely unthinkable. I should have responded similar to how I would if the question involved a colleague revealing themselves inappropriately or something.

My revised answer (if you’re out there, Charlene, please pretend this is what I said):

“I would remind them that they are in charge of children, children who are in the process of forming their identities. Jokes and slurs like these affect the identity development of white students and non-white students alike–by ignoring them, you are sending a very clear message about what is acceptable. You are telling your students whether they are the joke-makers or those to whom jokes are aimed. What you address and don’t, who you stick up for and who you don’t, is sending a clear message.” And if the person continued anyway? “I wouldn’t stop confronting them about it. I wouldn’t give up on that person’s ability to act like a decent human being, or on the kids’ right to have a safe environment. If what I said had no effect, I would immediately go to their supervisor and advise them that the person needs to change their behavior or not work with children.”

 

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Resources for confronting casual racism

The other day I complained that Jay Smooth’s “How To Tell People They Sound Racist” video was the only online resource I knew of to help privileged folks learn to confront other privileged folks about their privilege. Since then, two others have been brought to my attention (thanks, Lizzie and Becky!).

First: An article by Jamie Utt at Everyday Feminism, providing a practical, almost step-by-step approach to making conversations about privilege less scary.

Second: The Derailing For Dummies page–which I’d only seen as a tool to help me learn how not to be an asshole–is useful if you want to learn to spot others’ derailing tendencies and explain why they’re not cool.

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God Would Want me to be an Atheist

Pretty sure I don’t believe in God. (Surprise!)

That is probably not surprising to you (lesbian feminist anti-racist bloggers aren’t usually the religious type). But after years of trying to hang on to a steadily wilting pseudo-christianity-cum-agnosticism, it was a bit of a surprise to me.

My childhood was a pretty spiritual one, but not as deeply spiritual as it could have been. I remember the night when I was 11 or 12 that I crept into my parents’ bedroom, tearily woke my mom and told her I needed to be baptised. I remember some “mountain-top” experiences at church camps, and some moments of clarity when I knew the utterly simple, beautiful purpose of my life: to do whatever brought me closer to God.

I also remember a lot of stifled aching confusion. I couldn’t get over the fact that all my really smart friends didn’t believe in God while none of my super-religious friends seemed able to think an independent thought. During one of the periods when I was committed to reading a chapter of the bible every night, I remember crying myself to sleep multiple times, trying to figure out what I was supposed to do with the chapter that described awful bloody ruthless battles as God’s will, or the chapter in which God slaughtered thousands of Egyptian babies, or the multiple chapters that told me I was unclean, shameful, unfit to speak in church, and that I should submit myself to and be ruled by men. In high school, one of my best friends came out to me and I told him how hard that was for ME, because God, instead of being there for him.

Fast-forward to last year, when I was incredibly ambivalent about Christianity, still believed in a God of sorts, but didn’t care enough to put energy into finding a church or a religion that would feel right: spiritual but still intelligent, a moral compass but not blind submission to religious authority.

My ex told me to read Richard Dawkins’ “The God Delusion.” I was reluctant because I knew I was so close to the edge of believing in anything that reading Richard Dawkins, of all things, would push me over… but I read it anyway. It felt weird and uncomfortable to read, even though I totally swallowed every one of his arguments. My brain agreed with what I was reading, but at the same time, it couldn’t change the fact that I could still feel God in my head just as much as I could when I was getting dunked in the river as a pre-teen.

A couple weeks after finishing the book, I was on my bike half-consciously whining to God about how everything was too messy and complicated and why couldn’t he just make things clear and easy for us? And suddenly I thought “God would want me to accept the truth.”

I think it was the kind of moment that religious people are talking about when they say they’ve “heard the voice of God.” It was as if the words had been plopped into my brain, like they came from somewhere other than myself. I knew of course that it’d just been my own brain–but for some reason, thinking it came from God made sense. At that moment, God was still an acting figure in my mind, a thing that could WANT something. But what it wanted was for me to just accept the fact that none of it is real. God wouldn’t be capital-T Truth if his will was really for me to pretend to believe in a magical guy-in-the-sky who listened to my thoughts and was impervious to the laws of the natural world.

As ridiculous as that moment was, it totally gets to what I think I’ve truly believed all along: God is there, in some kind of way, but is not Creator (at least not like out-of-clay-missing-rib creator), not Prayer-Answerer, not Judger Of Sins. God is everywhere and everything, God is truth, God is love, God is knowing, God is oneness.

Dawkins says it’s misleading and counterproductive to go on calling such a thing “God” at all– but for now I like it.

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The Verdict: Numb But Not Hopeless

“How do we create change in a country where George Zimmerman can be acquitted? We can wear hoodies. We can protest. We can sign petitions. We can write our elected leaders. We can work to elect better lawmakers in 2014 and 2016 and beyond. We can donate money to and volunteer for organizations that fight racism and gun violence like the NAACP, Southern Poverty Law Center, ACLU, Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, and many others. We can also confront the instances of casual racism in our everyday lives, whether they come from ourselves or the people around us.”

- Roxane Gay, Salon

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Confronting Casual Racism: All Indians Are Creepy

Recenty I had an opportunity to respond to casual racism while I was at the lake with three of my friends.

(Disclaimer: these posts will be about me and my responding-to-racism skills, not about shitting on the folks who make the racist comments in question. There is a place and time for shitting on racists. This post is not it.)

We were discussing one friend’s neighborhood, and sharing stories about different experiences with males in the area. Apparently a large number of people from India live there, which is something another one of my friends mentioned as an intro to her story about one particuar Indian man.

She then began her story with: “He was really pretty creepy–like all Indians are–and he…”

Now, this is a white woman who is at least a little bit feminist, has a degree in a social science, and has mentioned white privilege in conversation before, so I was surprised. I made a face and interrupted whatever came next with an incredulous “Really? Did you hear what you just said? ‘All Indians are creepy’?”

I did this in a pretty humorous way, like a “reeelly? are ya sure that was a good idea?” tone. It was only after her laughing reply of “well, they are,” a look to the woman who lived in said neighborhood for support, and a comment that “out of 10 Indian men I’ve met, 9 of them were creepy” that I said quietly, “That… doesn’t make it okay to say” and then changed the subject by saying I was hot and needed to take a dip in the water.

She didn’t say anything — or at least not in the time it took me to get out of earshot and into the lake. I’m not sure if she was just surprised by the sudden seriousness I’d brought to the conversation, or if she was put off by me making a big deal out of her comment, or if she was embarrassed and wasn’t sure how to save face, OR if she was genuinely reflecting on whether that was okay to say. I actually think the latter is pretty likely.

Nothing about this moment felt good or satisfactory at all. I had suddenly changed the mood of our get-together from girl-talk-story-time to reprimand-y, political-correctness-time. I don’t even think her story about the creepy guy was ever finished. It felt like I’d changed the dynamic of the day, even of our friendship, by acting holier-than-thou. It was an awkward 20 seconds.

But. IT WAS ONLY 20 SECONDS.

Cool. As uncomfortable as it was, for all the things she and my other friends might have said while I was in the pool or might think about me now as a result, I said something–and relationships, at least on the surface, were preserved.  At the very least, I did one small thing to establish myself as someone who doesn’t tolerate statements like this in casual conversation.

I’m glad I…
… said something, period.
… spoke clearly and directly, and with a tone that matched my meaning.
… started out conversational/humorous and only got serious when it was clear that hadn’t worked.

I wish I had…
… said the word “racism” or “racist” or even “race” (Important note for Jay Smooth fans: ‘racist’ not in relation to her identity or character, but to her comment). Maybe “that’s the most racist thing I’ve ever heard you say” but not in a scolding way?

… said anything at all that explained WHY it wasn’t okay, or why it was a big enough deal for me to interrupt her story to say something about it. Maybe “I don’t think that makes it okay to generalize about an entire race of people.”

… addressed the ‘9 out of 10′ statement (I only implied it wasn’t okay to say “all Indians are creepy”–not that it wasn’t true). Maybe “I don’t think that’s true at all, and it sounds racist to say things like that.”

… expressed my faith that she was above this kind of comment. Maybe something like “I don’t think you really think that’s true, either.”

… resisted the urge to change the subject and walk away, though I’m really not sure how I would have done this without getting into an argument. It would’ve seemed like I was waiting for a reply, and she probably would have felt pressure to argue the point about her 9 creepy men. Maybe an argument is what should’ve happened, but I’m pretty sure I would have bowed to the pressure of preserving our relationship rather than getting my point across. I wish I’d had more faith in both my and her ability to argue boldly and rationally without getting upset.

***
This was a pretty blatantly easy-to-spot, easy-to-argue case of racism in conversation, as well. I’m glad I responded to it and that doing so resulted in very few lasting social consequences, but it’s nothing to pat myself on the back about. I’m hoping the process of reflecting here will help me call out more messy, entangled instances as well.

Help me, internet! What words would you have said in this situation? Could I have been more elegant or more effective? Do you have suggestions for future encounters or similar experiences I could learn from?

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Body Hair Update

At this point, it’s been two years since I stopped altogether, and my thoughts and experiences have aged another year:

- I own more skirts now than I have ever owned before, and wear them relatively often. I rarely notice people glancing at my legs, and when I do I’m pleased to note that it’s usually just that–glancing, not staring.
– I have more affection for my armpit hair now than I do for my leg hair. I love how sexual it is, in a way. I also like the smell and feel of men’s deodorant much more than women’s–which doesn’t slip or spray on easily on hairy pits. (By the way, the most common question I get about this is whether or not it increases my B.O., which I can’t answer conclusively either way. My hunch is no, only because I haven’t particularly noticed.)
- I still get a bit self-conscious wearing swimsuits that show the pubic hair on my thighs (which is why I really enjoy going to nude beaches, where there’s nothing to adjust or poke out of anywhere!)
– Speaking of nude beaches, I just moved to a place that is much more body-appreciative than where I was living before–I’ve noticed a few other non-shaving ladies and generally get the feeling that bodies of all shapes, sizes and levels of furriness are welcome here.
– I don’t think I mentioned this in my other post, but I have boob hairs. I did start plucking these out again, but not religiously (you’d be surprised how long those babies got before I gave in, though!).
– I must say, I’m glad I’m not trying to attract males, what with all this naturalness. Girls usually “get it” (when it comes to hair and many, many other things), and somehow I just don’t think I could find many guys who wouldn’t have girl body hair hangups.

Part of what made me stop shaving was admiration for what I saw as bravery in one of my close friends who stopped shaving her legs. I’m hoping that, just as she made me realize I could do it, I inspire others to go for it as well. Not people who like shaving their legs or don’t mind it, but people like me who have always hated it but feel trapped and don’t know how to not.

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