This is our truth, tell us yours
We had a neighbourly barbecue the other night. Or rather, my neighbours had a barbecue and invited me.
Over beer and burned sausages, I fell to talking with a young man and his girlfriend about the topic that’s all too frequent amongst cyclists; leg shaving.
No-one’s ever explained to me why you should shave your legs if you cycle. I don’t.
However,the conversation then moved on to the topic of male grooming, to the bit about where men should shave, and where they shouldn’t.
From there the conversation cycled to male grooming in general, and to the ever growing areas of shops given over to male grooming products.
Hardly surprisingly, my fellow cyclist’s girlfriend didn’t ooze sympathy. By her own description she was waxed and buffed to within an inch of her life. It was a reasonable position for her to take, and she argued that men didn’t have the same experiences as women.
She’s right, I think, but patriarchy doesn’t explain the world her boyfriend was describing, where he regarded managing his body hair as being as much a part of his masculinity as of her femininity. And not an assertive part of his masculinity, but a response to a world that was telling him how a man should look.
Not everyone manages their body hair because they feel compelled to, or a need to conform. I trim my man garden because I have a belief, based on experience, that the kind of people I like to give me blowjobs prefer it if they don’t get badly managed pubic hair up their nose.
I have sympathy for my young friend though. Body hair is unfashionable for men. Men feel as if they have to conform to new standards, to us the right products and have the right look. It’s not just about those awful Lynx adverts where an imbecile sprays deodorant on his vest and immediately becomes irresistible to women – it’s about young men feeling as if the best jobs, the best opportunities, the best lives go to the men who most look the part.
Whatever that’s about, it’s not patriarchy. If it’s possible that the same forces apply to men as apply to women, but for different reasons, it opens up the possibility that patriarchy is not the only reason why women are bullied, coerced or persuaded to invest so much time in how they look. In turn, the possibility might be that patriarchy isn’t the reason at all.
No more needs to be said or can be said on the basis of such a slim anecdote, but it’s a story worth telling.