This summer, partly because of Covid-19, I have been walking a lot. Sometimes I walk with my husband, sometimes by myself. Recently, we were walking in our neighborhood when a shirtless male in a Speedo style bottom ran past us. My reaction to this somewhat startling sight was that woman could never expose herself in the same way. It seemed a revealing example of the way society polices women’s bodies.
The man was neither young or particularly fit. A woman of similar age and fitness, maybe me, would never go out looking like that because she would think that she was too fat. Of course, women cannot or do not run topless down your average street. I guarantee you if I were walking or running with no shirt on and a bikini bottom, somebody would be notice and the police might get called. Women can probably get away with wearing a sports bra and shirt – the kind of uniform female beach volleyball players wear.
However, in most cities, a scantily dressed woman would be subjected to catcalls. I don’t know if most men, in any stage of dress or undress, ever face that. In response to this eye opening display of male privilege and patriarchy, I have decided to stop shaving my legs. This is a fairly easy act of resistance since, because of Covid-19, waxing salons are not open. Not that I would go right now anyway. Both men and women have hair on their legs. Why are men allowed men to have their hairy legs while standards of female beauty require women to be clean shaven? It is another example of the policing of women’s bodies.
In another context, I have been reading about forms of oppression which can be institutional, ideological, interpersonal, and internalized. Many women including me have internalized patriarchal notions of female beauty. It can be tough to try to change such ingrained misogynistic habits. The test will be whether or not I shave my legs for my son’s wedding next month.