Pressure

What the hell is pressure? I mean, there’s the kind of pressure that is obvious, like studying for an exam pressure and then there’s the kind of pressure that is subtle. Now, I think that everyone here can easily spot the more obvious types of pressure, you know, the pressure to meet a deadline, the pressure to pay your mortgage. But subtle pressure is a critter of a different stripe. Subtle pressure is all about masking the pressure, making it invisible to those who would otherwise become angry or frustrated at it. Subtle pressure is perhaps the more dangerous of the two because of how it works in the mind.

This patriarchal society is hands down the best at exuding a subtle pressure. It’s the sort of pressure that kind of sneaks in and encompasses you until you fail to even realize that it’s there.

So what has gotten me to thinking about all this pressure? Well, as a feminist I constantly think about pressure and I recognize many of the pressures that women are under just because they weren’t born with little floppy bits. Pressure, in the arena of women, is not something that I’m a stranger to, but have you ever had one of those moments when you thought you knew what kind of pressure you were under and then you had a big revelation that showed you that you underestimated that pressure so much that it became an entirely new animal?

Yeah, well color me pressurized I just had one of those moments the other day.

As a self-proclaimed feminist it is my job, and my obsession, to constantly look inwards and decide what is important to me. I take self-analyzing to a new level as I am constantly turning my thoughts to my own psyche. I ask myself constantly, “Do I really understand what is going on here? Am I really living by a set of guidelines that make sense? Is my ‘moral compass’ consistent with where I want it to be? Am I really living up to my own expectations? Do I completely understand why I think and feel the way I do?” etc. etc. and so on and so forth until my brain shuts down entirely and smoke spews from my ears.

Considering that I’m always looking at myself I am normally pretty surprised when something turns out to be not what I expected.

Now, this summer, after recognizing the subtle pressure placed on women to conform to a pre-pubescent beauty standard rigidly set in place by a bunch of horny white dudes I decided to experiment with shaving. The first step was to see if my crotch fell off if I didn’t ‘trim’ my bikini line during my daily showers. Several months into the experiment I realized that my crotch neither fell off, nor did I smell like rotten tuna (as men would have us believe) plus I had ‘shaved’ (pun intended) a few minutes off my normal routine. No more pulling hairballs from the drain after my shower, no more razor burn and most importantly a few more minutes onto my schedule.

“Wow, this is pretty cool” I thought to myself with smug satisfaction. Maybe I’ll try this on other parts of my body!

And so I did. I began to go longer and longer between shaves, cautiously inching my courage up a bit at a time. At first it was only a few days before I began fretting and thinking strange thoughts about turning into a gorilla or some hideous hell beast. Then slowly the time lengthened, day by grueling day and I found, much to my surprise that I didn’t ‘look like a man’ afterall. In fact, I looked quite like a woman and, once again, I had shaved precious minutes off of my shower.

“Wow!” I remarked to myself one morning, “It used to take me 20 minutes to shower, shave, shampoo, condition and so forth. But lookie here BB, you’re down to around 12 minutes or so! Way to go!” I found that the longer I went between shaves the angrier I was at ‘having’ to shave at all. And yet, I still didn’t see the vast amount of pressure that women are under to engage in the practice at all. I just figured I was resentful at having those extra minutes stolen from me once again.

In any case, I found as the weeks wore on, that when I ‘had’ to shave (i.e. when the weather was going to be really hot and I had to wear shorts *grin*) that I kind of regretted watching that fuzzy growth get washed down the drain. Slowly but surely I was becoming hairy. My crotch hadn’t fallen off, I didn’t smell like dead fish and my legs were actually kinda cool, plus I saved myself a whole 7 minutes!

So far I had come up against little or no resistance and while I still wasn’t brave enough to venture my hairy self outside in daisy dukes I was pretty content. My sons checked out mom’s new hair (on my legs of course!) and responded with mild disinterest even while I did the “Look at me! I have hair!” dance (yes, sadly, I did indeed do a sort of victory dance). Hell, I couldn’t get them to pay attention at all! Must be this shaving thing is really a no brainer eh?

Emboldened by my newfound confidence and the lack of my kids actually giving a shit I decided to take the leap. I removed the shaver entirely from the shower and I let my armpits go a few days. It was tough but I was kind to myself and when I found myself biting my lower lip in anxiety I would hop from the shower, soaking wet, grab the razor and have at it. Hell, the last thing I wanted to do was shock myself back into submission, therefore I did it slowly.

However, as the hair began to grow it began to dawn on me just how much subtle pressure we are under to keep ourselves nude. I began to understand when I really wanted to wear shorts but couldn’t muster the courage to walk out the door all hairy that there’s a hell of a lot of pressure out there. Where did this pressure come from? I wondered. And why, oh why did I never see the sheer VOLUME of it before now? Sure, I was aware of it, as a feminist I kind of have to be eh? With all that introspection and so forth it’s tough to miss it, but what I did underestimate was the sheer AMOUNT of the pressure.

I watched as the hair grew and I decided I liked it. Indeed, here’s a dirty little secret, *whispers*…..I realized that I kind of liked the way I smelled. Now, before anyone gasps and accuses me of flipping my stack or being a slob let me explain. Humans are supposedly gifted with their own unique smells; back in my swooning 20’s I would often smell my husband’s shirts while I was folding laundry. It was always something that was comforting to me and indeed, I noticed that men all do have a different smell. Now, I’m quite past the stage of sniffing my partners clothes while folding his laundry (ok, I’m past the stage of folding his laundry at all *grin*) but it occurred to me that I never knew how *I* smelled.

Turns out I smell pretty damned good.

With my new scent grabbing hairiness I found myself actually inhaling deeply and smelling…what else but ME! I found myself smiling because hell I’m a pretty good smelling gal. Now, here I’d like to point out that perhaps I’m a shade different than many other folks. I’m an honest to goodness earth person and I mean that literally and spiritually.

I have always been a very ‘smell centered’ person. Perfumes are generally too strong for me, I don’t personally wear them, and one of my biggest pet peeves is being stuck in a movie theatre with someone who is doused in perfume. Hell, most lotions are too smelly for me. The smells I love and adore are musky, earthy, outdoors smells. The smell of spring in the air, or of a thunderstorm (yes, thunderstorms DO have a smell *biggrin*). The smell of dirt on my hands when I’m in the garden is one of my all time favorites. Warm smells, earthy smells, I’ve even been known to grab a handful of good compost hold it up to my nose and cry, “Wow! That’s some might fine dirt!”. The smell of saddles and horse sweat in the barn mingled with the smell of hay is a smell that goes down on my all time favorite. These are all smells that I love. I guess I should just face it, I’m a ‘smelly’ person (yep, another pun that was intended).

The point is that when I began to get hairy I began to realize that I too have a smell and it was pretty good. I found myself sniffing and smiling happily at my newfound ‘trick’.

But then disaster happened.

About 3 days ago I changed into a tank top to do some work outside. My youngest son who is a mere 11 years old, looked oddly at me and proclaimed, “Gee Mom, don’t you think it’s time you shaved?”

I couldn’t keep the look of stunned surprised off my face. My little boy who is so sensitive and wonderful and who speaks so many wonderful truths about feminism is telling me in that patronizing way that I should shave so that I am more acceptable with his view of what a woman is ‘supposed’ to look like. He’s only 11 years old! This child of mine who decided two years ago that he liked to paint his nails and who did it just to prove that people should be equal (Yes, I know that his method is a bit flawed but he was only 9 at the time). My little boy who didn’t pay a bit of attention to my hairy legs was now telling me that I was, in essence, not holding up to my gendered status.

I was crushed.

And then I was angry.

And then I had my epiphany.

Wow, pressure. It seeps into us all, hiding beneath as a sort of expectancy that awaits unseen until you refuse to succumb to it. A child of eleven gets that there’s something ‘wrong’ with his mother if she doesn’t shave her armpits. When I asked him why I should shave I got a puzzled expression coupled with this, “I don’t know….it’s just weird you look funny mom.” And with that all the courage and pride I had been building just kind of seeped out of me.

And here, I had even tried wearing a sundress actually out without shaving my legs first. If my own son who has been raised in a feminist household, couldn’t see past the hair and felt the need to speak up, then what of the rest of this male dominated society? Whatever would I do when some dude stepped up to me, not to say, “Hey, nice ass” but instead to say, “Hey, why don’t you shave you freaky woman”. How was I going to deal with that?

And in one fell swoop it hit me like a stack of bricks. Pressure. It was all about pressure. Pressure of the sort that I never really ‘got’ in its entirety. Here I was fretting about what insult some horny dude would throw at me that I was terrified once more, my confidence was stripped from me, the implied threat of persecution for just being a woman snapped completely into place. This is not the sort of pressure to buy a given brand of shoes, that pressure I’ve never succumbed to. No, rather this is the culmination of the sort of pressure that one experiences when one understands that a threat that has always been implied could now bear fruit.

I realized that my fear of going out with hairy pits, or hairy legs, was akin in a very real way to the pressure I felt when I tried to thwart my abusive x husband’s agenda. There was always the ever looming fear that if I thwarted his plan that I would pay for it. This was the sort of pressure that, at its core, was all about fear. And not just fear of not conforming, fuck, I know all about not conforming, it was different somehow. It had a different feel to it, a different energy altogether.

In my mind I began to see monsters, a group of men standing outside the store became more frightening than ever and I finally got it. I finally understood this sort of pressure, the pressure for women to be sexually titillating to all men at all times, for what it was.

Talk about a revelation.

This summer I stopped shaving entirely and I found that there were parts of myself that I didn’t know about before and that I really kind of liked. In one fell swoop from the mouth of an 11 year old boy, I understood another important thing. This pressure that we are placed under is so pervasive that it causes the sort of anxiety that is at best uncomfortable; at worst it can be mind-numbing.

I understand a little more of this pressure now that I can see it for what it is. Seeing the enormous pressure placed upon women for this little tiny thing gave me a big start and it also made me question myself again.

For what it’s worth the hair is still there and I still like it, I’m not leaving the house in a strappy sundress anytime soon, but for me, for now, I’m happy.

Now, this post seems to be about shaving, but really it’s not. It’s about uncovering and examining the pressure that women experience that is totally unlike the pressure that men experience. This post is about confronting that pressure and the fear and understanding what it is that you are so scared of.

When I got to thinking about why I was so scared to leave my house with my new hair I realized that my worst nightmare involved having a man physically assault me because I was brazen enough to tell him to fuck off when he made a comment. Beneath it all was the horrifying fear of physical assault from someone who was so offended by my being a woman and bucking the status quo that he would physically assault me. In my minds eye I allowed my greatest fear to unfold just so that I would be able to pinpoint the exact thrust of my fears.

In my scenario I saw myself pumping gas or leaving a store and having a guy, or a group of guys, comment about my new hair. I saw me giving them the finger, telling them to fuck off and then saw them throwing something at me. Maybe a Coke bottle or a half-empty Snapple bottle. I saw me being powerless to stop it for what could I do?

So for me, I found that while my worst fear is probably pretty unlikely to happen, its roots were in fear. This society has at least taught me that there is always a threat hanging over my head. This threat, this silent warning is always ready to show itself if I step out of line. Now, this threat probably manifests itself in different ways for different women, but for me, I recognized that in this arena, as in others, I felt threatened by men. I feared that someone would do the unthinkable over such a little thing.

Which got me to wondering. If a man doesn’t shave for a few days does he fear a physical repercussion from women? Does he fear bodily harm from a pack of renegade females who dislike his beard?

Now, I’m not blind to the fact that this fear is probably baseless. I’m aware that it’s likely that the most I will ever get is strange looks or a few screams, but never mistake it, behind those catcalls lies that same veiled threat. Behind those reproachful looks and the snide remarks or the giggling lays the same threat. The threat that women live under their entire lives, the threat that “We will hurt you if you fuck up”.

Men have made an art form of violence. They violate each other, they violate the planet and they violate women. And women are left feeling small and weak in the face of the violence that they wreak with such cunning precision. Women are told and shown that to resist the violence of male’s means that they will then target their violence toward them. We are taught this and we know this as surely as we know our own genders. We know that there is rarely anyone who will speak out against their violence. We are taught that their violence is natural and normal and so we live, with the pressure of their expectations smothering us.

The promise is always that if we follow enough of their expectations that we won’t be targeted for their violence. That somehow we will escape it. But we always know that it’s there, and this is reinforced everywhere we go. We see the haunted eyes of women and the jumpy, overly-eager-to-please dispositions and we understand that this is a woman who has been reminded of their violence. And her pain becomes our prison and our pain, likewise becomes hers and so it culminated for me in the small voice of an 11 year old and I understood that the fear which lurks beneath so many of our actions and reactions is waiting just beneath the surface to remind me to shave my legs and armpits.

Pressure is a funny thing, how much pressure are you under? What ways does it manifest? How does it make itself known to you? Is there fear beneath your pressure as well?

~BB

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Published in: on April 26, 2008 at 10:41 am  Leave a Comment  
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