Putting down your razor can lift your G.P.A. at Arizona State University.
Professor Breanne Fahs offers female students extra-credit if they “stop shaving their legs and underarms for ten weeks during the semester while keeping a journal to document their experiences.” For Fahs, who teaches women and gender studies, the purpose is to get students thinking critically about societal norms and gender roles.
A similar opportunity is available to men in Fahs’ classes who recieve extra credit for shaving all of their hair from the neck down.
One student, Stephanie Robinson, described it as a “life-changing experience”:
Many of my friends didn’t want to work out next to me or hear about the assignment, and my mother was distraught at the idea that I would be getting married in a white dress with armpit hair. I also noticed the looks on faces of strangers and people around campus who seemed utterly disgusted by my body hair. It definitely made me realize that if you’re not strictly adhering to socially prescribed gender roles, your body becomes a site for contestation and public opinion.
Men seemed to have an easier time with it since some degree of “manscaping” has become accepted, or even expected.
The norm of women shaving body hair dates back to an effort by Gillette to expand their market for razors. Starting around 1915, Gillette started a campaign “denouncing the (previously inoffensive) female underarm hair as ‘unsightly’, ‘masculine’ and ‘unclean’.” In the 1920s, they expanded their efforts to leg hair, glamorizing “a smooth, silky leg.”
Still, “[b]efore the first world war, virtually no American woman shaved her legs. By 1964, 98% of women under the age of 44 did so.”
In 2010, Mo’Nique created a minor stir by appearing at the Golden Globes with unshaven legs. This year some celebrities, including Cameron Diaz, have been speaking out for more tolerance for women’s choices.
Fahs received an award from the American Psychological Association in recognition of her program and has been contacted by “faculty members at other universities are considering using the exercise in their classes.”