Why Get Hairy February is a cause all men should support

Imagine, for a moment, you are lucky enough to have a wonderful female partner, if that is your inclination.

Now imagine she comes home one day and announces she's no longer shaving. She's going to let her body hair grow out. That means fluffy armpits, a veritable Brazilian rainforest in the lady garden area, legs dotted with hairs and maybe even a fetching little moustache and a couple of chin hairs.

More than one of you is probably thinking "Ew, gross," reading this.

A hair's balance

Well, welcome to Get Hairy February. In its inaugural year last year, 450 women ditched the shaver and raised more than $40,000 for the Full Stop Foundation, which supports rape and domestic violence services in Australia. This year, the money goes to Empower Together, an organisation promoting the clear understanding of sexual consent, in high schools.

"Body hair is a really simple double standard in a way that men and women's bodies are treated in our society, which reflects a deeper inequality we experience in our lives as women," says the campaign's founder, Alex Andrews.

She makes the proven point that inequality is the wellspring of domestic violence.

The money trail

Women have only been shaving their armpits since 1915, when US Harper's Bazaar magazine decreed that while wearing a sleeveless dress for "modern dancing" one should see to "the removal of objectionable hair." By the 1920s, female body hair was, like, so 10 years ago.

Like the word "halitosis" was created by the Listerine company and is not at all a scientific term. Santa Claus was popularised in his current twinkly eyed, chubby form by the Coca Cola company. The notion of women shaving their body hair comes straight from advertising and marketing. A big shaving company was advertising in Harper's at the time.

Now, in Australia, 95 per cent of women shave their legs and underarms. It costs them around two months of their lifetime and, it's estimated, around $20,000, to rid their bodies of hair.


Nothing to see here

We men walk around happily covered in the various fuzz we were gifted by nature for some very good health and safety reasons.

Women should be free to do so as well, without judgment.

But if Madonna or Julia Roberts turn up on the red carpet with a tiny underarm tuft, hold the front page. Scandal. Drama.

The words "male gaze" have entered mainstream parlance on the back of the #MeToo campaign. Women are just sick and tired of having their bodies scrutinised, judged, comment on, disapproved of and leered at by men. Fair enough.

If it was the other way around, it would only be fun for about half an hour until it came time to tell some stranger with an opinion on how you look to f**k right off. It's my body and I'll do what I want with it, thank you very much.

Gender lines

While it might seem a small thing generated by a few hippy chicks, Get Hairy February is important not only because of the money it raises but because of the light it shines on the inequality between men and women.

In our natural state, both sexes have hair all over their bodies. The idea that women are somehow more feminine without their natural hair is ludicrous. The reality is a woman's body hair is as much a mark of her femininity and sexuality as your proud thatch of chest hair, Bro.

I suspect Get Hairy February will grow like … Movember.

A blip in the timeline

Seen in relation to the timescale of human development, the notion that one sex should remove their body hair seems a fleeting, faddish, silly trend … like eating dishwasher balls. Hopefully, we'll all get smarter.

Sure, it's easy to make jokes – I avoided it here by a close shave – but the truth this campaign exposes is that there's yet another inequality between men and women that needs to be plucked from our collective mindset.

With more than 25 years in Australian media, Phil Barker has edited NW and Woman's Day magazines, and published such titles as Vogue, GQ, Delicious, InsideOut and Donna Hay. He is a consultant creative director and communications specialist, currently writing a book on "man stuff" for publisher Allen & Unwin. He is a regular commentator on the lives and style of Australian men.

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