Breanne Fahs, associate professor of women and gender studies at Arizona State University, is a wunderkind. She breezed through her undergraduate and graduate studies in near-record time (B.A., Women’s Studies/Gender Studies and Psychology, Occidental College, 2001; M.S., Psychology, University of Michigan, 2002; Ph.D., Women’s Studies and Clinical Psychology, University of Michigan, 2006), and a mere eight years after receiving her doctorate holds a senior rank–and presumably tenure. Good for her.
She’s in the news lately because of an ASU press release concerning a voluntary project she offers her students. Take it away, ASU:
To shave or not to shave?
That’s the question confronting students in classes taught by Breanne Fahs, associate professor of women and gender studies in ASU’s New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences. Since 2010 Fahs has offered students the chance to participate in an extra-credit exercise related to body hair.
Female student participants stop shaving their legs and underarms for ten weeks during the semester while keeping a journal to document their experiences. For male students, the assignment is to shave all body hair from the neck down.
“There’s no better way to learn about societal norms than to violate them and see how people react,” said Fahs. “There’s really no reason why the choice to shave, or not, should be a big deal. But it is, as the students tend to find out quickly.”
Professor Fahs continues:
“It’s interesting how peer pressure within the class can create a new norm,” Fahs said. “When practically all of the students are participating, they develop a sense of community and enjoy engaging in an act of rebellion together.”
That act of rebellion isn’t quite the same for males as females, according to Fahs. It’s not uncommon in our society for some men to engage in “manscaping,” removing hair from some parts of their bodies. For the extra-credit assignment, she asks male students to shave everything below the neck and maintain it for ten weeks. This makes the process labor-intensive and gives men some insight into what women who shave go through, she said.
Come again? Men who shave their arms, chest, backs, pubic area, and legs have a lot more than “some insight” into a woman’s beauty routine. Most of the women I know usually don’t bother depilating their torsos, although perhaps the girls in Arizona do–or least those of the professor’s acquaintance.
I also take issue with Professor Fah’s notion that letting leg and armpit hair grow is an act of “rebellion” for young women. If I didn’t know better, I’d say that the good professor hasn’t spent much time on a college campus, where if you’ve got it, you most definitely flaunt it.
Perhaps cultural norms are different is water-deprived, heat-drenched Phoenix. Here, in the frozen Northeast, females who neaten up in the summer put away their razors come September, when a downy pelt on ones limbs provides a welcome extra layer of warmth. Even so, nothing says “July” in Collegetown, USA like a pair of Birkenstocks on a couple of furry pins.
I really must ask myself if Professor Fah gets out much. She does not appear to be aware that men who engage in various sports–body building, swimming, cycling–routinely shave their bodies. Worse yet, she plainly wears her racial insensitivity on her sleeve. I wonder what the Asian and American Indian males make of her ideas about “societal norms.”
Or maybe it’s just that someone who rockets through grades K-21 then lands a job at a university has never had the opportunity to observe life off campus.