The Gender Politics of Shaving

An advertisement for women's razors circa 1930s.

I have never prioritized shaving my legs. I’ve always found it a nuisance and a burden and have therefore generally avoided it all together. When questioned why, I would always come up with answers such as “bending over in the shower is too much work” or “I was in a rush,” but recently, after seeing a very thought provoking photo in which a women is depicted shaving flowers off her body, I began to further question my reasons for not shaving my legs.

The pinnacle of this thought process, however, occurred at my brother’s Bar Mitzvah. While getting dressed Saturday morning, my new tights ripped. Thinking nothing of it, I tossed them in the trash and grabbed my heels. I was going tight-less. Two hours later, sitting in the front row, I saw my brother, and dad laughing at me. As their giggles began to draw the attention of others around the sanctuary, I whispered to them, asking what was going on. While my face became progressively redder, they informed me that I “looked like a Gorilla.” “Why didn’t you shave your legs?” asked my dad. “Its your brother’s Bar Mitzvah for god’s sake!” I was mortified.

For years, my teammates on both the basketball and cross-country teams have teased me for my prickly legs. Why was this any different? Why was I so upset? Over the last few days, I have decided to transition from not shaving my legs out of laziness to not shaving my legs as a political statement. If boys and men are allowed to be hairy, why is it that we as women are so strongly encouraged to maintain hairless bodies? To please the opposite gender? To appear “sexy”? Does anyone actually enjoy shaving their legs? The answer is probably no. Shaving my legs takes up an inordinate amount of time and often results in nicks and cuts. Why is this the norm? And why is defying it so frowned upon?

In my life, rebellion takes many subtle forms. I sometimes have ice cream for breakfast and, more often than not, break my school’s strict dress code by wearing what I feel  most comfortable in. I now rebel by not shaving my legs or doing so minimally.  As a result, I am rebelling against society, the media, and to some degree, my family I firmly believe that women should have agency over both how they treat their bodies and what (and with whom) they do with it. This includes everything from choosing a partner to shaving ones legs. Before we can implement change in the world, we must first change ourselves. In rebelling against shaving, I am fueling the fight for gender equality and hopefully helping to change the world around me. It is not the hair itself that is important, but rather what the hair slowly growing on my legs represents. Freedom of choice. 

This piece was written as part of JWA’s Rising Voices Fellowship.

Topics: Feminism
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I just had a thought, dont ask me why, or where from - to research why the women have to shave their legs, in respect to judaism.
I found it confusing, like autor stated, man not shaving at all. Whilst women have to shave their legs and also armpits.
What if women will shave their armpits, legs and also cut their hair ? Or man shaving his beard and growing their hair long.
If women are to be shaving their legs why do they have to wear such a long skirts. Completely negating all the effort of shaving. Or in certain societies, womrn have to shave their armpits but always cover their arms with a piece of wardrobe. Thats another example, why shave something which cant be seen, by rules of clothing even shoudlnt be seen in the first place.
I understand lazy, but you can schedule all the important dates and places ahead anyways so why not shave minutes before ?
By the way I do shave my face as a man regurarly, so Iam willing to understand that it is self care and neccessity to keep order and discipline. It gives me a feeling of orderliness and integrity. Do women have the sa.e feeling afterwards ? Probably yes right, integrity and image is important to women and many excell in it but why, I even myself wonder during mine "routines"

Women are encouraged to be hairless because children are hairless, and making women seem childlike helps to keep them from being seen as powerful or having agency.

How to cite this page

Sinclair, Maya. "The Gender Politics of Shaving ." 29 January 2015. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on September 22, 2023) <>.

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