Monday, March 23, 2015

Prejudice against women's leg hair and why it has everything to do with everything

I think it is fascinating that most people (at least in the present-day United States) think that women's leg hair is gross. I think it's even more fascinating that pretty much no one is interested in talking about that prejudice, or even admitting that it's something worth talking about. As explained in detail in the following exchange, I think the leg hair issue is a very useful issue to talk about because it is a fairly benign (funny even) topic that people nevertheless have strong opinions about and are reluctant to discuss, so it is useful as a kind of model for self-examination, and a test case for fighting prejudice. Below is an interesting discussion of the topic I had on Facebook a few weeks ago. I edited it slightly to remove personally-identifiable information. My favorite part is where we come to an agreement that the only way to really solve the problem of leg-hair bias is to destroy the whole world. I've also been collecting web-links and academic papers related to the topic, which I will annotate and post later sometime.


Me [posted as my status]:
Is it morally equivalent to think that women's leg hair is gross as to think that dark skin is gross? I feel like there must be some difference, but try as I might, I can't figure out what it is.

Person 1:
There are surely more important problems to solve.

Me:
I think sometimes solving a problem that is easy to talk about, and seems frivolous can help us solve more serious problems. I think the issue of leg hair is an interesting one because most people think it's gross, but nobody seems to be able to give an articulate reason why. I think everybody has indefensible prejudices, and we owe it to ourselves and our communities to try to figure out what they are and abandon them. Why not start with a silly one?

Person 2:
People's responses are governed by a degree relative to how influenced they are by the culture they're submerged in.

Me:
I don't buy the argument that the prevalence of a prejudice in a community justifies its presence in an individual (are you suggesting that it does?). I think the prevalence of the prejudice in a community explains (at least partly) its presence in an individual. It also makes it harder for a person to identify the prejudice and the unreasonable nature of the prejudice. But I don't see how it could justify keeping the prejudice after it has been identified and revealed to be unreasonable.

Person 2:
"Justifies" and "explains" are the only two differences in your first two sentences. I'm interested in that being broken down more. I agree that prejudice existing in a community affects the individual. The thing is, reason goes out the window with emotion and is severely adulterated in the heart of an individual thanks to Group Think. Media perpetuates these prejudices (our current worldwide culture, black-white, anti-semetic, etc.)

It's infectious, and it doesn't stop at one topic of prejudice. The sins of man transcend generations. White men justifying slavery based on bible verses? You bet that's sin! In Guatemala for girls are being saved from their dads and uncles who rape them. The whole country has been plagued by this whatever-you-want-to-call-it for generations. Reasoning, heck, paternal instincts would tell these family members not to rape their daughters and nieces, but generational sin has permeated into the ways of families for decades. You can't "reason" demonic strongholds into stopping something. There's a reason Jesus is coming back wielding a sword.

Me:
Right. This is why the leg hair issue is so fascinating to me. For some prejudices, like racism, people can come up with "scientific" justifications. In the case of anti-leg hair bias, everyone (at least the people I've talked to) readily admits that their opinion is the product of Group Think and media indoctrination (sometimes people point to the presence of leg hair prejudice in ancient cultures as evidence that it is a prejudice innate to humans, but that also seems to me to be an explanation rather than a justification). And yet, they also seem unwilling or unable to even try to change that bias within themselves. If there is so much resistance to eliminating such a trivial and transparently unjustifiable prejudice, then eliminating the more pernicious prejudices must surely be a hopeless task. It may be that Armageddon is the only solution. But I'd like to think that there is something we can do to ameliorate the situation in the meantime. Which is why understanding the seemingly silly and frivolous issue of leg hair prejudice seems like a worthwhile endeavor to me.

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