As I’m presently very removed from the feminist activist space, I failed to post something this week for International National Women’s Day. So here’s a Photo Friday, MENSTRUATION EDITION to make up for it. #MenstruatingandProud
Last December when my sister and I were in Japan, we ran out of tampons and pads. When we went to the store, we struggled to find the ‘feminine product section.’ Once we got to the checkout, the woman quickly stuffed our tampons in a special paper bag, and even sealed it. Was she afraid it would accidentally open, spill out and then someone might find out that we menstruate?!
Like the rest of the world, Japan still holds period taboos. Taboos that need to be WIPED OUT. Ever wonder why women aren’t sushi chefs?
So as my sister as my model (don’t kill me!) here’s a series of photos about buying tampons in Japan.
Some more for you for this glorious day:
Want to learn about what I did for International Women’s Day in past years? Last year I was in Melbourne and the year before I was running in Ibiza.
Yasmine’s note: It’s been a long time since I’ve written my weekly post “Character Tuesday.” My three months at the mine filled me with so many personalities it was hard to keep track of, and even harder to imagine writing about them (but you can read overviews of them on the series Mine Camp Diaries). There was still one, a Filipino phone repairman, who stands out among the rest. Maybe it’s because I recently traveled to the Philippines, or maybe it’s because when I tried to escape the characters at the mine, I only found more back in Darwin. Against my will, Edward ended up being a fixture during those three months.
The first day I met him
People who live in Darwin say it has two seasons: hot and hotter. The first day I met Edward, it was still the hot season, but because I was so unused to being under the climatic fryer it felt much more intense than just ‘hot.’
I was temporarily living at Chili’s Backpackers, a hostel on Darwin’s main pub street, Mitchell Street. It was full of screaming, drunk British people and 18-year-old German girls who weren’t really sure what to do next in life. I was sitting in the open-air common room on the second floor when suddenly my phone went black. Nothing. Wouldn’t even turn on. I walked outside and a few feet away from Chili’s I saw a phone repair store.
I walked in and saw a short, scrawny Filipino man sitting at the desk. I explained to him my problem. He told me that my phone was still working, but the screen was broken. I noticed he was wearing camouflage army pants and a polo shirt as he spoke to me in perfect English, with only a hint of a Filipino accent.
He told me to sit down and started to test a few things to confirm that it was a broken screen. Other customers came in and out, and in between answering their questions he asked me some. When I told him I came from the U.S., he began to call me “Miss America,” a name that would carry through the remainder of our short working relationship. He stared at me while he looked at my phone, he was intrigued and very obviously enamored and didn’t stop at the small talk. He wanted to get straight to the core of who I was.
He started by asking me if I liked to go out, and motioned towards Monsoon’s, one of the most popular backpacker and military bars in town. Darwin has military bases for several countries, making it one of the most unbearable places to get drunk. You’re just trying to dance when an 18-year-old, 5’2” bald American tries to flirt with you by screaming into your eardrum over the pounding music. “Why don’t you find a German girl your own age,” I’m tempted to say.
Edward was still examining my phone when asked me if I liked movies. Asking someone if they like movies is a like asking if someone likes music, or if they like to eat. Of course. Even if someone isn’t a movie buff, they at least have a movie from their childhood that brings them good memories, or if they’re from the U.S. have probably watched movies socially.
“I like superman,” he said, “I can be your superman.” I laughed, unsure of what other kind of reaction a statement like that warrants. I could have said “thank you,” but that’s a bit too acknowledging of what he had to say.
“Give me a half hour and I’ll fix it, Miss America,” he said. “It’ll be $130 but if you decide now I’ll give you a discount.”
“Okay, thanks,” I said, “I’ll be back in a bit.”
In his closing line before I walked out, he referred to himself again as “superman” and made some sort of comment that communicated he was my superman and could do anything for me. Thank you, because I needed one.
When I came back a half hour later, I was halfway nervous he had looked through all my photos. There wasn’t anything to be ashamed of, but it’s just weird. It’s like knowing someone robbed your house when you were asleep. I would know how creepy that is, because it’s happened to me.
If when I dropped off my phone Edward was hinting at romantic interest, when I picked it up, he was showing complete honesty.
“Let’s go see a movie together,” he said, “We both love movies.” Even though it still pains me to turn people down (I don’t like to hurt people’s feelings), I’ve had enough feminist education to know that dancing around the subject and saying “maybe” isn’t benefitting anyone.
“No, I don’t think I’m interested in that, but thank you,” I replied. That’s about as honest as I could muster.
He didn’t stop there, though, he tried a few different times and in a few different ways; Asking for my phone number, asking if I wanted to get drunk. As I was walking out, I said,“You know, Edward, I think I’d like to keep this a professional relationship.” And I politely smiled, waved, and left, noting to never return to that phone store again.
After the first time I met Edward, I didn’t think I’d ever see him again. Nor did I care to. I don’t like people that put you in positions where you are on edge but feel like you have to be nice.
But two weeks after, right after I came back from the mine, I was at Chili’s when my screen wasn’t working well. I can’t remember exactly what it was doing, but the color was off, it was blurry and I was mad I paid $120 (with the discount) for a broken screen.
I didn’t want to go back to Edward, but I had a warranty there. After all, he had told me he was my superman and anything I needed he would do. So I rolled my eyes and walked across the street to the phone repair store.
When I walked in, his face lit up. He was helping two European backpackers with a new phone case, and suddenly very aware of my presence. He suddenly looked frazzled. His movements became more jerky and his eyes were spinning every which way.
Maybe he thought I was finally interested. Maybe he thought I missed him. I could see his wonder growing by the minute as I stood near him, waiting for him to finish explaining the phone cases to them. The feeling of having people be affected by your presence is both an uncomfortable and ego-boosting feeling. Even though I only wanted to get my phone fixed and spend the rest of my day doing other things, like writing or researching, I couldn’t help but enjoy the sense of power his nervousness gave me.
He looked up at me: “Miss America,” he said. He looked back at the two girls he was helping. One of the girls said in a thick German accent,“But this is $40 and there’s no screen protector.”
He looked at her, and he looked at me, and he hesitated. Suddenly he barked, “Fine! I’ll give it to you for $30!” And he threw it down and grabbed the credit card machine.
Turning his attention to me, we began to go through same conversation as we always had. He asked me hopeful questions, wondering what I was up to and why had it been so long since I’d seen him. Changing the subject, I told him the problem and he told me to again come back in a half hour.
After I came back, he asked me out again, an invitation which I rejected, this time a bit more forceful than the previous. I walked out, but only a few feet out of the door I realized my phone said “August 27, 1975.” I grunted out loud and cursed Edward. He must have done this on purpose to lure me into his closet-sized, dodgy phone repair shop!
“Edward, what IS this!” I screamed as I walked through the door, “Why does it say it’s 1975!” He suggested I update my phone, log onto the WiFi, or change it myself manually. I challenged him, wondering why suddenly, after I visited him, that it just now changed. He tried to work on it. A few minutes later, he said he fixed it.
I walked out and read the time stamp “September 2025.” “UGH!” I screamed again, this time too frustrated to even try. I let it be, and now I still have photos that say they were taken in 2025.
The Last and Final Time
Three weeks after my phone decided it was 2025, it went black again. I was thoroughly dreading seeing him again. I surely could have gone to another phone repair shop, but I didn’t want to spend more money than necessary. I had already spent so much with Edward, and besides, I was trying to save for my upcoming travels to the U.S. and Argentina.
When I walked towards Edward’s shop, I had a growing frustration radiating through my body. I was angry; angry that I felt like I had to be nice to this man who continually asked me out despite my rejections. I was angry that men are taught they have to be the saviors; that based on Hollywood movies, women really don’t know what they want – it just takes a bit of convincing and they’ll be yours. I was angry that Edward was nerdy and clueless, because he probably hadn’t had much luck with ladies before. The fact that he was so hopeful after my standard politeness show his inexperience. I felt sorry for him. And worse that I was annoyed at him. Is it his fault that’s he’s a product of society?
I wasn’t just angry, but I was also dehydrated. I was tired. I had just gotten off of night shift and I was not in the mood. I didn’t have the physical or mental strength to handle the demands he required.
I walked in without a smile. I sat down and waited my turn.
“My phone’s broken again, Edward,” I said, quiet and direct.
“What’s wrong with you?” he said, “You look sad.”
I should have told him the truth right then. I should have told him that I wasn’t sad, I was just angry I had to be at his shop again and wondered why he persisted so much despite my best attempts to reject him.
I pride myself on being patient, but I had no patience for this man. Finally, after a few minutes, he sensed it. He didn’t smile. He didn’t call himself superman and he didn’t call me Miss America. I took my fixed phone and I walked out.
The next day, I left Darwin forever.
Featured photo: A graffiti seen near Burgos, Spain, on the Camino de Santiago. Seen in June 2016.
This post is part of weekly series titled Character Tuesday, where every Tuesday I bring you a story about (a) unique individual(s) I’ve encountered. Like I always say, life can be good or bad, but as long as it’s entertaining, that’s all you need. This series is meant to celebrate our quirks and idiosyncrasies.
Instead of only visitng the must-see lists of each city, one of the most amazing things about traveling is experiencing what you’re passionate about in a new environment.
For example, my experience living in Buenos Aires was enriched by taking taking folk dance classes and volunteered at a human rights organization. Just imagine what might be memorable: a visit to a statue that you don’t have any inherent connection to, or going to a discussion night at a local NGO about the genocide in Guatemala and sitting silently in the back until you couldn’t hold in your tears any longer. No matter where you are, either if you’re studying abroad for a semester or just passing through for a few days, taking an afternoon to participate in something you care about can have a great impact on your trip.
For me during the months I spent living in Melbourne on a working holiday visa, I survived the mundane repetition of working at a salad bar by participating in feminist activism events. If learning more about the feminist struggles is one of your passions, here are seven ideas for you to broaden your understanding of it in Australia. While this list is by no means exhaustive, it can give you a starting point to delve deeper.
The QVWC is a building in the Melbourne CBD which houses offices for several nonprofits relating to women’s welfare. It also hosts speakers and events. To celebrate International Women’s Day the QVWC held lectures throughout the week of March 8th- they even involved complimentary wine. Check out their library or subscribe to their newsletter for updates.
Radical Women is a grassroots leftist feminist organization that started in the United States in the 1960s. Today in Melbourne the organization is present at political rallies and even hosts events at their Brunswick located library, called the Solidarity Salon, including feminist book clubs and speakers.
While not inherently feminist, Melbourne Free University hosts lectures related to topics from technology to the FARC and gay rights movement in Colombia and often tackles the struggles of the global power imbalances including gender and women’s rights. The goal of the free uni is expand discussion and debate of important issues to all, and while lecturers often come from academia, participants come from all walks of life.
A coworking space for women entrepreneurs located in Southbank, One Roof also hosts networking events and professional development workshops for women usually relating to business and leadership.
Miscellaneous Activist Events
Local grassroots political activist organizations organize rallies, lectures and discussions related to a variety of topics, and most of them often intersect with the feminist cause. For example, I subscribed to the Green Leftist Weekly’s activist calendar, which advertises any number of events hosted by different organizations in different areas of the city, from the Socialist Alliance’s CBD office to Melbourne University.
MeetUp.com, which connects people with others who share similar interests, lists several local feminist groups in Melbourne. Use these socials to network and learn more about activism in the city.
EthicalJobs.com and Seek.com list open jobs and volunteering positions related to gender inequality (just make sure to use the right search terms). The possibility of volunteering is increased with the longer you might stay in Melbourne, especially when the work is regarding sensitive issues such as domestic violence.
Melbourne Feminist Action is Facebook group that helps organize feminist activists around pressing issues in the feminist movement. As of the time of writing this post, the page hasn’t been updated, but you never know when they might become active again.
Featured photo taken at Hosier Lane in Melbourne.
Not obsessed with the feminist cause? There’s still a lot to be discovered about Melbourne! Check out these five websites to tell you where.
We sat at Platform 5, ready to take the train from Flinders to Sunshine. Sunshine is a notoriously rough area, but when we arrived, it seemed harmless.
Why were Alexe and I going to Sunshine? I wanted to attend a real, official International Women’s Day event. My last minute attempts to plan something for March 8 were failures. I was too late. Most of the events had already filled up. Music shows, breakfasts at the archival women’s center and poetry readings wouldn’t be on my agenda for the day.
Instead, I found an event on the International Women’s Day website for a community event at the Braybrook Library, a name that feels like a tongue twister to say. After going to St. Kilda beach, lunching at Jungle Juice Bar and feeling suffocated by the 38 degree heat in the city, we jumped on our train to Sunshine. From there, we took a 20 minute bus to the library, at first missing our stop.
I noticed we had been on the road for quite some time. Looking around, it felt like we were in a different country. The strip malls, sidewalks and 1970s looking housing felt years away from the European style CBD. I approached the driver, and in compliance with the sign – “don’t distract the driver while he’s driving”- I politely said “Eh, excuse me, could I ask you a questions?”
He took both hands off the wheel and lifted them up in unison and bulged his eyes, as if to express that I had just asked the dumbest question imaginable. “Where’s Braybrook shops? That’s the stop.” I asked. He shouted back, “You passed it a long time ago!”
After exiting the bus, walking around the corner, being tempted to hitchhike when I saw the air conditioning blowing from the cars of men in business suits, finding the stop, waiting for the bus…we got back on with the same driver. After even more confusion, some extremely kind Kiwis (playing loud music and laughing) disagreeing with driver and helping us find our way, we had made it.
And it was worth it. The library felt like a cooler in comparison to the heat outside. Inside, beyond the books, we made our way to the back end, where it took me a second to realize this was still Australia. It was almost identical to the library in my hometown. Looking out of the slightly tainted windows I looked at the dry grass and kids playing soccer. The sidewalk almost looks different in intense heat. It could have been summer in Midwestern USA.
The room was full of younger mothers with screaming (still adorable) children, middle aged women and teenagers. Some men were also in attendance. It stuck me that the crowd in attendance was remarkably diverse. I looked around the room to see Vietnamese, Somalis and Turkish. I even heard languages being spoken I couldn’t identify. There were multiple generations of women grouped together.
Despite the diversity of the people there, I couldn’t help but notice that the presence of an American and a French girl was somewhat of a confusion to everyone. Even so, we were treated in a warm and welcoming way. A university student of Somali descent had us try the tea she had made. It was placed among tea and beverage samplings from other parts of the world- Mexico, China, and Italy. The Somali tea was by far the most satisfying.
We grabbed our tea and listened to the variety of local talent. A young Arab boy performed spoken word poetry dedicated to his mother, where he recalled his childhood filled love and strength from his mother, despite the hunger and violence they suffered. A Turkish-Australian storyteller reflected on the definition of “girl” in the lives of the women in her family, a term that used to be filled with shame. She’s since reclaimed the word and finds it empowering: “Girl isn’t limited, its limitless,” she told the audience.
Melbourne-based singer songwriter Jess Locke got up to the microphone, joking that she didn’t envy the cricket players out back sweltering in the afternoon sun. She performed an impressive set, accompanied by some witty and inspiring remarks. 10 years ago, she overcame her fear of performing in front of an audience. It was a fear that had withheld her from fulfilling her desire to sing, even though she “desperately wanted to do so.” She encouraged all of the girls in the room to push through their insecurities and go after what they want the most.
If International Women’s Day wasn’t my favorite day of the year, I’m not sure I would have gone through so many hoops to travel to what felt like the outback, not to mention on a day when I’d rather be laying on the beach, languid and pathetic. Visiting a local IWD event was exactly what I was looking for. It didn’t have the passionate cry of protest, but it fulfilled all expectations of celebrations of our very existence, appreciating our strengths and talents. It was a wonderful example of how a small, diverse community puts a local spin on a global issue. Speaking to the diverse experiences of immigrants, the program was relatable to the lives of the women in the audience, more so than an all-white Australian panel of women at a talk at the Queen Victoria Women’s Center (although this was equally fantastic, it would have probably been far less sympathetic to their realities).
Can’t get enough offeminism and International Women’s Day? Me neither! Check out these articles:
This special “Character Tuesday” post is dedicated to all the women out there. For all that I may be impressed by you or irked by you, I am happy that you have a personality, that you exist, that you are alive! Happy International Women’s Day!
In 2013, I went to a lecture in Buenos Aires by Marcela Lagarde. By the time my friend and I reached the feminist cultural center Tierra Violeta, the venue was already packed by women with piercings, tattoos, wearing leggings under jean skirts and keffiyehs. Whenever I think of activism in Buenos Aires, I will always imagine women with these characteristics.
I don’t remember too much of lecture in itself. But what I will never forget is what Lagarde answered to a woman during the Q&A. A woman raised her hand and asked Lagarde what she thought was the most important thing for women to do. Her answer? She believes that what is lacking is sororidad, or solidarity among females. Female friendship. Female support.
And I will never forget how much hearing this impacted me. Her words ring in my ears when I find myself slowly judging what a girl is wearing. Or if I curse a girl for being more “successful” than me. Or if become jealous when a girl is getting male attention. I remember what Lagarde said and know that, there is no reason to put a barrier between myself and another woman. Simone de Beauvoir made a similar argument in 1947: “But the oppressor would not be so strong if he did not have accomplices among the oppressed themselves.”
I do not wish to be an accomplice of the oppressor.
International Women’s Day should highlight the plight women face around the world. It should first and foremost recognize the strength of women, but also make visible the forces working against us and inhibiting us from making advances in our public and personal lives. While I usually feel most passionate about violence prevention, menstruation, body image and female beauty standards, today I celebrate my female friendships. Which, as you’ll read, I am clearly passionate about as well.
I have two sisters, both of whom I consider, besides sisters, to be intimate friends that mean the world to me. Beyond my blood sisters, each one of my female friendships serves a purpose in my life. With each one of my closest female friends, the moment we met we had an instant connection. The giddy, excited feeling I had about being their friend is probably how most heterosexual girls feel when they meet a guy they’re interested in. (I’ve never really felt this, or at least about someone other than the check out guy or the guy whose house I had to go knocking on for charity. Those are isolated cases in which it’s very rare it would work out.) We met in unlikely situations, often rare that a deep friendship would ensue from a library run-in or group Facebook message.
I’ve never been the girl that says “I prefer to hang out with guys. They’re so much less drama” (I’m not shaming “that girl” in any way, by the way!). I of course had drama, as do we all. But I love being friends with girls. I love being constantly surrounded by girls, inspired by girls and laughing with girls. I find so much comfort in sharing my pain and vulnerabilities with other girls. I love girls so much that I often wonder how I can ever make a genuine connection with a heterosexual man (because all men are obviously the same, you know…).
This is my life. My best female friends are always a text, Whatsapp or Facebook message away from always being there for me. My virtual friendships sustain me through every emotion possible. Sometimes after having a good catch-up with them, I feel like I can conquer the world.
Then, there’s the reality of my experience traveling:
There is the issue of small quantity of girls, and the fact that I’ve not made many instant connections with girls I’ve met traveling. Even though it now feels like every girl you went to high school with just quit her job to travel the world, backpacking is still a very male-dominated phenomenon. Last Character Tuesday, I wrote about the hilarious personalities of Southeast Asia. There was only one female on the list. And she wasn’t a fellow traveler, she was a local. But still, this shows how little contact we have with both female travelers and female locals. Knowing this, perhaps that’s why my experience at a Moroccan hammam was one of the most powerful of my life. It was one of the only spaces I’ve ever felt so close to other women. Perhaps that’s why I feel so connected to Argentina; I spent much time surrounded by female activists, including one unforgettable 36 hour bus ride from Buenos Aires to Posadas. That’s a lot of girl time.
How is it that I can be so energized by other women and feel so complete from my female friendships, but miss out completely from forming female bonds while traveling? Is it a rare jealousy- as in “I’m the special girl?” Is it some subconscious comparisons we are making? Is it because they don’t give me the same attention as a male would? I aim to be more aware of this, and find out why. And, I might add, find out why without blaming the other (as in “she wasn’t very friendly,” or “she didn’t invite me somewhere”) International Women’s Day: Criticize the oppressors, celebrate the achievements.
We -all women, not just women travelers- have to stick together and support one another. Didn’t our obsession with Mean Girls teach us anything? It’s easy to step back and not stand up for someone when you have no connection to them.
Just like buying pink loofah for your mom on International Women’s Day seems trivial, it may seem ridiculous for a privileged traveler to discuss female solidarity when there are child marriages, femicides and forced sterilizations. There is constant violence and systematic injustices women face on a daily basis. But at a closer look, maybe we can be activists in our daily interactions without being overwhelmed by the macro issues (similar to the concept of “Redefining Helping Others“).
This past August, I visited Basque Country. Yes, this is same trip as the Pitbull incident. The day that Pitbull didn’t accompany us, friends and I went to Bilbao to see the last weekend of the annual celebration, Aste Naguisa.
Aste Naguisa is a 9-day festival celebrating Basque-ness. Political and neighborhood organizations set up tents. In these tents, participants drink, play games, and see performances. Walking around the endless pedestrian-only streets we saw the organizations’ massive murals and artistic takes on pop culture, consumer society and world events.
The narrow cobblestones streets were filled with overflowing tapas bars, street vendors and loud music. Those celebrating the festival wear purple scarves.
The protagonist of the festival is Marijaia, who, surprisingly, is burned to celebrate the end of the 9-day event. Marijaia means “lady of the party,” and she is meant to symbolize optimism and dance.
She comes in different shapes, forms, and versions.
The above photo was the first Marijaia I saw. At first I thought she was just a fun decoration. Then I realized her significance. Below is an example of a smaller version, seen in a shop window in the central distinct.
Marijaia was everywhere. But among the tents and crowds, I noticed a different version of her I hadn’t seen before. This Marijaia was purple, with a winking face with the words, “Egin Keinu bardintasunari” (Make an equality gesture) under it. At the bottom, it reads, “Ez beti da Ez,” or “no means no.”
The campaign “Ez beti da Ez,” financed by the Bilbao Town Hall, had the support of 880 businesses located on the grounds of the event. The campaign distributed 700,000 napkins with the phrase, “¡Ez beti da ez; no es no. Insistir es acosar. Acosar es agredir¡” (No means no. To insist is to harass. To harass is to attack) to be placed in those restaurants.
The directors of the campaign also distributed cards with emergency phone numbers and had a hotline available for people to report violence. Buses on certain lines throughout the city were also decorated to spread the word on preventing violence, and to provide information for those who needed to report.
It struck me as impressive that the local government was able to make this campaign so visible. Everywhere I saw a billboard, a poster, a sign, a napkin. The message “no means no” was unavoidable. It was loud and clear, just as the campaigners intended it. Their goal was to make the event for all people and free of prejudice and violence of any form. Festivals are for joyous celebration, not for chauvinism and aggression.
As my friends and I joined hundreds of people circling around teams competing in traditional Basque games, I couldn’t help but notice a huge “no means no” sign behind the crowds.
I walked around the people as an announcer was speaking in Basque. When no one cheered when expected, she switched to Spanish and said, “So no one speaks Basque here?” As she continued, I saw a few girls holding a cutout. It was a giant, winking Marijaia with her face cut out. Festival goers could show their support for the campaign by inserting their faces in the sign.
For 16 Day of Activism, I celebrate this campaign. I celebrate the town hall’s creativity in associating a revered cultural symbol with consent and equality. Violence prevention efforts are more effective when they are continuous and consistent. I hope the campaign served to remind people to respect others. I hope that in case someone was in danger, the campaign’s hotline was there to help.
Do you also want to wink for equality?
On these 16 Days of Activism, I hope everyone takes a moment to understand the challenges women face around the world. Your education shouldn’t make you feel powerless, however. One of my favorite quotes is by Charles Dickens:
No one is useless in this world who lightens the burden of anyone else.
Each of us has a chance. A chance to lighten the burden of someone else. To step up for those who have been pushed down.
Read here for my tips on handling subtle micro-gender-based attacks, especially in the classroom.
Read here for tips on how to confront abusive language.
Read the U.S. Department of State’s blog on three ways you can participate in 16 Days of Activism. Your activism doesn’t have to end after the 16 days. Use this tips to be an advocate for human rights all year.
Read here for how you can help others by being at peace with yourself
He looked down at the practically inch-long hair on my legs. I interjected the stares of the boy who was flirting with me in Ibiza and explained, “Yeah… I don’t really shave sometimes…”
To my surprise, he remarked, “Vello es bello.” Body hair is beautiful. Before I could respond, I almost started crying I was so happy. Someone who understands me! (Don’t get excited. It still didn’t work out.)
In my discussions on leg, map of Tasmania, and underarm hair, there has been him…and what felt like the rest of the world.
The encounter with my Ibiza admirer was night and day compared to the death stares I received while traveling Europe with Kimberly this summer.
In Cinque Terre, at the height (or length!) of my leg/arm/pub hair, I caught one man transfixed by the curly-q’s sprouting from my calves. While walking the Camino de Santiago, a friend of ours was clearly disgusted every time Kimberly lifted up her arm, exposing her underarm hair growth. That was pretty entertaining to be a party to.
(It is important to note that yes, because I was a tourist, I frequented tourist areas. This also may influence people’s opinions)
Why Are People Disgusted?
In February of 2014, I wrote an article on pubic hair, one of my most favorite articles I’ve ever written. In response to American Apparel’s use of pubic merkins, I posed the question “Will this year mark the ‘year of the bush?’”
That was over a year and a half ago. And clearly 2014 wasn’t. My experiences this summer in Europe with full-on hair taught me that 2015 hasn’t been either (hey, 2016… you out there?).
Needless to say, the opinions on the topic are many and varied. Geographic concerns no longer (if they ever did?) determine hair or no hair growth. In my experience, if you talk to anyone over 50 years-old (who hasn’t been to Europe), he/she will most likely believe that European women are ravenous, unkempt animals (as demonstrated by a facial gesture the speaker makes) who “just let it all go.”
While people in the U.S. tend to view Europeans as hairy, turns out things stateside aren’t as clean shaven as assumed. According IU sex researcher Debbie Herbenick’s 2010 study on pubic hair removal patterns in the United States, only 12% of women aged 25-29-years-olds were hair free.
Europe-wide, 10% of women completely removed their pubic hair, 15% trimmed, and 75% left it completely natural. Women in Eastern Europe, France, and Spain are notorious for leaving their armpits and legs unshaved, and one can assume this also extends to the pubic region.
I’d like to know where those women are. Because I certainly didn’t see them.
Why would some women shave and some not? There are any number of reasons, some of them personal and others political (Hard to tell which is which. The personal IS political!).
Her illustrations show a general support for not shaving, claiming its woman’s personal choice, and does not imply that she is ugly, dirty, or unwanted (Interestingly, Argentine researcher Karina Felitti makes the argument that to remove hair or not remove hair should be a personal choice. However, she notes that in some feminist circles, if you decide to remove hair, you become a slave to patriarchy and judged by other feminists. Felitti argues that this type of conflict creates a rift among woman and takes attention away from the real issues, such as equal pay, the right to decide, and violence).
What Does This Mean For the Woman Who Travels?
People who travel outside of the U.S. tend to remark how progressive Europe is, and how ignorant Americans are. But progressive in terms of what? Social policy (and a number of other topics), I would argue yes. But socially? Body acceptance? Our hegemonic standards of beauty cut across national borders. I can’t make any assumptions about the U.S. or Europe as a whole, but it seemed that no matter where Kimberly and I went, people weren’t entirely comfortable with our choice to not shave.
My reasons for or for not shaving/removing hair are more out of convenience than protest. That being said, the reason I am still okay with not shaving comes from my feminist education and understanding of why women are expected to shave. Therefore, when I don’t, I don’t find myself “unkempt” or undesirable. I am not afraid to go to the beach with a bush.
Removing hair hurts (although I am partial to waxing) and is time consuming. Generally, I would rather spend my time elsewhere than slaving away over my unruly hair and sensitive skin.
For a backpacker, this outlook makes things very convenient. Without stressing over hair removal, the female backpacker saves money, time, and is removed from shame and embarrassment of body hair.
Maybe the shower is too small or you don’t feel like shaving in cold water. Perhaps you’d rather eat a sandwich than buy a razor. Maybe, you are just tired and don’t feel like showering, period. No problem. Just don’t shave.
The trade-off? One must be prepared for the stares and disgust that not removing hair might produce.
For me, it’s worth it.
What about you? What have your experiences shaving/not shaving while traveling been? How have people reacted?