As I have noted before, Prudie, the Slate advice columinist, has strict standards of gender performance that the women she writes about regularly fail to meet. Some of them don’t dress in a feminine enough manner or know how to apply makeup. Some of them object to being maritally raped. And some of them have the temerity not to give a shit about the six hairs on their areolas that their boyfriends find inexplicably revolting — the horror! Her list of women who fail true femininity keeps growing and growing.
Therefore I was pleasantly surprised with a recent Dear Abbie column that could have turning into gender policing, but didn’t. It was about body hair on women, a subject that hits Prudie’s buttons. The writer to Dear Abbie complains that his wife no longer shaves her legs after 25 years of marriage. He thinks her leg hair disgusting and wonders what to do.
In response, Abbie provides a little relatable context for the man, saying that perhaps the woman is freeing herself from a tedious routine in the same way that a man who has shaved his face for years for his job might grow a beard after retirement. Abbie also adds that the letter writer should put up and shut up.
I like that Abbie’s response, first, provided a frame of reference that the letter writer might understand. Her analysis of the woman’s leg hair as rejection of an obligation turns the focus away from the offended man and onto the woman, who probably has perfectly reasonable motivations for doing it — motivations that have nothing to do with the man [gasp]! Abbie’s reframing allows her to identify the real problem: the letter writer’s belief that the woman owes him hairless legs. She objects, saying that, instead, the letter writer owes the woman respect. if anyone needs to change, it’s him, not her.
Wow, an advice columnist with a healthy respect for bodily autonomy! Will wonders never cease? I think I should start reading Dear Abbie as an antidote to Dear Prudence.