There is apparently a growing practice of young women having their pubic hair removed. I am of course an aged innocent in these matters, sadly having lost direct experience of the fashions of the young female nude some time ago, at least in the numbers that would meet the requirements for a valid social survey. In this innocence I still associated the practice – still without direct experience of course – with porn stars and prostitutes. I assume that this is not the identification that a wider group of women now adopting it wish to convey. So what is going on here, aside from promotion from the growth industry of beauticians, who have of course a commercial interest in promoting a view of the ‘beautiful’ and the ‘natural’ which is evolutionary, and subject to fashion (as indeed it is)?

This may have something to do with the push back from feminism, or rather, the slow transformation over the last 30 years or so of the usage of the term ‘feminist’ from one who engages in a collective struggle for gender rights, to one who sees a feminist as someone who may adopt a range social practices – some of which might be seen on the face of it as anti-feminist in the old sense – as individualist self-expression, markers of personal confidence. It suggests that we might be in a post-feminist phase, where, the collective battles for equality having been won, and women being on a level playing field with men on economic, social, political and interpersonal terms, it is time for a flowering of expressive individuality, which may include activities which in less enlightened terms might have been seen as symbolic of gender exploitation – like pole dancing – but which now is represented as personal empowerment to the woman involved. There must be many ways that individuals feel more or less happy or fulfilled with such ways of living or working, but the idea that doing so is based on decisive victories won by the earlier feminists is of course a highly delusional given our stuttering progress in gender relations, especially in professional and political life.

It is not fully clear how loss of pubic hair fits into all this, or why it troubles me. My age, which has left me a distant observer of this trend, gave me first hand experience of an earlier parallel trend, as women decided to get rid of underarm hair between 40 and 50 years ago, and of course spent more time and money on removing hair from their legs too. I also reacted conservatively to this trend, but in time got used to it, as it became the norm. Of course it shares with pubic hair the feature that it something that women do, rather than men, and women do presumably for men. But pubic hair arrives with adult sexuality, and its removal suggests something slightly disturbing – the presentation of the female body to the male as pre-pubescent, as offering under-age sex. In this, it is perhaps rather more than the latest turn in the age-old story of women emphasising their sexuality as the main means of attracting and holding men, but a suggestion of increased female submissiveness in that process, of infantalisation of the female role. It is of course a million miles away from female genital mutilation, but it is still hard to see this as feminism in any sense.