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Social experiment offered women extra credits not to shave to study reaction to gender stereotypes

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An American college professor has set out to challenge gender stereotypes around body hair by challenging female students to grow their hair, and men to shave it, in exchange for extra credits.

Professor Breanne Fahs, who runs the Women and Gender Studies class at Arizona State University, offered her students the chance to get extra credits (which means that they can get their grades higher), if they didn't conform to their gender's hair removal norms.

The women were asked not to shave their armpits and legs, and the men were asked to remove hair below their necks. Anyone who took part had to undertake the task for a whole semester and keep a diary of what they discovered during the experiment.

Professor Fahs then studied the reactions from the students' peers and how ingrained the societal expectations are surrounding hair removal.

Many pupils reported that their friends and family didn't want to hear about the project, with one student Stephanie Robinson stating how her body seemed to be up judgement by the public, not just those close to her.

"Many of my friends didn’t want to work out next to me or hear about the assignment, and my mother was distraught at the idea that I would be getting married in a white dress with armpit hair. I also noticed the looks on faces of strangers and people around campus who seemed utterly disgusted by my body hair. It definitely made me realize that if you’re not strictly adhering to socially prescribed gender roles, your body becomes a site for contestation and public opinion."

Another female student even reported that her male friends thought her new armpit hair looked like a bit of sludge "in the bottom of the garbage can". Nice.

However, male students, who were asked to shave their armpits and their legs, didn't discover the same disdain from the public or their friends. But Fahs has recognised this as she says with the increase in "manscaping" there's now an acceptance that men also like to remove "unwanted" hair.

According to one former student, Kurt Keller, it didn't seem to have a negative effect on his peers: "Although a co-worker questioned why I shaved my legs, I felt comfortable in my own skin. It helped having classmates who were so willing to lay it on the line too."

Speaking to the ASU (Arizona State University's website), Fahs described the reasoning behind her extra credit offering: "There’s no better way to learn about societal norms than to violate them and see how people react. There’s really no reason why the choice to shave, or not, should be a big deal. But it is, as the students tend to find out quickly."

Interestingly, getting rid of armpit hair has only been a recent phenomenon, with women opting to go hairless in the early 1900s, with the advent of sleeveless dresses. Then, as hemlines rose, shaving legs became more common too.

This has definitely got us thinking about giving up our razor worship. How about you?

(Images: Main: Rex Features, Body: Ben Hopper)

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