This post is in relation to the Gender and Domination course in OOPS.
I sat down to type up this response right after three hours of worshipping Aphrodite at the hair salon and currently, my devil red nails are dancing over a keyboard, getting ready to write about the oppressions women face. This hair salon was quite the temple of beauty worship; not only did they offer services to embrace the beauty of the hair on your head, but they also offered services to wax or thread off the rest of the hair elsewhere on your body. The women (and some men) wishing for a haircut, hair color, or blowout had the front of the salon all to themselves, looking beautiful for the never-ending New York crowd. As for the rest of the hair- well I just happened to stumble upon the scary depilation rooms all the way in the back, mistakenly thinking the salon shared an office with a gynecologist due to all the beds with stirrups. Somehow, it seemed as if the only acceptable hair was the one being taken care of in the front and the rest was to be removed all the way in the back, in secret.
At no point during those three hours did I feel dominated or oppressed, but had Foucault or Oksala been there, they would’ve told me otherwise.
As Oksala writes in The Neoliberal Subject of Feminism, “In Discipline and Punish, Foucault argues that discipline was a historically specific technology of power that emerged in the 18th century and operated through the body.” Therefore, nail polish, makeup, hair color, and depilation are some of the many ways in which society has oppressed women since the 18th century. However, even in a 21st century New York City, hair salons with depilation rooms are still fully packed.
Maybe we truly enjoy getting pampered. Perhaps we really do still worship Aphrodite. Or maybe, we want to follow the bourgeois lives of the Kardashians- always getting something “done,” and I don’t mean that in a workaholic way. The entire Kardashian Klan seems to get paid for continuously getting their hair done, getting their nails done, getting their bodies done, getting their Brazilians done. Sure, they don’t actually do anything all day- yet Americans seems to watch this show day in and day out, as the Kardashians keep cashin’ in. As Jamieson Webster mentioned in class, the Kardashians follow all the gender norms (makeup, hair, and eyebrows on fleek), yet defy them all at the same time (Kris the matriarch and Caitlyn’s transition). They keep getting richer and people seem to indulge in the voyeurism. One of their clips struck me in particular when thinking about Foucault and Oksala.
In a clip listed under Week 2 of the course, Gender and Domination, Kourtney Kardashian’s husband, Scott, shaves her vagina. The clip starts off with pregnant Kourtney discussing Scott’s disappointment in not wanting to shave her vagina for a photoshoot, because the Kardashians will never pass up any work taking place in front of the camera. “Yeah, it’s a little offensive,” says Scott. Poor Kourtney, who would avoid being offensive at all costs, then explains that he’s lucky enough she even shaves her legs due to the inconvenience of her baby bump. She says that he’s asking a lot from her to shave down there, however, she’s (literally) “down,” but just needs some assistance. Obviously, even pregnant women must shave as to not offend anyone. As Oksala mentions, Bartky would be troubled by Kourtney’s quick compliance to master and “keep up with the rituals of beauty.” Perhaps Kourtney feels as if she lost some freedom due to the inconvenience of a baby bump, and she’s obeying with the task because she thinks it’s allotting her some of that lost freedom, when really, she just desires obeying.
Scott then excitedly brags about his barber shop experience and jokes that it will cost her about $13.50. He shadows the oppression as being a choice by jokingly asking rich Mrs. Kardashian for money for his service, since it’s something she can clearly afford. Scott makes it seem as if Kourtney’s getting her pubic hair shaved as a display of power; as a display of having the money to throw on such luxuries; rather than solely for sex appeal. As Chiara Bottici mentioned that neoliberalism preaches that you can control a subject simply by controlling the external factors governing that subject. Scott then mentions that, “Her bush is hanging out like it’s the 80’s and [he’s] not gonna stand for that.” Kourtney seems to embarrassingly be out of the hoop of vaginal hair trend fashion. As with any fashion statement, crowds seem to unconsciously and blindly follow the wave of new trends. Just like with hairstyles, nail colors, and purses, vaginas also seem to have trends which women are expected to follow. No wonder porn sites have special categories devoted to certain trends revolving around pubic hair trends (ex. Bush, Natural, Landing Strips). Scott is a man who does not stand for bushes because they’re out of season. So he “mans up” and says, “So if I have to get my hands dirty, I will,” because we all know that pubic hair is dirty. Even though pubic hair keeps genitals clean by keeping germs out, Scott equates pubic hair to dirtiness.
Just as Scott is about to shave Kourtney, he calls her a “little girl.” That’s right, right before he infantilizes his wife by bringing her vagina’s aesthetic back to where it was pre-pubescence, he makes sure she understands what’s about to happen. Clever Scott then makes a biblical reference to parting her vagina as if it were the Red Sea, thereby hyper-masculating himself by referring to himself as God, a.k.a. Lord Disick on Instagram. While Moses had a phallic staff when he parted the actual Red Sea, Scott has a phallic electronic razor, which he probably uses on his own face. At first, Kourtney seems a bit anxious to have the phallic razor come close to her labia, but then Scott assures her to trust him. So, Kourtney hands her body over to Scott in the vulnerable position of trusting him to carefully shave her gentle vagina.
As Kourtney sits in the tub to get ready for her trim, her sister Khloe interrupts this pubic hair trimming, and within no time, there are three people in the bathroom. Ah, the Freudian tripartite! Khloe acts as the Id, incestually coming in and watching her sister expose her vagina to her husband and showing disapproval in the shaving of pubic hair. Scott is the Superego, making sure Kourtney abides by the most current social standards for pubic hair, avoiding offending anyone. Kourtney is the ego, mediating between Khloe’s disapproval and Scott’s trend following; therefore allowing her vagina to be shaved, just as long as it’s not done by her own two hands during her pregnancy. In terms of Foucault’s idea of the liberal subject, Kourtney pursues her own interest in the photoshoot; however, her interest “converges spontaneously with the interest” of Scott, who wishes for her to succeed, but under the conditions of a shaved vagina.
The Kardashians don’t fail to sexualize pregnancy during the entire vaginal shaving process, referring to the event as that representing a water birth and looking as if Kourtney’s giving birth to a hairy baby. Now, pregnant Kourtney can be sexualized again because her vagina is all taken care of and back to looking like what it used to before she reached puberty. Kourtney approves, saying, “Gorgeous. Shines like the top of the Chrysler building.” Now that Lord Disick has done Kourtney a favor and uses his phallic razor on her vagina, Kourtney’s left with a phallus herself, one that shines like the top of the Chrysler building. Although this whole event was Scott’s idea in the first place, let’s not forget that Kourtney owes him $13.50 because of the favor his did for a successful business woman. As a successful business woman, Kourtney is part of the neoliberal subject of feminism, through investing in herself as an economic subject by “taking care of business down there” and keeping a “neat” aesthetic. Additionally, now Scott has nothing to be ashamed of during Kourtney’s photoshoot.
Oksala observes that, according to a certain new feminism, “A woman can be a feminist and still have a white wedding, buy pornography, wear designer clothes or even be a prostitute or a porn star as long as that has been her own choice. In other words, it is irrelevant how women speak, dress, or make love as long as they are pursuing their own interests.” This is what a neoliberal subject is supposed to be doing. While I made the decision (or at least I think I did) to go to the hair salon on my own, Scott made the suggestion to Kourtney to shave her vagina. Now, as for the women heading to a depilation salon anytime soon, remember, you do have a choice: thread or wax.