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article imageASU offers female students extra credit for not shaving armpits

By Phyllis Smith Asinyanbi     Jul 6, 2014 in Science
Phoenix - Arizona State University professor Breanne Fahs offers extra credit to female students who agree not to shave their armpits for 10 weeks and journal about their experience.
Male students are offered equal credit for shaving all hair below the neckline and maintaining a clean-shaven body for the entire semester.
Fahs, who teaches classes on gender, class and race, wants students to think critically about societal roles and what's considered normal. Based on Fahs' observations, women who don't shave are more concerned about their romantic partner's reaction, while men focus on what other males think.
She added, “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.”
Stephanie Robinson, a student who opted out of the experiment during her first two classes with Fahs, decided to try it and described it as a life-changing experience. Robinson said, "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."
Another student, Grace Scale, said the strongest reactions were from male friends and one compared her underarm hair to "the sludge in the bottom of the garbage can."
Fahs said males who shaved body hair took more of a macho attitude toward the experiment, concluding because they were men, they could do whatever they wanted. One student chose to shave with a hunting knife.
Kurt Keller, a former male participant, stated that although a co-worker asked why he shaved his legs, he felt "comfortable in my own skin" and supported by classmates who shared the experience.
Jacqueline Gonzalez, another student, credits the project with helping her become an activist, while Fahs said the positive responses she received is surprising. She is interested in knowing how the exercise would work in a non-academic setting.
Fah's project garnered the American Psychological Association's Mary Roth Walsh Teaching the Psychology of Women Award in 2012, and papers were published on the experiment in academic journals, including Gender & Society, Psychology of Women Quarterly and Feminism and Psychology.
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