The Julyna Controversy

by | July 4, 2011
filed under Can-Con, Feminism

by Jarrah Hodge

Chances are you’ve heard of Movember, where guys grow facial hair to raise money for prostate cancer research, but have you heard of Julyna yet?

Inspired by Movember, Julyna is designed to be a month-long campaign in which women shave their pubic hair into creative designs to raise money to fight cervical cancer. Participants can donate and register at a page set up by the Canadian Cancer Society.

Critiquing anti-cancer campaigns can be a bit of a taboo, but the more I learned about Julyna the more it made me really uncomfortable. The idea of discussing my pubic grooming habits with  coworkers and family, much less using it to raise donations from them, might feel weird to some women, although less weird I’m guessing than actually adopting the “David Suzuki” bush design.

But the other reason it doesn’t sit well with me is that while Movember frees men from grooming duties, Julyna makes women spend more time and money on theirs. If you’re in Toronto, they’ve even partnered with a salon that will do any of their suggested designs, including the “Heart”, the “Side Part”, the “Moustache”, and “The Rising Sun”, for $60. I’d be interested to know if there was a reason they didn’t feel they could ask women to just stop waxing and shaving down there for a month.

(Interestingly, that is apparently what the idea’s founder, nurse Vanessa Willson, originally suggested. But she was shot down: “The reaction I got was ‘absolutely not’,” she laughs. “Even the committee members said ‘we’ll do it because we’re ballsy women, but nobody else is going to do it’.”)

The campaign is sensationalistic and objectifies women, which becomes no real shocker when you see that the Canadian Cancer Society has partnered with MTV and Molson Canadian for the campaign.

Huffington Post Canada quotes Meredith Dault, a Queen’s University grad student who is studying the increased popularity of pubic hair grooming. She says the campaign is “sexing up cancer.” She told the Montreal Gazette, “It all sounds very Sex and the City to me. Men get to grow ironic moustaches — which they probably want to do anyway — and women have to go through the pain of shaving or waxing. … it seems a little off to me.”

The response to the related Huffington Post poll shows that the response to the campaign so far is extremely divided:

Huffington Post Canada poll results as of July 4

When I posted the initial story on the Gender Focus Facebook page commenters had similar reactions to mine:

I think this is dumb and ineffective.

My first peeve: Pubic hair doesn’t grow in the vagina; so why call “Design Your Pubic Hair Month “Julyna”?

Shaving designs into our pubic hair won’t raise money. Donating money and raising awareness for the cause raises money.

This just smells like lazy faux activism to me.
I hope people decide to do something productive like hand out fliers and information about cervical cancer instead of shaving shapes into their bushes.

And another responder commented:

It bothers me…it’s trying to sexify cancer. It just strikes me as ineffective and unnecessary. There’s nothing sexy about cancer.

The folks behind the campaign argue it’s all in good fun for a good cause. And Willson did start the campaign originally as a way of celebrating our pubic hair. But there are other ways of participating that don’t involve stepping up your pubic grooming.

For cervical cancer, there are other campaigns to get involved with. I volunteer doing postering and social media amplification for LACE Campaign, a BC Cancer Agency program that runs an awareness campaign each fall encouraging women to get Pap smears.

And if you want to get in on the Movember game, some women fundraise during Movember by not shaving their legs or by dyeing the hair on their heads. Another option would be to wear a fake mustache around during that month or to stop using bleaching products or depilatories for women who have visible upper-lip hair.

So for now, I’ll be sticking to volunteering that doesn’t involve people visualizing my pubic hair while I’m asking them to donate to my cause.


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  • Stacey B.

    I dont not understand why everyone has their panties in a bunch about this. With Cancer, unfortunately, widely effecting a wide-range a people, I think it is great that people are fundraising in ways they feel are appropriate. If you do not agree with this type of donating or fundraising then wait until your house in canvassed or wait until their is a run or walk – or whatever you feel comfortable with. The point is awareness. The point is raising money for a good cause. As a women I have pubic hair – big shocker – and just like the rest of the hair on my body I maintain it. If waxing it into a heart shape will catch the attention of supporters, who will then donate money to fight Cervical Cancer that would be awesome. More support the better to fight a disease that effects everyone. Lets focus on what is truly important.

  • jarrahpenguin

    Hey Stacey,

    I absolutely agree that it’s great that people are fundraising to end cervical cancer, and I am involved with other campaigns like the LACE campaign that focus on raising cervical cancer awareness and encouraging women to get paps. But what’s different about Julyna and why it bothers me is that I believe women’s body hair is political. We spend so much time and money maintaining our body hair already that this just adds to the ridiculous amount of pressure society puts on straight cis-women to groom themselves into something straight men find appealing. If women choose to maintain their pubic hair in one way or another for them, that’s cool. But then asking us to make it public to raise money objectifies us, similar to the I Love Boobies campaign. We absolutely need to end cancer, but there are other ways (as you mentioned)that encourage saving women for their value as people, not just saving their sexualized body parts.

  • jarrahpenguin

    And I actually probably would’ve been ok with it had the original intent gone through, which was a sort of tongue-in-cheek version of Movember that encouraged women not to wax, shave, or otherwise maintain their pubic hair for a month. That would’ve shown respect for women’s bodies as well as drawn attention to the issue, but it’s really interesting and kind of sad that that idea was totally shot down.

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