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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