I have a thing for the actress Kathryn Hahn. Anyone who’s met me, follows me online or has been in my general vicinity at any point in the past couple weeks knows it. It’s a crush that goes back years, lately ramped up to fever pitch by her star turn in HBO’s Mrs. Fletcher, a series about a single mom exploring her long-repressed sexual desires. A real horny Sunday-night-TV treat. And, ever true to its brand, HBO has Hahn go for a late-night skinny dip in the second episode, baring it all for a sensual scene of water, movement, light, shadow — and full bush.
I was thrilled. I wasn’t alone, either.
A Twitter friend sent me my own bush tweet and jokingly called me a “feminist ally” for it. I expressed frustration at the absence of a bush emoji (the closest thing I can find is the basic tree). Then she asked a question for which I had no ready answer: “Is it only called a bush for women?”
I spent what was left of my weekend mulling this over. In my experience, I reflected, “bush” was a throwback word for the hair surrounding a vagina, especially if thick and fluffy, as depicted in the porn magazines and films of the 1970s. I couldn’t immediately recall an occasion where the bed of hair at the base of a dick was termed as such.
Some digging led me to early mentions of the female bush in the notorious Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure, widely referred to as Fanny Hill, a piece of erotic literature published in London in 1748 by John Cleland. Thought to be the first pornographic novel in the English language, it relies heavily on euphemism to get its dirty doings across, and such is the case with the bush-speak.
Early on, the narrator declares of a lover: “A spreading thicket of bushy curls marked the full grown, complete woman.” Further into the dirty adventures, we hear of “a wide open-mouthed gap, over-shaded with a grizzly bush, seemed held out like a beggar’s wallet for its provision.” Thus was the slang noun for a woman’s pubic hair enshrined in the Anglo consciousness. If it didn’t immediately apply to a man’s crotch fuzz, perhaps that’s because no popular novel was delighting in the discovery of the follicular landscape underneath his britches.
Nowadays, we’re aware that gender is a construct, sexuality is fluid, and the singular “they” works well as a personal pronoun. It stands to reason that no matter how you identify, if you have a bush, it’s a bush. But to go by some of our online etymology and slang resources, “bush” still clings to its feminine origins.
Some regard it as virtually synonymous with “vagina,” which… what? These outdated definitions are hammered into us by the adjacent phrase “man bush” for a dude’s curlies, which implies both that the bush is an inherently female fixture, and usually functioning as a pejorative, that the man in question has let the hair there go untamed, even to the point of enveloping his dick (just as a woman’s bush may conceal her genitalia). One thinks of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’s Dee telling Mac that his member looks like “a button in a fur coat,” or Stormy Daniels describing our dear president’s “Yeti pubes” with due revulsion. My editor has a friend who, in college, was roasted for nicknaming his own penis Christopher Robin in the Hundred Acre Wood.
If the guy is properly, neatly landscaped, however, the focus can largely return to his genitalia, in proper fashion: Remember Kumar in Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, after trimming himself with Harold’s grooming scissors, exclaiming, “Hey, check it out, it’s like a bonsai tree!”
The upshot is that while some really appreciate a woman’s bush, people are publicly hostile, or at best indifferent, to the bush found on a male-presenting body. Unfortunately, as the tweet above reminds us, women have faced such ignorance as well in recent decades, with shitty partners demanding the ruthless and painful waxing regimen necessary for a naked pussy, or shaming them when they grow out the carpet.
This is an attitude that could use some adjustment, in my opinion! While it’s true I take bushiness to be a sign that I’m due to shave — that’s assuming I haven’t already done so as a little pick-me-up — the bush itself, kept clean, is a fairly cute amenity. At once soft and bristly, it provides cushioning and nest-like protection. Your shaft might appear longer without it, but guess what? Hog’s the same size either way.
Why not appreciate your bush the way you would a nice, rounded shrubbery? Let go of the guilt, fellas, because according to an informal Twitter survey, “bush” is gender-neutral and not a value judgment. What definitively counts as bush is up for debate, though we know for sure it’s out there. The few who resist this fact, preferring to call the pubic shag their “mane” or “a tree top,” are easily outnumbered by the bush recognizers. That’s the way it is, folks.
Suffice it to say, the era of manscaping has failed to eliminate the bush in the male population, and that should be a relief. Careful maintenance of the region doesn’t, in itself, mean total baldness; human biology hasn’t produced this special hair without good cause. At some point or another, even without your noticing, it will rise to the level of a bush, and that’s worth celebration. A tiny, self-made topiary! Where else do we see anything like it?
Mine may never be as nice as Kathryn Hahn’s, but I’ll stand behind my bush anyway. At least it’s not a war criminal.