It has been my experience that more often than not a movie or TV show featuring topless or naked women is usually rated under ‘Adult themes’, ‘sex scenes’ or ‘strong sex scenes’, while a movie or TV show with naked men (their bare bottoms only) is usually rated under ‘nudity’. What??? This alone says so much about our society and what we view as sexually vulnerable or obscene and what we view as nudity, that I would like to add-dress this issue and its effects on women, men and relationships again.
Female breasts are a private, sexual and vulnerable part of our bodies, I should know. And aside from breast feeding the children we bear from our creative bodies, they should be protected publicly, just as the vulnerable parts of a man’s body are. However, I have heard the argument recently that a woman’s breasts are nothing more than a man’s chest, so seeing female breasts and sexualised images of women everywhere is therefore acceptable and we women should just basically get over it. But why are women’s breasts and bodies sexualised constantly when men’s are not, and why has it become so acceptable in our society? You just have to look at the epidemic of restaurant chains like hooters, topless bars, boob magazines, wet t-shirt competitions, boobs in movies, the list goes on.
Another argument is that there is nothing that is equivalent on the male body to the female breasts so they are free fare. But in The Beauty Myth, Naomi Wolf debunks this myth by writing:
“The practice of displaying breasts, for example, in contexts in which the display of male genitals would be unthinkable, is portrayed as trivial because breasts are not ‘as naked’ as male or female genitals; and the idea of half exposing men in a similar way is moot because men don’t have body parts comparable to breasts. But if we think about how women’s genitals are physically concealed, unlike men’s, and how women’s breasts are physically exposed, unlike men’s, it can be seen differently: women’s breasts, then correspond to men’s genitals as a vulnerable ‘sexual flower’ on the body, so that to display the former and conceal the latter makes women’s bodies vulnerable while men’s are protected.” She goes on to state, “Cross culturally, unequal nakedness almost always expresses power relations: In modern jails, male prisoners are stripped (naked) in front of clothed prison guards; in the antebellum south, young black male slaves were naked while serving the clothed white masters at table. To live in a culture in which women are routinely naked where men aren’t is to learn inequality in little ways all day long.”
Women’s breasts are a private, sexual and vulnerable part of our bodies, to bare us, sexualise and trivialise this part of our bodies frequently is undermining and degrading us. The time has come as a culture, male and female, to become aware of what it means to be, as a class of people, made vulnerable publically by being naked in mass media.
Naomi also elaborates on something else that should sound alarm bells within the hearts of our society. Censorship and what is considered by the authorities:
“The Ontario Police Project P held that photos of naked women tied up, bruised, and bleeding, intended for sexual purposes were not obscene since there were no erect male genitals, but a Canadian women’s film was banned for a five-second shot of an erect male genital being fitted with a condom. In New York subways, metropolitan policemen confiscated handmade anti-AIDS posters that showed illiterate people how to put a condom over an erect genital; they left the adjacent ads for Penthouse, displayed by the New York City Transit Authority, intact.”
The American Psychological Associations view on the effects of this sexualisation and inequality towards women reveals:
“Cognitive and emotional consequences’ noting that studies have found that thinking about the body and comparing it to sexualized cultural ideals may disrupt a girl’s mental concentration, and a girl’s sexualisation or objectification may undermine her confidence in and comfort with her own body, leading to emotional and self-image problems, such as shame and anxiety. In regards to mental and physical health, they state, ‘Research has linked sexualisation with three of the most common mental health problems diagnosed in girls and women: eating disorders, low self-esteem, and depression or depressed mood.’ They go on to say, ‘Some psychologists and feminists argue that such sexual objectification can lead to negative psychological effects including depression and hopelessness, and can give women negative self-images,’ and that ‘the precise degree to how objectification has affected women and society in general is a topic of academic debate.’ They also reference pro-feminist cultural critics such as Robert Jensen and Sut Jhally of accusing mass media and advertising of promoting the objectification of women to help promote goods and services.”
Kate Hughes in Every Girl’s Guide to Feminism writes:
“Pornography has been linked to profit, in a society designed to please men, where men have money to consume things, they will want to consume women in various ways….. Pornographic imagery is spreading further and further into our lives. It is used in TV advertising, on billboards, in magazines. There are places where you can see pornography come alive – in strip-clubs where women who are naked (how can I put it?!) let men give them a gynaecological examination. Of a kind. Strippers and topless barmaids are proliferating (and) it is arguable that the reason for all this activity is that we have got used to pornography being all around us. We see it every day, we see it everywhere. You don’t have to be a genius to figure out that this is not good. Pornography does not promote healthy images of women….. It seems to me that it is possible to argue that pornography serves the purposes of men rather than women, and does not offer anything useful to society at all and just might offer some really bad things. We’d be much better off without it.”
On speaking up about sexism in our society and relationships, Kate says:
“It might be that it is because feminists have pointed out why pornography exists and some of the impact it has on people’s lives, and spoken about sexual matters as they are, which add to the perception that feminism is, somehow, anti-sex. That it is unsexy. One result of such name-calling is that young women are less likely, because of this, to feel comfortable aligning themselves with feminism. Again, it is social death and likely to put men off you for life! Not so.”
We can of course be a feminist and stand up for our worth and self respect and still love men, love sex and be feminine!
In The Beauty Myth, Naomi clearly penetrates the true identity of beauty pornography in the mass media by stating:
“Ads do not sell sex – that would be counterproductive, if it meant that heterosexual women and men turned to one another and were gratified. What they sell is sexual discontent.” And what of Beauty pornography when aimed at men, she states, “Its effect is to keep them from finding peace in sexual love. The fleeting chimera of the air-brushed centrefold, always receding before him, keeps the man destabilized in pursuit unable to focus on the beauty of the woman – known, marked, lined, familiar – who hands him his coffee every morning….. The beautiful object of consumer-pornography has a built-in obsolescence to ensure that as few men as possible will form a bond with one woman for years or for a lifetime, and to ensure that women’s dissatisfaction with themselves will grow rather than diminish over time. Emotionally unstable relationships, high divorce rates, and a large population cast out into the sexual marketplace are good for business in a consumer economy.”
She then goes on to state further how beauty pornography diminishes a woman’s sense of self, in her own beauty and sexuality:
“The beauty myth aims to discourage women from seeing themselves unequivocally as sexually beautiful and adored by the one they love. The damage beauty pornography does to women is less immediately obvious them the harm usually attributed to pornography: A woman who knows why she hates to see another woman displayed like a piece of meat in porn and can state her objections, is baffled if she tries to articulate her discomfort with ‘soft’ beauty pornography on television – in movies, sitcoms and advertising. For the women who cannot locate in her worldview a reasonable objection to images of naked, or almost naked ‘beautiful’ women to whom nothing bad is visibly being done, what is it that can explain the deep damage she feels within?
“Her silence itself comes from the myth: If women feel ugly, it is our fault, and we have no inalienable right to feel sexually beautiful. A woman must not admit it if she objects to beauty pornography because it strikes to the root of her sexuality by making her feel sexually unlovely. Male or female, we all need to feel beautiful to be open to sexual communication: ‘beautiful’ in the sense of welcome, desired and treasured.”
We all want to feel good about ourselves, we all want to feel desirable and loved, we all want to have fulfilling relationships, we all want to have fulfilling sex lives. It’s time for women to no longer be sexually vulnerable and pornified in our culture. It’s time for us to speak up for positive change. It’s time for women’s nudity to be rated equally to men’s, including our breasts, so we know what we are getting into when we sit down to watch a movie or TV show. It’s time for change in our individual lives, in our relationships and our society as a whole.
“It is not enough to simply say that women and men should be equal, but those who believe this should try to make sure that within their relationships there is equality too. This means that women are treated with respect and dignity, that they are not put down, that things are organised so that they get there needs met too.” – Kate Hughes, Every Girl’s Guide to Feminism
“If women and men in great numbers were to form bonds that were equal and respectful, non-violent, and sexual, honouring the female principle no less or more than the male, the result would be radical. A mass heterosexual deviation into tenderness and mutual respect would mean real trouble for the status quo since heterosexuals are the most powerful sexual majority. This would transform society into one based publicly on what have traditionally been women’s values, demonstrating all too well the appeal for both sexes of a world rescued from male dominance. The good news would get out on the street: Free women have more fun; so do free men.” – Naomi Wolf, The Beauty Myth
“Feminist efforts to end patriarchal domination should be of primary concern precisely because it insists on the eradication of exploitation and oppression in the family context and in all other intimate relationships. It is that political movement which most radically addresses the person – the personal – citing the need for the transformation of self, of relationships, so that we might be better able to act in a revolutionary manner, challenging and resisting domination, transforming the world outside the self.”
― Bell Hooks, Talking Back: Thinking Feminist, Thinking Black