When is female nudity in movies called nudity?

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





6 thoughts on “When is female nudity in movies called nudity?

  1. The female image, sensually posed, grabs the attention of both men and women. But most men quickly disregard a male. So where the purpose is to stimulate interest in a product, service, cause, or entertainment medium, a sensual female image attracts attention from a bigger audience for longer periods. The points you make are valid ones, but in a commercial society such as the US, pushing the limits of “sex sells” will continue until there are laws that restrain it.

    1. Hi Karl, Thanks for stopping by and for your comment, it is appreciated 🙂
      And there are a few things I would like to add. Firstly as a heterosexual woman, the male body is very beautiful to me and I think this is another myth in our society that only the female body is beautiful and sexually enticing. And secondly, that women are comfortable watching these “sensual” images of naked or half-naked “beautiful” women is another part of the myth. These images cause us pain. These images are the reason why plastic surgery rates in women are increasing dramatically and so are eating disorders, self harm, depression and anxiety in women. There is a reason men turn away from these images of men and are uncomfortable with them. And it is the same reason these images of women are filling real women with shame, fear, and hurt. The reason for this dominance of beauty pornography is that men still hold this position of power and are profiting from it in many ways. It is up to men and women to speak up and call for change so that the women and therefore the men of our societies and relationships can be healthier, happier and more fulfilling.

      So why has beauty pornography and the sexualisation of women become so prevalent and continually worse in our mass media and society? To quote Naomi Wolf again, because her book the beauty myth is so well researched and written and definitely worth the read, ‘In 1988 the average person in the USA saw 14% more TV advertising than 2 years before, or 650 TV messages a week as part of the total of 1000 ad images each day. The industry calls this “viewer confusion”: Just 1.2 of the 650 messages are remembered, down from 1.7 in 1983; the advertising industry began to panic. So images of women and “beauty” became more extreme. As advertising executives told ‘The Boston Globe’, “You have to push a little harder…. to jolt, shock, break through. Now that the competition is fiercer, a whole lot rougher trade takes place. Today business wants even more desperately to seduce.’
      Naomi goes on to say that ‘Seeing a (woman’s) face anticipating orgasm, even if it is staged, is a powerful sell.’ And that ‘two conventions from soft- and hard-core pornography entering women’s culture (are that): One “just” objectifies the female body, the other does violence to it. Obscenity law is based in part on the idea that you can avoid what offends you. But the terms ordinarily used in the pornography debate cannot deal adequately with this issue. Discussions of obscenity, or nakedness, or community standards do not address the harm done to women by this development: the way in which “beauty” joins pornographic conventions in advertising, fashion photography, cable TV, and even comic books to affect women and children.’ And let’s not forget music videos. ‘Men can choose to enter an adult bookstore; women and children cannot choose to avoid sexually violent or beauty-pornographic imagery that follows them home.’
      ‘Censorship applies to what kind of sexual imagery and information can circulate: Sexual violence against women is not seen by censors as being obscene, whereas female sexual curiosity is. British and Canadian law interpret obscenity as the presence of an erect penis, not of vulvas and breasts; and an erection, writes Susan G. Cole in ‘Pornography and the sex crisis’, is, “according to American mores, not the kind of thing a distributer can put on the newsstands next to ‘Time’.” Masters and Johnston, asked in Playboy magazine to comment on the average penis size, censored their findings: They “flatly refused,” worrying that it would have a “negative effect on Playboy’s readers,” and that “every man would walk around with a measuring stick.” This version of censorship policed the same decades that saw the pornography industry’s unparalleled growth: In Sweden, where the sale of violently misogynist pornography is defended on the grounds of freedom of expression, “When a magazine appeared with a nude male centrefold with a flaccid penis, the authorities whisked it off the stalls within a matter of hours”.’
      ‘When men control women’s sexuality, they are safe from sexual evaluation….. With women experimenting sexually, men risked hearing what women hear everyday: that there are sexual standards against which they might be compared. Their fears are exaggerated: Even with sexual freedom, women maintain a strict code of etiquette. “Never,” enjoins a women’s magazine, “mention the size of his [penis] in public…. and never, ever let him know that anyone else knows or you may find it shrivels up and disappears, serving you right.” That quotation acknowledges that critical sexual comparison is a direct anaphrodesiac when applied to men; either we do not yet recognise that it has exactly the same effect on women, or we do not care, or we understand on some level that right now that effect is desirable and appropriate.’
      So to say that women aren’t harmed by these images in many ways is naive or serving a purpose for men. Naomi hits the facts hard and to name just one of them, an educated and conscious mind has to realise that this pornified culture is hurting women. She reports that ‘The American Anorexia and Bulimia Association states that anorexia and bulimia strike a million American women every year; 30,000, it reports, also become emetic abusers. Each year, according to the association, 150,000 American women die of anorexia. If so, every twelve months there are 17,024 more deaths in the United States alone than the total number of deaths from AIDS tabulated by the World Health Organisation in 177 countries and territories from the of the epidemic until the end of 1988; if so, more (women) die of anorexia in the United States each year than died in ten years of civil war in Beirut.’ The statistics go on and on and on of this and other effects of beauty-pornography on women, just do a little bit of research online of the statistics of the drastic rise of cosmetic surgery in under 18 year old women alone.
      Naomi further states that ‘Advertising aimed at women works by lowering our self-esteem.’ So the question can be asked, do men want to have a partner and lover who has healthy self esteem and feels good about her sexuality or with one who thinks she is un-worthy and inadequate and is unable to fully enjoy, explore and express her beauty and sexuality within that relationship. If I was a man I would certainly choose the former.
      In ‘beyond the beauty myth’ Naomi says, ‘The idea that a woman’s body has boundaries that must not be violated is fairly new. And we evidently haven’t taken it far enough. Can we extend that idea? Or are women destined to be shaped, cut, rated and subjected to physical invasion and degradation. Does the female body deserve the same notion of integrity as the male body? What is female sexuality – what does it look like? Does it bear any relation to the way in which commercial and pornographic images represent it? The inadequacy of the female flesh stands in for the older inadequacy of the female mind. Women asserted that there was nothing inferior about their minds; are our bodies really inferior?’

      Naomi also offers us the solution saying that, ‘The market place is not open to consciousness-raising….. While we cannot affect the images, we can drain them of their power. We can turn away from them, look directly at one another, and find alternative images of beauty in a female subculture; seek out the plays, music, films that illuminate women in three dimensions; find the biographies of women, the women’s history, the heroines that in each generation are submerged from view; fill in the terrible “beautiful” blanks. We can lift ourselves and other women out of the myth – but only if we are willing to seek out and support and really look at the alternatives….. To protect our sexuality from the beauty myth, we can believe in the importance of cherishing, nurturing, and attending to our sacred sexuality as to an animal or a child. Sexuality is not inert or given but, like a living being, changes with what it feeds upon. We can stay away from gratuitously sexually exploitive or violent images – and, when we do encounter them, ask ourselves to feel them as such as we turn or walk away. We can seek out those dreams and visions that include a sexuality free of exploitation or violence, and stay as conscious of what we take into our imaginations and consciousness as we now are of what enters our bodies.
      When faced with the myth, the questions to ask are not about women’s faces or bodies but about the power relations of the situation. Who is it serving? Who says? Who profits? What is the context? What does it represent? Who is it hurting?’

      Every time we liberate a woman, we liberate a man. – Margaret Mead

  2. Reblogged this on Crossover at Eagles Point and commented:
    Amazingly glaring double standard in our society, the difference between male and female nudity in entertainment and other forms of media. Our culture wants to minimize women’s breasts in such a way that they become common…just another part of the slippery slope of sexualization and pornification of our societies. Why are we allowing the sacredness of a woman’s breasts to be so diminished to where such a core part of their feminity is trivialized? (In short, because sex sells, as they say.) BUT WHO WILL STAND UP AND SAY NO!?!–WE REFUSE TO SELL SEX!! Or rather, WE REFUSE TO SELL OUT ON SEX!! See this post, and the additional information brought out in the comment from this amazing woman with a heart that really gets it…

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