Many moons ago I wrote a blog about the fashion trend of wearing tights as pants, and how seeing so many bums and labia exposed makes me uncomfortable. This was my first foray into blogging for the Huff Po and I should have thought more clearly about what kind of outreach Huff Po had, and how I might offend women who wear tights as pants. I'm sorry that I offended you! If you love tights you go girl! To each their own. To be clear, I did state in that blog that I am trying to embrace this trend -- and I am -- but that I feel silly in tights because I feel shy with my bum showing while I'm getting groceries and stuff. In no way does that mean all women feel awkward in tights. Got it.
When one submits a blog for Huff Po, Huff Po titles it -- the title they assigned to that piece was, "Can I be a feminist and still flaunt it?". Uh oh. Come out all ye knee jerk responses. Finger wagging slags aimed at showcasing my inconsistencies erupted; "a quick Google search of the artist shows she clearly DOES flaunt it." Shot gun speed put downs based on me having some flattering photos on the web should not have surprised me, but they did. Personally, I'm grateful to have flattering photos because I often look terribly shy and odd in photos. But what I found particularly interesting from the responses was that I was automatically discredited because some of my photos could be considered attractive.
Why is someone not allowed to be both critical of the way things work, and a part of it? If a woman is attractive, is she therefore not allowed to look objectively at fashion or politics or sociopolitical conversation? If she can fit into sample sizes is she assumed to be void of intelligence? Would I have been taken more seriously if all my outfits were burlap sacks, if I never used eyeliner or showed my figure (whore!) and was less thin? Do I need smaller breasts and a thicker waist to be considered a valid thinker? If none of my online images showed any skin, if I hid my body all day every day as I have done for much of my life, would I be taken more seriously not only when I blog but in my life in general? I'm not sure the answer to making the world a better place is for women to hide our bodies. I've done that. I've carried shame around all day every day hoping nobody would look my way because being looked at made me feel exposed and unsafe. And it didn't really help.
Personally, I'm sick of hiding. I want to be all of myself. I want others to be all of themselves too. Thin, fat, dark, fair, tall, short. I want to love my skin and mind and wit and compassion and intelligence in equal proportion, because I am getting older and have spent most of my life at odds with my body, hiding it, hating it for the unwanted attention it garners. Sure it's nice to be admired sometimes, especially by loved ones, but I'm an introvert, so being looked at generally feels like instant anxiety. I know I am not alone here. I know many women do not thrive on being looked at, despite the magazines constantly telling us that the key to happiness is "getting his attention."
And "getting attention" is often done by revealing our bodies. We know this to be true if we are alive longer than thirty years -- hemlines are below the crotch, lingerie is worn as clothing. It's a different era. I mean, this is an abbreviated mission statement, but essentially if we look at fashion trends we can track a rise in provocative dressing and a rise in pornified fashion that is at it's height right now -- look no further than artists like Miley Cyrus or movies like Spring Breakers if you question the standards in place. Girl wears next to nothing (or nothing) and gyrates around in sinewy movements and with coquettish body language, licking things like sledgehammers, or gyrating around fully dressed men.
Herein lies part of my current thesis around sexuality in 2013. Assuming the reveal is here to stay, and that women's bodies are on display through pornified media, burlesque shows in every corner of every city, and modern clothing styles, does it not follow that there should be more conversation around the ethics of gaze? Assuming women are being looked at, and knowing full well that the fashion and entertainment, porn and social media industries are a big part of all our lives in developed nations, I think it follows that it is more effective to educate men about their privilege as 'watchers' than to shame women for revealing our bodies. I sincerely doubt we are going to convince women and young teens to stop wearing sexy clothes, and I also believe some women are empowered through showing off their gorgeous frames.
Many of my girlfriends are very proud of their bodies. These women of all shapes and sizes and skin tones rock skin tight clothing daily with hemlines just below their butts and necklines nearly down to their belly buttons. We laugh a lot and tease each other about our discrepancies. They think it's astonishing that I can be shy and introverted in my day to day but am able to get on stage and rap, or do a nude album shot with my grandpa's gun. I think it's mind blowing that they are comfortable showing so much skin day to day.
What I would like to see in this new era of hyper sexualization, since we are here, is more emphasis on the responsibility of the VIEWER, rather than the viewed. For example, it's very common for men (and some women) to discuss women's asses as a commodity. Rate them, criticize, praise them. Ogle them, grab them, bare into them with assumptive gaze. This way of looking at bodies as sexual entertainment is obviously engrained by media for as long as we can all remember. Add ever-present Internet porn to the equation and we have a whole culture of young (and grown) men who are trained to believe they have an inherent right to look at female bodies in whatever way they choose -- whether it's checking ass in porn or magazines or in the street, the assumption is that women are to be stared at, and that we WANT to be stared at.
The danger in this thinking is that assuming a woman 'wants it' can be a stepping stone to real life violence.
I believe men have a responsibility as we move forward in 2013. Some say it's up to the oppressed to educate the oppressors. I disagree. It's a man's world, so rather than it being women's responsibility to avoid clothing that flatters simply to avoid being gawked at or stay safe in the streets, maybe men need to ask themselves in a very honest manner if they are being responsible (and KIND) with their gaze.
Ten years ago kids in the school yard were not exchanging gang rape videos through social media. In 2013 this is what our kids are doing. Where are these young boys' fathers? Brothers? Cousins? Even the conversation around young kids like Miley Cyrus: let's ask ourselves who is scripting her decisions, WHO is her team? Why does Terry Richardson direct a video that has a young girl writhing around naked on a big scrotum and licking hammers? Why does she say yes? Is she OK?
Little footnote here: Terry Richardson photographed me at the beginning of my career and was so fucking creepy that the shoot didn't work. All my danger bells were ringing as the shoot progressed. I suck as a model to begin with, but Richardson's attempts to 'relax' me made me an even more stressed out photo subject. Why do photographers like him continue to get hired? And if he and his contemporaries continue to make pictures of young women in demeaning situations, why don't we hold the photographers accountable rather than the women being photographed? Or at least both. Certainly it would be amazing if women just stopped wanting to be photographed by creepy men that are well positioned in the entertainment industry, and stopped doing handfuls of sexed up selfies a week, but in a world where most media tells women straight out that their key merit on planet earth is being considered 'hawt', I doubt the cycle is going to stop anytime soon...
So here we are. 2013. Everything hawt, hawt females on display perpetually. Twelve year olds flashing their boobs online for boys and grown men in hopes of being told they are hawt. Let's suggest the following question, to both men and women alike: when a woman reveals her body, can she be looked at with respect? What would that thought process be like? Are men perpetuating the idea to their sons and brothers and fathers and friends that it is OK to talk about and look at women as though we are a menu to be chosen from in a restaurant? Are women going to continue to call other women sluts or bad role models when a woman shows her body with confidence? What are we going to do as we move forward?
Think about the quality of the language shared in men's circles about women's bodies. There is a disgusting sense of privilege shared among men that entitles them to stare and grope and mock female bodies, and it is this common language that needs to be refreshed through the eyes of compassion rather than assumption. Look but don't stare, that's what I think should be a new educational platform among fathers and sons, boys in the street. Women too. Teach men and women how to look at female bodies as part of a whole, as part of her being. See the way she walks rather than just her fine ass. See the expressions in her face rather than her cock sucking lips. Witness her. See her as a whole person.
Let's look at our world in 2013 in a nutshell, where rape and the assumptions that women 'want it' are made constantly. And yes, women are showing their bodies... we know that. Heck, I released a record with nude self portraits showing my butt fresh out of the lake just to put myself in the fire of this discussion and challenge the notion that showing our bodies does not necessarily mean 'wanting it'. Maybe women's bodies are also for swimming, being good people, playing, walking, being strong, being free? Let's imagine a different world. One where, by 2015, men have taught each other that noticing a woman's curves does not entitle him to bare into her personal space, that seeing a woman get raped is NOT OK, that bodies of women and girls are to be respected and protected.
That's not rocket science. It's kindness.