Monday, 14 January 2013

Wobbly Jubblies

I don’t remember what the article was or where I read it, but somewhere or other there was a titanic clash of feminist ideology (or should that be tit-anic?). One lady felt compelled to ride topless (or was it completely naked?) on an open top bus (need to check that detail out too) through London (pretty sure on that). Not alone, I hasten to add, but with fellow, middle-aged, naked ladies.

A journalist attacked her for her presumption that feminism is all about flashing your breasts in public.

Ah, hold on, I just found the article: Dawn O’Porter - Women Like Me are not Like Women Like You, Does That Have to Make us Enemies?

In Porter’s words:

“Me and about thirty other women jollied around London on an open top bus with no clothes on”.

She goes on to describe the journalists distaste:

“[The journalist] didn't like this, she didn't like it one bit. She drew the conclusion that I presumed that feminism is just about getting your tits out. But I don't think that is all it is about, I really don't.”

And explains what her actual intentions were:

“I wasn't tackling the broad subject of feminism. I wasn't tackling sexism, or the gender gap, or the sex industry. I was tackling the pressure put upon women by a totally contrived industry that tells us we should have perfect skin, no cellulite, straight noses and buoyant tits. The film [because it was filmed as part of a documentary] talks very directly about this subject. It questions why this pressure is upon us, realizes why it is ridiculous and then pulls a mooner at it and tells it to piss off.”

I wasn’t sure where I stood after reading this article. People will probably be surprised to hear that, as much as I hate pornography, page 3, lad mags and the hyper-sexualisation of women everywhere and anywhere, I have no issue whatsoever with nudity. It disgusts me that a man is able to walk bare-chested in public but a women faces arrest (seen it happen). What is so offensive about the female body? How can we have page 3 in the newspaper, and then deny a woman the right to take her top off in public?

Not a difficult one. People find women baring their breasts offensive because of its direct association with sex and sexuality. People find public displays of SEX offensive, and the female body has been reduced to no more than just that. So much so, that we’re offended by it.

So when it’s blatantly sexual and in the newspaper for some chauvinist’s viewing pleasure that’s just fine. That’s how it should be. Discreet-ish. I mean sex is so all-consuming these days, it can’t really be discreet anymore. Just as long as it’s not walking topless down the street…

I was raised in Uganda, and guess what? Breasts are not sexualised over there. You can walk around bare breasted and that’s just fine. You need to feed your baby. Breasts are just another part of your body, like your foot or your nose. A bloke who touched your breasts sexually would be considered a bit of a weirdo, maybe a pervert.

Can you imagine that over here? Where over 75% of bra sales are on push-up bras? Where women are going in their ever increasing millions for breast augmentation? With Playboy, page 3, and pornography?

Bottom line is, when our body parts are not sexualised, flapping them about is not offensive.

So how do I feel when a feminist rides through London topless?

A bit confused.

I don’t find naturists offensive. It’s wonderful that people can get together and talk to each other, butt-naked, without it turning into a massive orgy. That they’re so aware that their body is just a body is great. The other day I watched a program on channel 4 about nudism:

And after watching it, a little bit of me wanted to run off and join a naturist club. But what good would that do? I know that there are people who are unfazed by naked bodies. I’m friends with a lot of them. At the same time I don’t feel like I need to take my clothes off to express that – and in a society where nudity is so intrinsically related to sex – it would probably feel a little bit like exhibitionism.

But seeing a body as just a body is healthy. If everyone could do that, it would help A LOT of insecure teenagers, and it would help a lot of young children to grow up with healthy ideas, rather than a seemingly irrepressible urge to rape vulnerable people. There was a part of the program where one woman didn’t want to be topless because there was a small child around. That bothered me a little bit… A child shouldn’t find the naked, adult body weird or disgusting. IT’S PERFECTLY NATURAL. My sister and I used to bathe with our parents when we were really little. It wasn’t weird. It was having a freakin’ bath.

People who aren’t surprised by my thoughts re. nudity go one step further and assume that I must have an awful lot of self-confidence. No. I’d have to say that if I ever felt inclined to get naked in front of a group of people who don’t care about ‘body image’, that would epitomise my lack of self-confidence – that I would even go to that extent to try and feel less disgusted with myself… Well, I’m not ruling it out.

I’m avoiding my own question. How do I feel when a feminist rides through London topless?

I don’t find it offensive but I don’t agree with it. I do however, agree with Porter’s aims:

- Tackling the pressure put upon women by a totally contrived industry that tells us we should have perfect skin, no cellulite, straight noses and buoyant tits.
- Questioning why this pressure is upon us, realising why it is ridiculous and then pulling a mooner at it and telling it to piss off.

I just don’t think riding topless on a bus achieves any of those things. Maybe in context with the rest of the documentary it does, but who here has watched the documentary? How many of the people watching Porter ride about naked watched the documentary? I doubt any of them did.

Adopting your own stance and walking around topless because you know that you have a healthy perception of body image, isn't going to challenge anyone else’s perceptions. They’re either going to label you a 'mad exhibitionist', a ‘tart’, be jealous of you, find it amusing but not really think about it, or they will already be on board. I don’t think a group of 30 naked ladies can challenge wider perceptions by riding around London on a bus. It’s gimmickry. Maybe it achieves something if it converts just one person… Maybe all is not lost even if no-one has changed their mind, because at least you lovely ladies had fun… But what if it’s made someone feel worse? What if a teenage girl, seeing your outrageous body confidence in a society where there is so much pressure on teenagers to look a certain way and then be confident about it, is devastated that she doesn’t have the confidence to do what you’re doing?

If a few naked people could help tackle the, quite frankly, unrealistic sexualisation of our bodies, I would be one of them. I’d be naked on so many buses. I would be Asha the Unstoppable Naked Force. Until that day comes, I’m just a young woman who won’t even undress in front of her partner.

NB. Next post examining how realistic our most commonly spouted theories of sexual attraction really are.
NBthe2nd: I should say especially not in front of her partner. That's more realistic.
NB3: REPHRASE: I DON'T disagree with it either. I just don't think it's achieving what Porter would like it to achieve. Obviously people shouldn't be prevented from expressing healthy perceptions, as long as that's how they're coming across.

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