I find myself in an awkward position. A correspondent has recently noted that the images I was posting on Facebook that ultimately got me banned from the site (I assume – the Facebook administrators have still never responded to my repeated requests for an explanation of why was banned) made me come across as “an older man objectifying younger women.” There is a tremendous amount of significance packed into those six words, and I can take it in so many directions it will require more than one article.
Mind you, he actually said that’s what he thought someone who doesn’t know me might think. The Baba Wawa gambit, I call it. Barbara Walters has admitted that she will approach delicate issues with her interview subjects by prefacing an accusation with “People say…” So she’s not actually making the accusation, but it’s still on the table. Thus, the writer could accuse me of being a dirty old man without actually saying so, because it’s simply what “other people might say.” I take no offense either way.
But let’s consider the implications. I’ll start with the very problematic word “objectifying.” What does that mean? To make an object. Specifically an object of view, of appreciation, of study, of interest. This is considered to be bad. But we objectify all the time. It is precisely what artists do. When they create a painting of a landscape, they are objectifying the landscape; when they take a photograph of a flower, they are objectifying the flower; when they build a sculpture of a woman, they are objectifying the woman. That’s how it works, and that’s the point. When I look at an image of an attractive naked woman, I am appreciating her attractiveness.
Fine, you say, but why does she have to be naked? Who says she “has to be”? That’s where things start to get weird. It’s exploitation, so goes the argument. A woman shouldn’t have to take off her clothes to get attention. True, but are you sure that’s why she’s doing it? And does it then mean no woman ever should? The women in such images have chosen to take off their clothes for the camera. If we call it “exploitation,” then ultimately we are saying the women are exploiting themselves. How does that even make sense?
I’m sure I’m about to get people mad, but I see a certain amount of envy behind these assumptions. I hate to stereotype, but if one looks, one sees a pattern. The women who accuse magazines like Playboy of objectification are usually women who have no real chance of appearing in Playboy. Women who say beauty contests are demeaning and exploitive are probably never going to win any themselves. Oh true, they will occasionally bring out a former contestant/model who will offer all the talking points, but she generally has some other axe to grind that brought her to this. The point is, people protest against things they themselves aren’t good at.
This is not restricted to women and nudity. It’s the nature of the high school hierarchy. Smart kids with no athletic ability denigrate the “dumb jocks,” while the athletes who struggle with academics in turn denigrate the A students as “geeks” and “brainiacs.” It’s human nature. Thus, behind the insistence that women should not take off their clothes to be appreciated, you probably find a woman who isn’t going to be appreciated for taking off her clothes (at least in mainstream society), and therefore she resents those women who are appreciated. “If I can’t win the pageant, then there shouldn’t be any pageants!”
Some people, on the other hand, will say there’s a certain kind of empowerment involved. These women are taking ownership of their bodies, their sexuality. I fall in that camp. I like women. Okay, duh. But people who know me know that I mean a lot by that. I like strong women. My writing is populated by them. My main project has four main characters, three of them girls, one boy. And the boy is, in some ways, the weakest character. The main bad-ass action hero is a girl, as is the character who is the most dangerous. And also the character who is ultimately the most important person in the universe. The boy is largely along for the ride. Not that he doesn’t contribute plenty to the course of the story, but I am pretty confident I have done a complete flip of conventional character grouping. Not the least in that the female characters outnumber the male ones, rare in science fiction.
I’m very proud of my characters: tough, resiliant, independent girls who never, ever need the boy to come to their rescue, and a boy who is perfectly fine with that. Some people might say this is a problem for male readers, who won’t like the boy not being the strongest character. Nonsense. I for one envy him. I want to be him. I have said more than once that I would walk through the Gates of Hell singing if I had those three girls at my side.
I appreciate strong female characters. Just as I appreciate strong women in real life. In my profession there are more women than men. I don’t see a downside to this. I prefer the company of women, and always have. I can count on one hand my close male friends over my lifetime; to count my close female friends would require a couple of extra hands. I have a particular fondness for what I call “girl geeks”: girls/women who are interested in and excel at those things society has always considered the realm of men: science, engineering, mathematics, and so on. And girl sci-fi fans? Bestill my heart!
Okay, then, you are wondering, if I appreciate strong women for their abilities and accomplishments, why do I have such a thing for attractive young women, preferably naked? Doesn’t that make me a hypocrite? No, because appreciating someone’s abilities and appreciating her attractiveness are not mutually exclusive. I can like both. It doesn’t make me a hypocrite, it makes me a heterosexual male. And an honest one.
That’s the awkward position I was talking about. Because society has decided that images of nudity (and sexuality) are somehow exploitive, people who appreciate them can’t actually say so. Or they have to make excuses. They read Playboy, but “only for the articles.” Uh huh. Mind you, I do mostly read Playboy for the articles at this point, because the women have gotten very boring, all the same: the blonde, big-boobed, Marilyn Monroe/Jane Mansfield look that Hugh Hefner has been obsessed with for over fifty years. I prefer women who are more real. So the images I offer reflect this, and often come from “nudist” sources. Unfortunately, the need to make excuses especially defines the nudist movement.
I don’t care much for labels, and prefer not to call myself a “nudist,” though I guess the label fits. I do not belong to any nudist organizations, and it’s been years since I’ve been to a nude beach, but in the past I have done so. I don’t connect well, perhaps, with mainstream nudism, because of the way they find it necessary to distance themselves from who they are.
Clothes-compulsive people, having internalized the enforced “modesty” demanded by society, and fearful of nudity, seeing it as a form of sexual exploitation, do not understand how people can go to places where they all take off their clothes and “parade around naked.” Now there’s a phrase that bugs the hell out of me. I’ve been to a variety of nudist places, and never once has there been a parade, damn it! I love parades! But people use the word all the time to refer to people simply being naked in the front of others. Advice columnists offer dire warning of the consequences to children who see their parents “parading around naked.” Let’s be clear, this doesn’t happen. Unless you also want to argue that other parents “parade around fully-clothed.” See how stupid it sounds when you put it that way?
Nudists don’t do this. Now, I should add a disclaimer at this point. I do not speak for all nudists; they are a diverse lot, and it’s no more possible to speak for all of them than it is to speak for all black people, or all homosexuals, or all women. This is merely my perspective. But I suspect nudists are pretty fearful of mainstream society. There is so little understanding, so much assumption that nudity equals sex, that nudists have to bend over backwards (hmm… bad metaphor?) to prove that they aren’t “like that.”
They go out of their way to give you all the reasons nudism is healthy and therapeutic and certainly not about sex, no sir. Thus nudist organizations might embrace some range of Eastern or New Age philosophical beliefs. Or they will emphasize sports and things like that. Hence what appears to be an obsession among nudists with volleyball. That was how nudism put on a “legitimate” face. Numerous “nudie” magazines came out in the 40s, 50s and 60s, and they would have lots and lots and lots of pictures of people playing volleyball. “See, I’m not ogling naked women, I’m enjoying watching a game of volleyball.” Of course, that’s ridiculous. Now there are, I realize, plenty of “nudist” publications and websites that truly are just an excuse for pictures of sexy women, and of outright sexuality. They often have a very leering, salacious tone. “Real” nudists try to dstance themselves from that, saying it’s not about sex, we’re not like that.
The result is a tendency for nudists to come across as the most sexless people on earth. “No sex, please, we’re nudists.” But as Gertrude said of the Player Queen in Hamlet, nudists “protest too much.” Truth: nudists like sex just as much as non-nudists. And I submit that nudists probably have better sex, because they are comfortable with their bodies. Further, nudists appreciate the sight of an attractive body. I give credit to the salacious sites for being honest about it, for saying, “Come on, admit it, you like checking out those girls.” Yes. That’s part of the enjoyment of going to a nudist resort. Nudists also understand that bodies come in all shapes and sizes, and they appreciate that diversity.
“Ah hah!” you say, “Got you! You are a hypocrite. You talk about diversity, but you still focus on young attractive women.” Sure. So does everyone else (generally speaking). Biology has wired us that way. The reproductive instinct makes certain characteristics appealing: breasts, rounded hips, things that indicate a woman will survive childbirth and be able to nurture her children. And, let’s face facts, youth is criterion number one in this assessment. This takes me back to the original accusation: I am an older man objectifying young women. There are two serious issues there I have yet to address: 1) the issue of age discrepancy and the incredible minefield that is underage nudity and sexuality (both of which figure into my novel), and 2) the elephant in the room that is the fact that nobody ever worries about the “objectification” of men. Both of these are important, and I will give them full examination coming up.
“Nudism” means different things to different people, but the reality is that being naked is fun. It feels great to be naked outdoors on a pleasant day, and swimming naked is one of the greatest experiences in the world (it’s the only way one my characters would ever think of swimming). And, whether people are willing to admit it or not, looking at naked people is really nice. Nudist places allow you to enjoy both, which increases the enjoyment exponentially. To anyone who has never tried it, I urge you to, at least once. Being nude with friends and family is a wonderful thing, whether at a beach, a pool, a campground, a backyard, or your living room. We remove all our pretenses and are our authentic selves when we are naked. Being without restrictive clothing allows the skin to breath and…
Oops, there I go, making excuses. It’s so easy. Scratch all that. Being naked is fun. Being with other naked people is fun. The end. It doesn’t matter what you look like or what they look like, it’s just fun.
To be continued…