You are probably aware of the recent news story about the woman in Florida who was robbed, beaten, stripped naked and abandoned in a field by the person she was out with on a first date. You must have heard about this. Jay Leno made a joke about it three nights in a row. I know, right? Hilarious! I mean what a loser. And on a first date! Maybe things will go better on the second date, and—
Hey, why aren’t you laughing with me? Come on, it’s funny. Oh, okay, I admit, it’s not true. It wasn’t a woman.
It was a man.
Other than that, it’s completely true, including the punchline. He was beaten, robbed, left naked in a field and Leno made a joke about the second date. And the audience laughed. I didn’t. I was furious. Because where was the concern, the compassion, the outrage? Apparently, that’s all been used up by the people taking me to task for posting pictures of pretty women on my website.
I’m trying to remain reasonable and objective here, but it’s hard. And to the women who are jumping down my throat for “harming” women by liking beauty, I say this: what the hell is wrong with you? Where are your priorities? Or do you subscribe to the bullshit line that says only women can be victims? I dare you to take a stand on violence against men. Go on, let’s hear your sadness about hunky beefcake photos.
That’s what I usually hear. And it sickens me. Men are the only class left it’s okay to victimize. We can make fun of them, engage in the most awful stereotyping, anything. Make fun of women and you are a sexist. But make fun of men and it’s okay. In fact, it’s what they deserve!
Well enough is enough. If I’m wrong for celebrating beautiful women, then everyone else is wrong for demonizing men.
You know why my photos are predominantly women? Partly because I like women, true. But also, to a great extent, because that’s what I can find. I don’t take the photos myself (I wish!). I find them on line. And the internet is full of photos of women in stages of very artistic, attractive nudity. Men are a different story. There are far fewer images to be found, and what there is is either really non-nude, or outright pornography, and pretty raunchy at that. Very little middle ground.
There are reasons for this. Men are larger consumers of these sorts of images. That’s why most of it appeals to men. And that’s also, I suspect, why so many women raise objections. Because they aren’t attracted to images of that sort. It’s easy to disparage things you yourself have little interest in, and to demean those who do like it.
But it’s also true that our society is much more comfortable with the female nude than the male. Topless images scarcely raise an eyebrow any more. Rear images also are largely seen as tame. Even full-frontal nudity isn’t automatically going to raise a hue and cry. But let there be even the least glimpse of a penis and the sky comes crashing down. Oh the humanity!
It’s a pernicious double standard. Female nudity is artistic, erotic, or perhaps represents vulnerability. Male nudity is hilarious! Or disgusting. So don’t blame me for being a product of this dichotomy.
People accuse me (and others who produce or appreciate these images) of “objectifying” women. This is patently false. As I have addressed elsewhere, photography by definition objectifies the subject. But these images celebrate the subject, reveling in beauty. Even, believe it or not, pornography.
People will say pornography is the worst, utterly demeaning the women in it. Some will call the women who appear in pornography “victims,” because no self-respecting woman would choose to do that. How arrogant! This assumption is based on projection: “I have self-respect. I would never appear in pornography. Therefore, women with self-respect don’t appear in pornography. QED.” Based on this “logic” a woman must have been forced to do it, to subjugate herself for the sick pleasure of men.
Or maybe, just maybe, she enjoys it. Maybe she likes the feeling of being desired. Maybe she’s proud of her body and likes letting others see it. Is that possible? See, that’s the thing about the supposed objectification. When you examine straight porn, one thing comes clear: the woman is subject, not object. The content is entirely about her. Her body, her reactions. Sure, it’s usually ludicrously fake, with hyperathletic positions and over the top “acting.” But it’s still all about the woman. The man barely appears, often reduced to little more than his penis. Now that’s objectification.
I know, you’ll say that this is done so that the male viewer can imagine himself in man’s place. Fair enough. But still the result is the same: the male performer is dehumanized far more than the female. This is why most porn is really really bad.
It’s also wrong to say that only men (disgusting pigs!) consume pornography. Women do too, in growing numbers. They have somewhat different preferences, however. Women prefer pornography that’s less anatomical, more sensual. More about feelings, and connections. More real. Where both participants are equal. Hey, that is a lot better. In fact it sounds good enough to serve, indirectly, as an influence to me. My one-and-only sex scene is like that, focused on feelings, the relationship between the two. It’s about the beating of hearts rather than the thrusting of loins. And would it surprise you to know that the female character is the one taking the lead?
Don’t be fooled by my correspondents who tell me what I write is “inappropriate” for YA. I used to believe that, but then I followed the advice they gave me to read more YA and found that, in fact, there’s plenty of sex. Almost invariably, it’s from the point of view of an inexperienced, even virginal, female, being “seduced” (for lack of a better word) by the male lead. Always he’s more experienced, she’s timid, reluctant, you know the drill.
Not in mine. I’ve reversed the roles, made the girl experienced and in charge, and the boy inexperienced and nervous and so very awkward. And it’s still in the girl’s point of view. What am I doing with that? As I see it, I am telling my female readers, “Hey, it’s okay to have these feelings, these desires. You don’t have to wait for a boy to act upon you, nor to expect him to be a perfect love machine. You can take charge of your own sexuality. You are answerable to no one except yourself. You go girl!” I consider that an excellent message for young women. Guess what: the women in my writers’ group agree. They loved the scene, thought it was real and sensitive and handled very well. The men were indifferent (I’m not sure what to make of that). But everyone agreed it would be okay for teens to read. I was gratified.
Here’s the thing. I think it wouldn’t just send a good message to girls, it would send one to boys as well. It would say “You don’t have to be a stud. She’s an equal and it’s something you do together, rather than something you do to her.” Most boys don’t want to be studs, don’t want the pressure of the macho stereotype. They want their partners to be equals, to be as interested and engaged as they are.
But they only have society’s message to go on. Which is, “Go out and score!” That’s why it bothers me that we are so concerned about girls’ self-respect, but not boys’. We tell girls, “Have respect for yourself,” but we tell boys, “Have respect for girls.” Not only does this attitude objectify girls far more than a sex scene or a naked picture, it tells boys they aren’t worthy of respect. And people who don’t think they are worthy of respect make bad choices.
But when boys see representations of women who have taken charge of their sexuality, who aren’t afraid or ashamed of their bodies, women who are subjects rather than objects, and above all, women who feel the same as they feel, who like what they like, it makes the women more human, not less, and easier to respect and consider an equal partner.
Some might call my images on this site sexual harassment, with the idea that they have been placed there to somehow intimidate women. Nothing could be further from the truth. When men “accidentally” show women these sorts of things, what they actually want is for women to be accepting, to validate their sexual feelings. They hope beyond hope that a woman will say, “Wow, that’s kind of hot” (which is what one reader said about my scene). Or perhaps, “Well, I don’t care for that, but this one’s nice.” Because then he’ll say, “Yeah, I like this one too.” Then they know that women are okay with sexuality, that they don’t consider it dirty or offensive.
Let’s be honest, the men who do this do a very bad job of it (myself included). It’s easy to understand why women turn away. But understand that it’s not because of some hatred or objectification. It’s not because we want women to look like that or be like that or do that. It’s because we want women to be okay with sex, the most fundamentally important thing in all of being human. Living in a culture that teaches girls to hide and repress their sexuality; that teaches boys they are monsters for being attracted to girls; and where we laugh when a man is beaten and humiliated in ways that, if the victim were a woman, would draws cries for the death penalty, it’s pretty hard to find validation for our essential humanity.
But is it really too much to ask?