I know, I know. I don’t post for months and then twice in one day. I guess the exhilaration of finishing up the semester here a Pretty Good U. is fueling this burst of Stuff to Say. Please, God, let this be a sign of what the summer’s going to be like… Let me write my silly ass off.
Anyhow, I’ve been thinking, as I am wont to this time of year about women’s bodies and bathing suits and what’s appropriate to wear for whom, and by extension, what’s appropriate to do (because wearing is a variety of doing, yes?) and how it all intersects with Being Female. So this is by way of thinking through to the maybe intersection of a 1) a thoughtful, faith-based discussion of the Duke U. porn actor’s claims of empowerment-through-porn (as opposed to empowerment-through-not-graduating-with-a-mountain-of-dumbass-debt, which is a whole other issue) that I read today in between portfolios I was grading, 2) a couple of thoughtful and kind of moving responses from guys to the whole #yesallwomen (a discussion into which I would happily weigh, were I to tweet, which I do not) (a particularly nice one on slate.com–not to mention the gorgeous feed response from Neil Gaiman), and 3) the bikinis for fat chicks on a rather lovely site called loveyourpeaches.com, which are modeled by actual seriously chunky chicas.
The current dominant feminist discourse suggests that I be porn-positive, and I kind of am. I’ve watched some. Hated some. Kinda loved some. I’m a grown-up, and it’s an increasingly complex industry/discourse that says a lot about a lot–though a friend who is actually a serious scholar (professor and all) of the genre has been known to liken lousy porn to industrial production documentaries, which I have always found both hilarious and horribly true. The current fat feminist discourse suggests that I be in favor of women wearing whatever the heck they want to the pool or beach. I’d worry more about this if I weren’t equally put off by my fat sisters in bikinis as I am by any of my sisters in burkinis (swimwear designed for conservative Muslim women, and also worn, I think, by deeply conservative women from other faith traditions–google “modest swimwear” and you find some interesting stuff). The God-police in Iran are currently working on not allowing even heavily shrouded women on beaches at all, which I’d call medieval if that weren’t insulting the Middle Ages. And the current and once-and-future (though hopefully not too far into the future, but I am not altogether hopeful on that one…) feminism suggests that the #yesallwomen hashtag business is right on.
I think the #yesallwomen thing (which almost makes me think about a Twitter account) is the intersection and it is RIGHT ON. Burkinis are a good thing insofar as they allow women who would otherwise be kept out of the water to swim, but they’re certainly a bad thing in that they are a function of cultures/societies which feature semi-educated numbskulls called “religious police” who walk around with big sticks (I’m guessing thumb-thickness?) and are empowered by their governments to hit people who displease their idiotic, anti-female pseudo-Koranic prejudices. Societies that have substituted the extreme control of women’s bodies for actual order, and that have located their capacity to function and cohere largely on that control, which invariably comes along with a healthy helping of belief in women’s intellectual and human inferiority and the utter inability of men to learn civilized behavior in the presence of women they cannot control, suck (yep, that sentence was a mess…). #yesallwomen. Everywhere. Every day. Every woman. Because the distance between the assholes with the sticks and the guy with the gun who belongs to a Men’s Liberation group and believes it’s his right to kill women who won’t have sex with him is, um, nil. And the difference between a society that has and supports woman-hating religious police and a society that tolerates police asking rape victims what they were wearing is much, much thinner than we in the US would like to think. Colleges regularly silence or dismiss young women who have the spine to come forward with rape charges. Distinguished colleges, Pretty Good universities, mediocre colleges, and, I’m willing to bet, “Christian” colleges.
Back to loveyourpeaches.com. It’s a woman-owned business that custom makes a nice variety of clothes in a nice variety of good fabrics, including a range of swimwear that runs, roughly, between Utah and Brazil style-wise. It’s explicitly body-positive, woman-positive, and fat-positive. It’s a lovely outfit from which I don’t order nearly enough clothes. I am not in favor of women of my size and shape wearing bikinis, though. I will admit that this is partially a matter of my either slightly puritanical bent (which has come upon me kind of weirdly as I’ve aged, which is bloody distressing–at 20 I wore a bikini on my 190 lb. body and felt 90% happy doing it–it was a nice 190 lbs, that body. I’d love to have it back), my increasingly intense awareness that no amount of noisy or elegant or profound feminist discourse has changed the way men look at women, or my childhood training in Being a Lady reasserting itself. It may also be my possibly dumb/denial-based notion that my black, skirted suits make me and my body less of an issue when we’re strolling the beach (the big, clumsy, careless knee-replacement scars are plenty noisy, thank you). There are places and times I’m still happy as all get out to dress quirkily, but they tend to involve a lot of fabric. I’ve always loved a lot of fabric (even as a young woman I looked longingly at the skirted “dressmaker” suits the preppy matrons of Rehoboth Beach wore, the bikini notwithstanding). I loathe the current trend for professional women (on TV, at least–even you, Gina Torres) to wear clothes so tight it’s hard to imagine breathing going on (Spanks and lycra have a lot to answer for) because it is explicitly about making the abnormally “perfect” female body into an icon (and I use the term in the sense of religious prayer-paintings, not casually), The worship of the idealized female body, the constraint of the female body, the rigid definition of the female body, the discourse that suggests empowerment via the every-context display of the female body–these seem to me to be very much of a piece with a varied and complex global culture of treating the female body as “other.”
I like a chica in a corset as much as the next human, though I do find the extremes of corset culture disturbing (but then, I’m not a fan of extreme body-modification generally–it always takes me to the last, awful scene in The Story of O, which is not a good place.) I think burlesque is dandy (though I will note that Dita Von Teese has raised to an art form the distinction between lady-like presentation off stage and her on-stage persona). And if I support geek girls everywhere running off to Ren-fairs in only vaguely comfortable corsets and enjoying the resulting cleavage, then what’s my bloody problem with fat-chicas in bikinis? Dunno. I have the problem, have been trying to figure it out for years (and yes, I have considered that it might be mostly a reflection of my own discomfort with my own body–and mostly discounted it). This should be fine:
Should. So should the teeny, tiny, tight-as-hell shorts the women on the campus here at Pretty Good U seem to currently favor. But they’re not. A) those shorts mean that the backs of those young women’s legs are sticking to a lot of plastic and wooden seats, and B) they are being taught by their peers that their bodies SHOULD be on display all the time. I think my problem is maybe that the boundaries between the public and the private are so close to extinction. And that men don’t wear that stuff, or the male equivalent of it. They, at least on most campuses these days, wear floppy, comfy clothes that do not distinctly outline their genitalia or cause their legs to stick to chairs. Of course, I was raised in the feminism that said that women shouldn’t wear shoes they can’t run in, so you know what I think about stillettos. Women shouldn’t need to wear shoes they can run in, but they still do. Fact. And the distance between a pair of Louboutins and foot-binding is not great. I think women should be raised to believe their bodies are theirs, which I’m afraid means I think that “style” should not consist of explicit display thereof. Okay, I’m not afraid of it. Until men (straight men, in particular), start wearing tiny shorts with lycra codpieces (made with some form of underwire), I am going to stick to my idea that all women’s bodies should be able to be comfortable and not stick to furniture or be poked by wires or squished until breathing is difficult (with about a million exceptions for big events and bedrooms and the stage and, and, and, and…) Maybe includes fat bodies.
Or maybe I just don’t entirely believe that the bikini I wore when I was young and the ones I’ve seen for fat women are “comfortable.” Maybe I believe I was making a STATEMENT in my size 16 striped yellow seersucker bikini (there are no pictures of it, which kind of makes me sad)–I know I enjoyed the heck out of my mother’s shock when I came home with it at least as much as I enjoyed my fiance’s enthusiasm for it. But I don’t know that I could do it now, at this size, for any other purpose than EFF-OFF-WORLD, and I’ve kind of gotten attached to swimwear that won’t be easily displaced by a rowdy wave…
Which brings me to the young woman at Duke. I find the specific kind of porn she did, frankly, icky and degrading. Not discussing the particulars here–look it up if you want to know. But I also find the damage done to the young bodies of football players for the sake of others’ pleasure and obsessive excitement icky and degrading. Actually, worse than icky and degrading. I’d go with “immoral” and “abusive” on that one. But no one, ever, argues that any male should be prevented from using his body in that way to get a college education (or whatever it is that you can squeeze out of college when you’re training 60 hours a week). And what she did with her body will not cause physical brain damage, threaten her with paralysis, break any of her bones, or involve her chanting “Kill, kill, kill” in reference to other human beings. And until we understand that treating the bodies of men as fodder for violence is as much of a feminist issue (maybe more than) as grousing about what a young woman does with hers in order to get her brainy self through an elite institution of higher learning (I bet her porn career did not require 60 hours a week during term…), then we do not understand feminism.
The male body is not fodder for violence. The female body is not fodder for sex. The fat body is not fodder for derision and abuse any more than the black body was ever fodder for industrialized agriculture. All of these bodies deserve respect and freedom, and sometimes that might, ironically enough, include moderation in how they’re all clothed. MODERATION. Not “modesty.” COMFORT. Not “covering.” PRIVACY. Not “control.” And, also within moderation (I live in dread that one of my grandchildren will take up free-climbing…), safety.
I am not, by nature, a “moderate” person, so I freely acknowledge that there is, at the very least, some irony here. *sigh*