Sunday, October 27, 2013

gratuitous nude

A few days ago I published a post about feeling monkish. I included a throwaway line about dancing naked in the road to find someone to talk with and used that as the title of my post and an old photo to illustrate it. I found that by Googling "dancing naked" images (NSFW).

One set of friends on Facebook took me to task for having used a picture in which the nude woman is featured prominently but the nude man's penis is hidden (although if you look closely you see his scrotum is prominent below his left leg, although that's neither here nor there; you don't need to enlarge the photo to see the woman's nudity, which is more the point). I hadn't noticed the absence of the man's genitalia. Their legitimate observation was that the photo objectified women or at least the woman in the picture. It's also a reinforcement of a distortion of society that presents nude women readily but is more reticent about nude men.

I mistook the conversation for a light-hearted one and commented that they'd put more thought into it than I had and I'd decided to reaffirm the patriarchy by leaving the photo up. My rationale for leaving the photo up is 1) I don't think it's right to ascribe contemporary questions to modern photos (the picture is obviously early 20th century), 2) I like the picture's drawing on the couple's awkwardness and grace and comfort, and 3) it's my blog. But I soon came to realize the conversation, if it had started light, swiftly turned heavier.

I ended up removing the link on that group's news feed after a few hours consideration. No one had requested it but I decided leaving it there was taking advantage of a privilege that I hadn't earned, and more importantly, I'd become embarrassed having answered their concerns so tongue in cheek before realizing they were serious.

While I think the more correct response on their part might be to say, essentially, "enjoy the cocks," that is to have pointed it out more publicly on their own blogs or by posting male full-frontal nudes, their point is taken. It was relatively easy to find that illustration while to find the one gracing this post required several tries and I wasn't successful until I added "man" to "joyous nude" (again, NSFW); even then, many of the results are porn and about a third are of women.

But I have other sets of friends also on that group's page who could make similar complaints that by choosing two people not in wheelchairs I'm being ableist, or by choosing a white couple I'm being racist, or by choosing a mixed couple I'm being heteronormist. Those arguments have a lot of validity, too, maybe even greater validity because I can't say I didn't notice any of those things, and didn't use any of those elements in my criteria for my Google search. The point isn't to suggest my friends' original criticism is absurd--it isn't, it's a good observation--but to point out that we are privileged even in how we criticize.

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