Women’s Bodies are Obscene

18 May

Sociological Images is one of my favorite blogs.  Today, this piece popped up in my reader, and I found it particularly interesting.  Essentially, a male model with fairly androgynous features, as well as female-coded hair and makeup, appears on the cover of Dossier magazine, bare-chested and posing as if ze is removing zir shirt.  Apparently, Barnes and Noble and Borders both sold the magazine wrapped in plastic, the way Playboy and Hustler are sold, with the masthead visible, but the rest of the cover image obscured.

There’s a lot going on here, as Lisa says:

Explaining why it is legal for men to be shirtless in public but illegal for women to do the same, most Americans would probably refer to the fact that women have breasts and men have chests.  Breasts, after all, are… these things. They incite us, disgust us, send us into grabby fits.  They’re just so there.  They force us to contend with them; they’re bouncy or flat or pointy or pendulous and sometimes they’re plain missing!  They demand their individuality!  Why won’t they obey some sort of law and order!

Much better to contain those babies.

Chests… well they do have those haunting nipples… but they’re just less unruly, right? Not a threat to public order at all.

She goes on to say that it’s not as simple as that.  Some women have small breasts (or no breasts), and some men have breasts that are bigger than some women’s – but even then, dudes with moobs are allowed to be out in public with no shirt on, but women with “mosquito bites” (as my mom used to refer to small breasts when I was younger) aren’t.  I actually learned this lesson the hard way when I was a little squirt of a six-year-old with no breasts.  I used to run around naked at home, so I decided it would be cool to run around with my shirt off during recess at school like some of the other boys were doing.  No go, said the principal, and I got in trouble (and laughed at by all of the girls in my class).

So because the male model, Andrej Pejic, is deliberately photographed to look androgynous, Dossier‘s distributors apparently took the “better safe than sorry” route and wrapped the rag as one would wrap up porn.

One of the things I like best about Sociological Images is that it doesn’t offer a ton of commentary – the legwork is left up to the reader.  Lisa does not answer the most important question that this cover of Dossier brings up: why are women’s chests obscene, and men’s chests aren’t?  Because clearly, as Lisa says, it really doesn’t have much to do with breasts.  Andrej Pejic doesn’t have breasts – it’s the female coding in the image that makes it obscene, not his bare chest.

I think there is no one correct answer to this.  Probably one of the more popular theories is that because women don’t undergo dramatic, visible changes when they become aroused (i.e. they don’t have erections), it’s assumed that they’re always ready and receptive to sex, and therefore, women – and their bodies – are inherently more sexual, and sex, for some reason, is obscene.  But consider the following:

In this video about labiaplasty (a procedure in which women will have their inner labia surgically modified to make their vaginas look “neat”), the trend is linked to obscenity laws in Australia, in which showing the inner lips of a vagina is considered “obscene” but “neat” vaginas are not (video is, obviously, NSFW – which is funny, right?).

I would guess here too that the protrusion of the vaginal lips is perhaps considered more sexual than the “neat” vagina.  Which just means that ladybits are TOO SEXY for us to handle.

Of course, on the flip side, I know of no obscenity hierarchy when it comes to penises – they’re all obscene.

4 Responses to “Women’s Bodies are Obscene”

  1. R.Cohen May 18, 2011 at 3:34 pm #

    Great post.

  2. Rachel Ariel Scott May 19, 2011 at 7:27 pm #

    wow, great post! very interesting video as well. It always disturbs me how computer editing and airbrushing in pornography (and in regular magazines as well) seriously effect women’s body image, especially with the less-talked about lady parts. America refuses to acknowledge this. Good on Australia for creating this film.

    • meganeking May 19, 2011 at 9:42 pm #

      Thanks for the feedback. Hopefully I’ll have lots more where this came from :)

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