Six degrees of lift and separation
Some of you may have heard about the kerfluffle over a few topless photos buried in a USC professor's blog. Turns out I know her! Diana Blaine was a professor in my department when I was in grad school. She always taught edgy courses, most memorably the one on "Transgressive Literature," meaning, essentially, porn.
I was ABD while she was there, so I didn't take any of her classes, but I have friends who did and admired her. The few times I spoke with her I found her impressively self-possessed and vibrant.
The website causing all the trouble is: http://www.dianablaine.com
My favorite bit from her response to the uproar:
Obviously no one wants to cop to being uptight about the pictures because that's just so uncool. We're all educated, sophisticated adults, here, right? We understand the body isn't in and of itself corrupt or fallen or undignified, right? We know that only this culture at this time makes the breasts taboo and then having thus fetishized them operates obsessively to cover up and expose them, right? We know the difference between a commercial sex site and someone's personal construction of self, right? Right, right, right, right, right.
So why does everybody give such a HUGE-normous Flying Flip about those few pixels in the shape of titties? I am glad you asked, because I happen to know the answer.
It's all about control. Of what? Women. Control of the female body. Control of female sexuality. Control, control, control. Oh, it's perfectly fine for Hooters to sponsor the baseball game I went to last night. It's perfectly fine for women paid to dress up as servile objects wearing outfits designed to eroticize their bodies to walk around and hand tee-shirts to little children. It's perfectly fine for everyone to see the female breast deemed a HOOTER, and for that derogatory name to be splashed all over the baseball field and the women's chests and the shirts they are giving away.
Why? Because "Hooters" is a space designed by men, for men, for male pleasure, and thus promotes the control of the female by first turning us into things, reducing us to mammaries, then taking those mammaries away from us and putting them into male--er--hands, as it were. Hooters is all about the male gaze; those young women prancing around in short shorts and tight tee-shirts last night were NOT doing it for their own pleasure. They were doing it for money, for the money controlled by men—who hoard all the resources in this culture in case you haven't noticed.
There's a difference between defining your own eroticism and having it defined for you. There's a difference between being forced to expose yourself for commercial reasons and doing so as a form of expression. There’s a difference between being reduced to a thing and having sexuality integrated into your full identity. These differences are not at all hard to understand, and so I believe firmly that those who pretend to not be able to tell the difference do so because it promotes their ideological agenda, which is nothing short of control of women.
It's not just men who work to control us, of course. Women too work very hard to promulgate a sexist culture. We do so because we are promised a degree of safety and dignity and protection if we do. So it makes sense to be sexist, in a sense, even if you are female and that means you need to be working constantly against your own freedom and sanity and health.
I was one of these women myself until I actually read feminist theory and, thanks to the introduction of all those wonderful ideas no one had ever bothered to teach me in all of my years of education in patriarchal institutions, got the chance to think for myself. Most women don’t have this chance, haven’t read these books, haven’t talked to hundreds of other feminists as I have. So I was not surprised last night while reading that website that attacks me and other women to find that it is written by a woman, nor was I surprised that a number of the respondents were female.
What did get my attention though was what one of them said. Of course she starts off by saying that she doesn't have any problem with pictures like these. (See above for an explanation of why this bizarre disclaimer always comes just before the emission of sexist criticism of their existence.) Then, she goes on to say, she’s got no problem with pictures like these-- as long as they are KEPT IN THE HUSBAND'S WALLET.
To repeat: It’s ok to have pictures like these, as long as they are kept in the husband’s wallet.
No seriously, it says that. So as she sees it, women are allowed to be sexual beings, thanks, and even to create images of ourselves that include nudity and even eroticism, great--as long as these images remain the property of a male. Wait, huh? As long as these images remain the property of a male. Right there in his wallet with all of his other possessions. Reminds me of the commandment about not coveting thy neighbor’s wife, nor servants, nor animals, nor any of that STUFF that belongs to the other man.
Sorry sister. I don't belong to any man. Not at all. I am my own being. Totally and completely. I know it's scary, but you should try it some time. Then you can put pictures of yourself wherever you want. Just expect to catch all kinds of grief from total strangers for daring to have an identity that isn’t defined by male parameters. But you'll be able to handle it, because these selves we forge in the face of resistance are strong and beautiful.
Her example of Hooters is, to me, irrefutable. Our culture is so patriarchal and pornographic that breasts can be everywhere, used to sell anything and everything, but place them in a context outside of male consumption and suddenly they're filthy. We need only re-visit recent dustups over public breastfeeding to concede the point.