Today as I wheeled my lame and punctured bike home, I passed an Islamic couple (I assume, since she was covered top to toe in a traditional fashion), and I was all too aware that they both averted their gaze down and away as they passed me in my bare-legged short summery skirted attire. There was no open disdain, but there was a deliberate aversion.
I always feel hyper-conscious of this kind of reaction. But today it actually bothered me. Not because these people seemed to be judging me. Indeed I doubt if they gave me two seconds thought. But I wanted to turn around and shout "C'mon! They're just legs. I'm using them for walking! Just like 'he' is." I certainly didn't want them ogled. They are hardly remarkable as legs go, nor text book examples of sexy legs.
And the whole episode got me thinking about prudishness, religious or otherwise. Here's my thoughts in a rambly nutshell:
Prudishness offends me because it assumes that my naked body is a sexualised body. It does not allow my naked body to be anything other than a sexual object. Whether this is the 'morally overlaid' prudishness of religious doctrine (I use inverted commas because I do not think that religion equates to morality), or the prudishness of the friends who don't want you to see them get changed, they all seem to me to be slices of the same pie, the difference is one of degree.
I can't sunbathe topless on the beach because my breasts are always always always assumed to be sexualised in our society. To the man and woman I passed on the street today, my bare legs were equally sexualised. I think they're just legs. I also think they're just breasts. Don't even get me started on the whole limitations-on-public-breastfeeding stupidity.
This prudishness makes me resentful for a number of reasons.
1. Prudishness places the responsibility for the sexualisation of women's bodies on women.
It is my responsibility to display my body appropriately, given mens' assumed inability to stay cool headed around breasts, and possibly legs and hair as well depending on where you sit on the subject. It is not assumed to be mens' responsibility to be able to refrain from harassment or assault if there are breasts around. Perhaps not legally, but colloquially, most people seem to think this is true (maybe not right, but true). I allow that there are times, places, contexts in which my body will be sexual. And to some people more than others. But mostly all those bits of my body are either functional or negligable in terms of their contribution to my interaction with the world and the people in it.
2. Some women who buy into arguments for prudishness where the female form is concerned particularly bother me, as they are implicitly demanding that their naked form be sexualised. I often see this as a manifestation of sexual insecurity, that such a woman can't accept or allow that no one cares that she just flashed her undies, or 'popped out' of her top - she insists it's a big deal. It demands sexual attention simply for the act of physically being. I think this is a bit lame, as a rule.
Pine mushrooms, pasta and not much else
3 years ago