A few weeks ago, a person I know (“Ben”) posted a facebook status pondering whether a woman’s breasts were real or fake. Several people contributed their own speculations and opinions about the woman’s body. People also added extra ‘evidence,’ including a photo of the woman when she was a fourteen-year-old girl. I learned that the woman in question is a nearly-naked model in the Blurred Lines video (in which male singer Robin Thicke wears a full suit (I actually enjoy Blurred Lines and will save my disdain for Robin Thicke for another post (here’s a better video for the song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1dtyeLJXaHc))).
"Ben" jokingly brought up feminism, and another dude said that feminists need to stop trying to mandate what other people do because the video and the discussion were victimless crimes. "Ben" asked me for my opinion. After we got past some anti-feminist silencing tactics, I shared mine. "Ben" appreciated it and apologized, and I thought some of you all might appreciate it too. Here goes:
I read an article about women’s experience in the Texas legislature. (http://www.texasobserver.org/the-texas-legislatures-sexist-little-secret/) Here is a little excerpt:
"It was the same session that saw the Legislature cut funding for women’s health care and family planning by two-thirds, and pass a bill requiring women to endure a pre-abortion sonogram. It was also the session in which Tuffy Hamilton, during a debate about Franklin Mountains State Park, made a boob joke to Marisa Marquez. (“Young lady, would you please tell us why your mountains are better than any of our mountains, and are they man-made or are they real mountains?”)"
Ben’s status perpetuated the pernicious idea that women’s bodies are public property and should be discussed like objects. (And the slobbering by others over the picture of her as a 14-year-old perpetuates the idea that GIRLS’ bodies are public property too.) Even if this model loves showing her breasts and loves random people discussing their veracity (and I’ll come back later to the question of free choice here), discussing her body on Facebook like that makes more people feel more comfortable with discussing other women’s bodies like that. It also causes direct harm to some women who read it - some women may be totally fine with it, but other women (including myself) will see a status like that and feel very uncomfortable (feel less welcome in general internet spaces, feel demeaned as a woman, feel worried about how my body might be talked about).
These two consequences mean that demeaning representations or discussions of women, even if those specific women are consenting, are NOT victimless crimes. It can hurt other women who see or hear it, and it also perpetuates sexist culture. It trickles down - we talk about models’ bodies, we talk about the bodies of strangers we see on the street, we talk about the bodies of women we know professionally, we talk about the bodies of elected officials on the legislative floor. (I hope it is clear that I am not suggesting we should never be talking about each other’s bodies… you know the kind of talk I mean.) There are many consequences to this, but one is that it becomes much harder for women to be taken seriously and get work done. The Texas legislature is an extreme example, but there are MANY examples in MANY professions (not least of which are writing and comedy.) This hurts women and it also hurts men - because the time and dignity of strong and competent women are wasted, all of us miss out on some of what they have to offer.