Turn your back on naked activism

Lilith by Melissa Meyer

Lilith by Melissa Meyer, 1992. Source

Nakedness still isn’t activism.  I wish someone besides me would tell that to Turn Your Back On Page 3, a campaign that seeks to combat gratuitous nudity with…gratuitous nudity.

Apparently assuming that the naked backs of young, beauty-compliant women aren’t sexualized at all in this culture, the campaign seeks to raise awareness about the routine humilation of women on page 3 of the British tabloid The Sun by encouraging women to write messages on their backs and send in pictures.  Turn your back on page 3, geddit?

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For some reason, this didn’t result in the immediate abolishment of Page 3.

It’s almost like you can’t fight the exploitation of female bodies by exploiting female bodies.  Well, knock me down with a feather! Next you’ll be telling me that Slutwalks don’t actually achieve anything but a free strip show for liberal sexist men.

Below is a “poem” against Page 3 in which a woman talks a lot about how sexy boobs are and how p%rn is great but for some reason doesn’t belong in a newspaper. (about the 4:45 mark)

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It could have been argued from a rational standpoint why sexualizing women’s bodies is bad for women, but who wants to hear women go on and on in a logical manner as if they were some kind of fully human beings capable of abstract reasoning?   Everybody just wants to see naked ladies being sexy.  But only on the top shelf, of course.

If you’ve read my blog before, you know that I support a movement called No More Page 3.  It also seeks to abolish Page 3, by signing a petition and  boycotting advertisers.  Instead of getting naked, they wear T-shirts.

Well, that’s a step up.  I’m all for anything that gets rid of even a single source of female objectification.   But the naked-activism tactics of former anti-Page 3 movements seem to be spilling into the current movement too.

No More Page 3 recently got a burst of media attention for introducing a oh-so-sexy naked Lego lady who is supposed to be a Page 3 model. That’s right, with little Lego pasties on her square plastic tits.

WT- everlovin’-F?

This is meant to be an expression of outrage that the Sun offers Lego sets to kids while exploiting adult females on page 3.  Naked Lego Lady will totally show the kids that exploiting women’s bodies is wrong!

Pardon me.  That was my head hitting the desk.

Yeah.  I know.  It’s supposed to be ironic.  But this compulsory sexiness that hangs like a suffocating veil over any place women gather is the whole reason we’re pissed off in the first place.

These activists are stuck in bargaining mode.  Here’s some sexy bait to get your attention, public!  Now listen to our cause and empathize with us!

Dear eager young sexyfeminists who think you’re the first people in the world who have ever thought of using sexual manipulation to get attention for your cause:    I know you think you’ve hit upon the magic combination of sexxayness and sassiness, unique to yourselves, that will undo women’s oppression.  And that nobody else has never succeeded in doing this before because they just weren’t as clever or as creative or as spirited or as individualistic as your own special-snowflake self.

You are not going to like what I am about to say, but you need to hear it.

This has been done many times before, and it does not work.

Sexually exploiting female bodies to protest the sexual exploitation of female bodies never works.  This is because your oppressors don’t care how ironic you’re being as long as you’re showing them your tits, your bits, your back, your whatever.  Or at least talking about how sexy you are.  They have no illusions about your power; only you do.

Many young women mistake the thrill they get from male attention and admiration, their ability to influence male behavior at least slightly, and the ability to get leered at and photographed for real political power.  That’s only too easy to do in a world where women have damn little real political power to compare anything else to.  So hearken unto this:

That power? The male admiration?  Lasts only as long as you stay young and beautiful enough to qualify, and as long as you keep dancing to the patriarchal tune. And that admiration is nothing more than a desire to use and control.  There is no empathy there.

Men can never be persuaded to stop oppressing you.  They have no reason to stop.

You’re not fully human in their eyes; you’re an alien from Planet Pink who loves to display the female submission to cultural norms that is commonly called femininity, who lives for the thrill of being used as a man’s personal meatsock, and who is content to be less-than in every aspect of life.  Deviate from this script and you’ll find out just how much power you really have.  Male reactions will range from sighs and eye-rolling and accusations of being oversensitive, to deadly force.

Appeals for “equality” won’t faze them.   Men have the power, so they get to define what “equality” is, and they’ve defined it as something we already have.  Pushing for anything more gets the male martyr act from dudes who think giving up their privilege is oppressing men.  Don’t even think about taking away their p%rn!  That’s crazy talk!

Even the men who love you, and the men you think are great, and the men who feel kinda squicky about rape culture, benefit from your subhuman status.  Even the men who say all the right things, at least until you stray too far from doing what they want.

Whenever I say this, of course, I get accused of hating men.  What the radical feminist actually hates is oppression.  Resentment of oppression is interpreted by oppression-dispensers as a resentment of themselves, because they can’t disentangle their sense of self from their humanity-smushing privilege.  That’s why they get so hostile when the idea of change is proposed. Because it feels like losing to them.  And it’s why we’ll have to go on with the changes without asking them first.

The oppression of women is a global humanitarian crisis; we don’t have time to sit around and wait while men fumble with the vague idea that maybe there might be wrong with the way women are treated.   They won’t even get to the vague idea stage as long as we’re flapping our bits at them, though.  Sexual manipulation short-circuits empathy.

I aver that the only ultimate cure for this situation is worldwide feminist revolt, but until the revolt comes, reform is better than nothing.  Attempting to further the cause of women by using sexual manipulation tactics to suck up to our oppressors will result in neither revolt or reform, just the undermining of female activism and the reinforcement of a shiteous status quo.

So knock it off, already.

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42 thoughts on “Turn your back on naked activism

  1. Every part of the female body has at some point been fetishised by men – you only have to have a basic knowledge of history/history of ‘fashion’ to realise this: Chinese foot-binding, décolletage, 16″ waists, bustles, Edwardian S-shaped corsets which bent the spine to thrust out the tits ‘n’ ass. Ankles, feet, necks, shoulders, hair, the crook of the elbow/knee… “Are you a tit-man or a leg-man”? etc etc. It is surely no coincidence that men’s fashion has essentially barely changed in the last 150 years whereas women have been made – literally – to jump through hoops.
    Only yesterday I saw photos of some model? “Pregnant from the front, but ready to party from the back?” Or some such crap. To claim nakedness as activism is at best misguided and at worst disingenuous.

      • Ok, I’ll check tomorrow if my account has been sending spam- I’m not aware that it has, or how to fix it, but if there’s an issue, hopefully I’ll work out how to fix it.

      • (And this is the first time I’ve seen your blog, so I don’t think it’s connected, but I will check. Bit confused, sorry.)

      • Yes, there’s nothing wrong with my email account. You obviously get nicer spam than i do! Please just delete these comments, and I’ll be on my way with my suspicious EgoBoostBot comments. Good luck with your blog 🙂

      • If you leave a vague compliment on a blog that doesn’t reference the content in any way, and you’re someone the blog owner has never seen before, you’re likely to be mistaken for spam. If that offends you to the point of flouncing, the internet is possibly too rough for your delicate sensibilities.

  2. The trouble is how to get women to revolt when they’ve already bought into the status quo as a prerequisite to being accepted as members of society, like all modern social movements. That’s the problem we’re in.

  3. I listened to the poem on your Youtube clip, but I didn’t have the same reaction that you had. At no time did I hear the woman going on about how sexy boobs are nor did I hear her condoning pornography.

    I haven’t seen any ads for Turn Your Back On Page 3 until tonight – and only the one to which you linked. The picture doesn’t show anything but the back of a woman’s torso. It’s not titillating or provocative in the slightest. The statement it made hit me hard – “No, you CANNOT see my breasts,” is what I heard. Sure the same thing can be done wearing t-shirts, but I just don’t think it would be as hard hitting to men. I cannot imagine any man just looking at that and being consumed with sexual thoughts.

    Now I completely agree that the Slutwalks or women flashing people in public to exert their independence does nothing to protest sexism. You are absolutely right that it only provides a strip show for men. I just don’t see how these ads for Turn Your Back On Page 3 can be categorized the same way.

    • There was supposed to be 2 videos, but for some reason only one posted. Fixed that now. And fixed it again to take off Mahfouz’s poem, as I don’t really have much problem with it except for what she says at the 2:22 mark, which is a grudging endorsement of p%rn as long as it’s kept private.
      Suleyman’s poem is the one in which she can’t stop talking about how sexy boobs are in a way that I find really disturbing.

      Women’s backs aren’t sexualized? Why backless evening dresses and those stupid shirts that were popular a few years ago that had nothing but strings holding them closed in the back? Why aren’t men expected to walk around with their backs hanging out?

      “Turn Your Back on Page 3” is saying, “You can’t see my tits, but don’t worry, you still get to see naked lady body parts.” And they use young, stereotypically attractive women to make this allegedly non-sexual point.

  4. I do not believe I said that women’s backs aren’t sexualized. I feel that a back accentuated by a backless dress is different than a back (without airbrushing or anything else meant to make it look sexy) with words painted on it isn’t sexy. I had my fiancé look at the first photo on the Turn Your Back On Naked Activism page to which you linked and asked him if he found it sexy in any way. He said, “It’s a back. That picture is not erotic in the slightest.” He got the point of the message loud and clear and I think most men would, too. The type of man who would become aroused by that photo are men who would probably be aroused by seeing a woman’s elbow.

    Again, I am not in any way trying to diminish your point about how objectification does not fight objectification. I just don’t see this movement as objectification. Show me an ad for Turn Your Back that includes a woman’s buttocks or even the top curve of it and I’ll see your point and raise you a Hell yeah.

  5. I don’t know any man who jacks off to pictures of backs with slogans painted on them. I know men who like women’s butts, but backs are not butts. Some men jack off to feet… does that mean we should always keep them covered, too? I ask this with complete sincerity. I’m not trying to be sarcastic or disrespectful.

    • You’ve decided that backs aren’t sexual. So, apparently, has Turn Your Back On Page 3.

      Unfortunately, since neither of you are members of the ruling class, your decisions are meaningless. As you yourself unwittingly proved, in citing your boyfriend as an authoritative source.

      We live under an oppressive system under which women’s bodies are sexualized. Pretending it doesn’t exist, or that it doesn’t apply to you, won’t make it go away. And neither will pretending that you’re resisting it by giving it exactly what it wants.

    • I don’t have a boyfriend to check with, thank goodness, but the claim that women’s backs aren’t sexualised or eroticised is mistaken, as this sample from Google shows (google “woman’s back”)

      http://www.google.co.uk/search?q=woman's+back&hl=en&client=safari&rls=en&prmd=imvns&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=JNejUKjeCc3a0QXiq4AQ&ved=0CCAQsAQ&biw=1086&bih=792

      The photographs for Turn Your Back, are completely in keeping with that selection. The reason why men view a naked back as “sexy”, is because it implies a pair of naked breasts on the other side of the back. Also nakedness suggests vulnerability, which men also sexualise. There really is no need to encourage them.

      • Hi, Delphyne!

        I continue to support the cause, just not these tactics.

        I notice how men, when they want to protest something, make signs or wear T-shirts. One doesn’t see them writing things on their own bodies.

        When I say things like this, though, I get responses of “Oh, we don’t want to be exactly like men!” I wonder, why not? Since men are the only ones who get to be fully human and all.

  6. Well, if we’re going to throw out the concept of a man’s view of the female form, then I can’t see how my boyfriend’s (or any other man’s) opinions are meaningless. If anything, I used his clearly valid opinion as the most convenient anecdotal example – not as an authoritative source.

    I merely, out of curiosity (because I’m an inquisitive gal), asked him to look at that picture and tell me what he thought. When he (out of his own curiosity) asked me why… I explained Turn Your Back and their use of photos of people’s backs. There is also a picture of a man with a slogan on his back (and a lame picture of a hairy butt) down the same page. I also indicated that there were some who felt that the pictures were seen as examples of objectification themselves. He is an educated, kind and sensitive man who’s opinion I value very much – just as I would that of my best girl friend.

    Feminism is the idea that both genders are equal; therefore I do not believe any man’s opinion – if rationally thought out and respectful, just like any other person – is invalid merely on the basis of his gender.

    I’m going to back out of this post and the blog (I’m sorry to say, because I think you are a very talented and entertaining writer), because I feel my views are seen as invalid. I feel the strength of your convictions might be preventing you from entertaining alternative perspectives.

    I wish you all the best. May love always be your guiding force.

      • I caught this comment as I was trying to unsubscribe. I’m trying really hard to have rational discourse. If you aren’t even going to read what I wrote without interjecting your own personal experience to analyze what I’m saying why bother replying? I do not subscribe to your prejudiced accusations. And now I’m going to unsubscribe from comments as I clearly do not fit in here. I sincerely wish you all the best.

      • You’ve drawn the ire of Jennifer by failing to ooh and ahh at her dude’s dudely opinion. I’m afraid I’m guilty of the same, being a meanie poo poo head who doesn’t hearken unto the XY chromosome on command.

    • I’d give this flounce a 7 out of 10.

      Tragic misconception of feminism there. It’s got nothing to do with the idea “both genders are equal”, since men get to define equality and they always do so in a way that puts women at a disadvantage. Feminism is the ending of male supremacy and the attainment of fully human status for women.

      Thanks for passive-aggressively hinting that I’m being sexist against men, though. Luckily for me, it’s not possible for a mere female feminist blogger such as myself to oppress men, since they own and control everything.

  7. I agree with Glennie, different cultures fetishize different parts of womens’ bodies but it is all part of the same practice.

    Personally I’m deeply uncomfortable with women’s bodies being made into surfaces to write on. There’s a long history of treating women and their bodies as surfaces for someone else to write on (and you can’t physically write on your own back, can you?!). For me it’s also about the simple fact that if your back is turned, you’re not speaking. You’re using a mute part of your body to express yourself – but why? Women have perfectly good voices and we are allowed to use them, thanks! So even if the message is intended to be countering misogynistic uses of women’s bodies, the imagery is undermining the message.

    Btw: not everyone is very familiar with internet spam. I think you may have mistaken another contributor upthread, and I am sure she was only trying to be polite to you.

    • Your points about using women’s bodies as billboards are excellent.

      If hearing me express skepticism about a message that looked like 30 other messages in my spam filter was too hurtful for the other contributor to bear, I can’t help but wonder what will happen to that person on the rest of the internet.

      • Thanks!

        I doubt it was hurtful – I was simply explaning you’d accidentally been rude, and that lots of people wouldn’t see immediately that a one-liner looks like spam. If it wasn’t a helpful comment, no need to spend time worrying over it!

  8. I never suggested you shouldn’t decide what to worry about. I really liked your article, and just wanted you to know that I’m sure you’d misinterpreted someone. I did feel you’d been rude, but I did say I thought it was an accident. I did assume from your comments about the other poster, you were perhaps quite ‘robust’, but if I have offended, I am sorry, and will post more gently another time.

    • You actually did. “If it wasn’t a helpful comment, no need to spend time worrying over it!”

      You seem very focused on controlling the comments on other people’s blogs to the point of speaking on behalf of other commenters.

      • Oh, I’m sorry, I meant that quite literally: ‘no need’, as in, you don’t need to – not ‘you mustn’t’.

        I didn’t want to control anything, just to explain myself, but I think I am making things worse. All my comment came from was knowing that lots of people don’t know how spammers operate. I do, and I know it is a right pain, so I can understand why you were worried.

      • Telling me what I need to do, even as a figure of speech, is controlling behavior.

        As is fighting other people’s battles for them. It’s almost like you were pressuring me to apologize to someone who left a spam-like comment on my blog and then flounced off when told their comment looked like spam. To ordinary people, this would not be a cause in need of a champion.

        And now that you’re being confronted, you’re denying and overexplaining.

  9. I’m so sorry I have offended you, and for the way I expressed myself. I didn’t intend to pressurize you, and you might notice I actually phrased my point as a negative: ‘there is *no* need …’. It was intended to be the very opposite of telling you what to do.

    I’m not fussed about the spam thing, TBH, just added it as a minor point after my comment. I did think your blog was really interesting and thought provoking. I will enjoy reading other posts. I hope you won’t mind, but I’m going to leave it there.

    • You can’t stop with the overexplaining, can you?

      Arguing with the proprietor of a blog about how she should handle her own blog is like walking into a stranger’s house and telling them to rearrange all their furniture.

  10. Pingback: Woman-hating slurs: not some kind of secret feminist code « Exiled Stardust

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