Hi gender fans! Last Friday I was finally in Swedish Radio’s show Sleeping with P3, after talking about it with host Matilda Berggren all summer. Our conversation was about why women are not allowed to be naked and funny.
Matilda sent me a picture that she had as a profile picture on Facebook when it was new. It depicts her naked, carelessly holding a cigarette with raised eyebrows and with three selected bodyparts covered in happy hand-painted smileys. A picture that she thought perfectly captured a nice evening when she was a little tipsy and newly moved in with a friend, enjoying life. Most of her friends laughed and thought she was lovely. But not everyone understood the joke. A colleague at her new job asked if she was looking for a fuck-contact and strangers emailed her lewd suggestions. As a statement – ”no, I do not do this because I am horny and want to fuck or show off my sexy body, it’s just a fun picture” – she kept it as profile picture. But after a while she made more friends that she did not know if they would see the irony and could no longer defend it.
”Something tells me that a guy with a beach ball in front of his dick would not have been as stinging or provocative in the eyes of others.”
Matilda Berggren’s initial idea was that I would photograph her when she was naked, funny and a woman at the same time. But her managers at Swedish Radio shot down that idea, saying it could be interpreted as a pin-up photo and therefore was inappropriate.
Which in confirmed our whole thesis…
Women can be vulnerable, vulnerable, passive (dead is perfectly okay) and abbove all sexy when they’re naked in photos. For men, it’s different. They can cook only dressed in aprons or stand with their pants down in front of stunning views on Facebook photos, and there are plenty of examples of hairy, plump, hilarious, unsexy nude men in Hollywood comedies (think of wrestling scenes in Borat, or the intros to the Austin Powers movies). But when a woman is naked and funny, when she uses her body to amuse herself, entertain others or enjoy her own body, then we’re suddenly… Scared?
Let’s try it. I have two contrasting examples. One that shows how we usually get to see naked women in public. And one that shows what kind of nude photo gets your Facebook account deleted. (Get a pillow to hide behind! Iiiih!)
This is Lana Del Rey on the cover of the latest issue of men’s magazine GQ:
Vulnerable. Covering up. Exposed. As if frightened by the lighting, sitting against a wall, looking under her fringe, well-made up and adorned. And despite her shy, anxious face, she is still so excited that she cannot breathe with her mouth closed. Just like a gentleman wants her.
Lana Del Rey has been named Woman of the Year 2012 by the magazine. And from a lot of places I have received the tip on how GQ has chosen to portray its winners in the various Man of the Year categories:
Very telling. Four strong straight-backed or rigidly staring, controlled kings who do not have to be bodies. As it usually looks – not just in men’s magazines – but in everything from perfume commercials to entertainment guides.
What would it look like if they were shot naked and vulnerable on a floor, holding their limbs neatly in place? We can thank the resource site A girls guide to taking over the world for illustrating that thought:
Åh, skrutten! Blir du inte kall om pungen? Ska du inte göra helikoptern eller ta på dig en varm socka? (Förlåt, nu ägnar jag mig eventuellt åt dubbelmoral.)
Oh, boobie! Doesn’t your scrotum get frozen? Wanna do the helicopter to get warm or put on a sock? (Sorry, I’m probably engaging in double standards now.)
But back to my promised nude shock.
This picture was posted by food blogger Berit Runge on her Facebook the day after attending a party with barbecue, sauna and swimming:
BUT FOR FUCK’S SAKE! responded Facebook, blocking her account and making her to promise to never post anything offensive again if she wanted her account back. Berit Runge removed the image from Facebook, but posted it on her blog instead, in the middle of recipes for pies and soups.
In the post she explains, very similar to how Matilda Berggren explained her old profile picture, that it was taken when she was overjoyed, slightly after-party drunk and wanted to swim. That the photo conveyed all the tingling, end-of-summer joy she felt and that she also thinks that the image is the first that is really her: ”Boundless, happy, totally the-devil-may-care.”
”For real. Are you offended? Then I suggest you work on it. You see two breasts swaying by the centrifugal force and some pubic hair.
I actually get a little worried about a society where a completely normal summer nudity is taboo to the mild degree that a picture like this worries anyone. This is neither more nor less than most of my friends have ever seen of my body in some opportunity. It’s not that fucking secret. It looks like people do the most. But in this case: A little happier. Let us affirm happy bodies, instead of taking offense at them. I think it will make us all feel better. ”
Berit Runge is so sensible that I just have to quote how she responds to a comment as well:
”I think it’s very scary that we are heading towards a society where we are moving towards a greater sexualization of the body. Because that’s what it’s about. The fewer normal happy bodies we get to see, the more mysterious the body becomes. And more and more people are starting to think that there is something wrong with them because they do not have porn-movie bodies, because they are the only bodies that can be viewed. I love my body, especially when it manages to rock me in such an amazing arc. I don’t pose sweetly. I show how to use a body to have fun with it. ”
Happy bodies. The finest thing I’ve heard. And ”sexualization of the body”. By that, Berit Runge does not mean (at least I do not interpret her that way), that all sexualization of bodies is evil. As blogger and psychologist Tanja Suhinina writes in a post about Berit’s image:
”Defending the image with ’it was a happy natural image, not sexual’ means that you show that you think happy natural bodies should not be considered offensive – but it would be a different matter if the body was sexual. And then of course you legitimize that sexuality in images is offensive.”
There’s nudity. There’s being sexual. And then there’s sexual objectification. The kind that meets us constantly in fashion, media, ads and product packaging and which – when it comes to nameless or faceless models – says that (mainly) the female body is an object, a commercial commodity that must be judged, valued, disciplined and refined (according to stiflingly tight body standards and with digitally doped bodies as ideal), owned and consumed. And as when it comes to women who are actually interviewed as persons, it lets us know that the most valuable characteristic of a woman is to be covetous in the eyes of others [men].
In other words. The sexual objectification that makes up 95% of all the tips I get on Twitter, email, Facebook and directly from people’s mouths every week. The one who usually just feels very unnecessary.
Like when the founders of a travel agency are filmed for an interview in the magazine Dagens Industri lying in a hotel bed:
Or when a couple of detective sisters are photographed sitting on the marble in short skirts with cross-legged leg-showing poses:
Or when two American TV profiles are photographed for a new press photo and the female of them goes up into I don’t know what flirting with her male colleague:
Or when the female models hang on or pull out a breast behind the male model in a jeans commercial:
Eller när ett barbröstat tjejgäng skrattar, flamsar och hjälpts åt att skyla varandra när fotografen är i farten i en annan jeansreklam (tack, Emma Gray Munthe):
Or when a bare-chested group of girls laughs, fools around and helps each other to cover up when the photographer is on the prowl, in another jeans commercial:
Or when the Gothenburg Chocolate & Delicassy Festival markets itself in a newspaper ad with a still image from a chocolate porn movie (???):
What is really most offensive? Berit Runge’s favorite image of herself or the endless thread of women as passive sex objects in fashion, advertising and bad gender photography?
Which image is really most offensive of these two …
The clothing store New Yorker’s ad for an autumn jacket and a pair of jeans (aimed at female buyers, we must assume?) With a model who gets one of her nipples batman censored and unbuttons her fly:
Or the blogger, teacher student and (very soon) mother of three Anna Davidsson’s remake:
Sell stuff with me & girl. Whose jacket do you get the most craving for now? If the underlying message is something like: ”If you buy this jacket, your stomach will be flat and your breasts firm”.
I have a hard time getting over how cool and funny this counter-attack is. And it doesn’t get worse by the fact that Anna Davidsson runs Mammaformer.se, a site where women can send in pictures and texts about how their bodies have changed or not changed after a pregnancy.
But just as in the case of Berit Runge and Matilda Berggren’s pictures, not everyone understands the liberating joke.
You’re supposed to be a teacher and flash your breats like that? Professional! I wonder what your students say about this picture (or does with it)? And their parents?
You could have gotten your point across without showing half your body.
Här vill jag låna ytterligare ett välformulerat rytande från Tanja Suhinina, från hennes inlägg Min kropp. MIN. angående att hon gärna skulle lägga ut nakenbilder på sig själv men känner sig hindrad av sitt jobb och framtida jobb:
Here I want to borrow another well-formulated roar from Tanja Suhinina, from her post My body. MINE. regarding that she would like to post nude photos of herself but feels hindered by her job and future job:
”… I hate it. I hate that others get to decide what is more or less appropriate for me to do with my body. I hate that others decide how appropriate it is that my body is exposed. I hate at all when others say for me what to do, and when they should decide over my body – and that it’s so fucking obvious in our society – makes me boil inside with anger. Why is it considered so obvious that you have to stop respecting a person if you seen his nipples in the photo? ”
This is what Tanja Suhinina writes in connection with this article in The Guardian, about how paparazzi photographers, uploaders of creepshots (pictures of women’s body parts sneaked in public) and revenge porn (sex pictures uploaded without consent and which are said to be from ex-partners) create a forum for hunting, cheering and exchanging ”fallen” women in the picture and what real shame spots a virally spread sex picture can actually put an end to a young woman’s life.
Horrific reading. But at the end of the article, there is a quote from law professor Mary Anne Franks that I find very enlightening:
”I think there is a rage against women who are sexual on their own terms. We are completely calm with women who are sexual, as long as they are objects and passive, and we can turn them on, turn them off, download them, delete them, whatever it is. But as soon as there are women who want some kind of exclusive right regarding their intimacy, we hate it. We say, ’No, we’ll make you a whore.’ ”
I know. A woman who is naked and funny is perhaps uncomfortable, even scary, because it automatically makes her a subject? (Try to imagine a picture of someone who is passive in a humorous way. Joking is a way to be active.) In our collective reptile brain, maybe we are simply not ready for women who do what they want with their bodies?
Berit Runge mentioned in a comment that she removed a ”totally off topic comment that completely missed the mark and was also Islamophobic”. I can easily imagine that it was some kind of stone-throwing in glass houses regarding honor cultures, from a like-minded person to the person who posted this picture on a racist Facebook forum:
Click on the image to enlarge. To stop laughing, I do not know what to do.
But now I actually have to comment on last week’s most commented pin-up photo. Alex Schulmans. On Wednesday, he published a parody of photos Marie Serneholt posted on her Instagram from a photo shoot for the magazine Café.
Since Alex Schulman is a man, shows skin and is funny, you can of course guess that people laughed and cheered. But not Kakan Hermansson. She accused Alex Schulman of misogyny and congratulated him on succeeding in sexualizing, declaring stupidity and double-punishing Marie Serneholt, while at the same time helping to further de-sexualise the male body.
Also, Alex didn’t aim his criticism towards the entertainment industry’s extreme fixation on appearance or what women must do to be seen in it – but against her. But what also escaped him isthat Marie Serneholt’s pictures are also a parody:
Det är i alla fall jättelustigt att den här debatten uppstod kring bilder där hon är fotad exakt som om hon vore en manlig kalsongmodell. Med hårt utmejslade magrutor i svartvitt ljus och hårda skuggor, jättebredbent och självsäker, utrustad med en fet klocka. Hon har till och med kalsonger på sig. (Kolla märket på dem. Samma som kåt-Beckhams. Jag sparade bara ner första bästa kalsongmodellsbild. Kan bilden på David Beckham ha funnits med på en datorskärm under plåtningen, till och med? Visste Alex Schulman om att han parodierade David Beckham?)
In any case, it’s very funny that this debate arose around pictures where she is photographed exactly as if she were a male underwear model. With hard chiseled abs in black and white light and hard shadows, wide-legged and confident, equipped with a fat watch. She even wears briefs. (The same brand as Beckham’s, even!) Did Alex Schulman know he was parodying David Beckham?
This could be one interpretation of what the philosopher Judith Butler meant with: “…gender is a kind of imitation for which there is no original”.
Anyway. Alex Schulman has also been has also been filmed for the magazine Café once upon a time (2008). And then it looked like this with the gender-awareness:
Which images are really most needed to parody?
Finally, I want to touch on a topic that some men, a little worried, have asked me about. Do I think men should be sexualized more?
Objectified? No. Not really. Everyone deserves to be a subject. It disturbs one’s flow to constantly walk around and think about how one is perceived and judged by others (self-objectification). Studies have shown that objectification affects men and women differently. It also looks different. Once men become objectified, they are still made large, strong, independent and active, which are handy qualities if you are to be a subject. But the message in those pictures is that a man must be big, strong, independent and active (to be able to perform). Which of course puts a lot of pressure on men and is just more fuel on the macho fire.
I always find it a little sad when men wave away their bodies as comical, ugly and innately unsexy. What does it really do for men’s body image? ”The woman in her true image is sexier than the man. Sexy and powerful enough to create life”, thundered a now grown childhood friend on my Facebook wall. To that I replied: ”Many people experience the male body as at least as sexy, but it is not sexualized in the same way in fashion, media and advertising.”
All images of independent, controlled and closed off men who refuse to pretend to show off themselves (even though you automatically always do so and in that sense are passive when you stand in front of a camera). That looks like they’re not making a single noise in bed …
What do they really do for men’s sex lives?
Perhaps it would be liberating, in the case of men, to see more images of men who are sexualized, and perhaps a little objectified as well; men who are soft, beautiful and inviting and who actually dare to be intimate and give in to him; which may be vulnerable, responsive objects instead of acting, performing and reserved subjects, for once.
We want equality, right? Either we all sexualize everyone or we sexualize no one. It can actually be that simple.
Jonathan Rieder Lundkvist, a skull-voting (Pirate Party voting) photographer, has learned that.
After photographing the Pirate Party’s segment of this year’s Pride Parade, he asked his friend Inga, who marched topless, if it was okay for him to publish the pictures of her on his blog. He had already published pictures of male party comrades with only breasts, but held back the pictures of her until he knew he had her consent.
She replied with a scolding.
She thought that either I should ask everyone or not at all ^^
When Jonathan Rieder Lundkvist asked me how I thought he should approach asking women in parades about permission in the future, I said:
Smart idea to start asking men.
So when I asked Jonathan Rieder Lundkvist if I could use his pictures from the Pride Parade, he asked both Inga:
Inga answered that it was okay and asked Jonathan to tell the Gender photographer that he’s awesome. (^^)
It’s cool with me.”
I think we can end with that. Two happy, expressive, free bodies.