Nudity and feminism

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Nudity

The word nude is derived from the Latin word nudus, which means "naked” and “bare". [1]In English, it refers to a body without clothes, coverings, as well as protections. [2] However, nudity is beyond a state of nakedness; rather it reflects cultural conventions, religious ideologies, and historical attitudes depicted in art. Therefore, the interpretation of nudity is determined by “context within which they are situated.” [3]

Nudity has been a paradoxical and controversial subject throughout history for the powerful and contradictory feelings it evokes. It can express innocence or promiscuity, natural or deviant behaviours, it can thrill one or revolt one. In modern culture, it is actively encouraged in some contexts, but abnormal or deviant in others.

Feminism

Feminismadvocates the ideology that men and women should share equal political, economic, and social rights and opportunities. This includes organizing movements and campaigns in support of women’s rights, such as the Equal Right Amendment, sexual freedom, and reproductive rights, etc... [4] Feminist movements and campaigns led to the Feminist Theory, which seeks to examine women’s social roles to understand the nature of gender inequality. [5]

Interpretative Frames: Nudity

Media

In modern media, images of nudity are employed in advertisments to appeal and arouse interest in a particular product, brand, or service. Advertising companies use nudity to promote, and this ranges from "housing loans to appliances, perfume to cars." [6] Nudity has, therefore, become the latest trend. According to Nudity: A Cultural Anatomy, “advertising and fashion need a constant stream of novelty and there's nothing so new as nudity, the oldest fashion of all.” When advertisements are more sexually provocative with the use of nude images, men are often draw to them, as they are genetically more responsive to sexual images. [7]

When nudity is used in advertisements, it is inevitable for some values and attitudes to develop regarding the term. For instance, “sex sells” is the message that when a consumer thinks that if he purchase the car, he will also own the naked girl. [8] This effect is not only effective for men, but also for women. Researchers at UCLA discovered that seeing an attractive naked male or female in an advertisement excites the areas of the brain that is responsible for compulsivity, therefore, bypassing one’s rationality.[9] For instance, the product Axe body spray is a leading example of “sex sells”. It’s advertisement features a partially naked male using the Axe Body Spray, who immediately achieves a superior social status and becomes a “chick magnet.” [10] Similarly, Paris Hilton’s “Rich Prosecco” champagne and Yves Saint Laurent’s “Opium” campaign, amongst the many others, use fully nude women to promote their products. These advertisements do not only use nudity to sell their products, but men and women are often being objectified. Many female celebrities including the Kardashian family, particularly Kim Kardashian, Kendall Jenner, and Khloe Kardashian have been participating in countless nude or topless photo shoots appearing on the front cover of magazines. Kim Kardashian and Kiera Knightley are only two of the many celebrities to do so. With lots of recent on-going discussion regarding feminism and leaked photos of celebrities like Jennifer Lawrence, nudity and feminism do to a certain extent relate. Many of these photos aim to advocate the portrayal of an "ideal woman" and to support feminism in social media.

Culture and Religion

There are regional interpretations on the meaning of nudity throughout Eastern and Western cultures and religions. In the West, it is influenced by the classical Greek belief that “the idealized perfection of the physical denotes the model of divine beauty”. In the East, interpretation derived from the Indian principle that the “creation of supernatural beauty is through abstractions of the physical body”. Therefore, cultures differ in the perception of the body.[11]For example, in India, nudity suggests “simultaneously the sensuality of fertility spirits (female nudity) and supreme yogic control (male nudity); whereas the human body is a didactic illustration of moral and ethical teachings in the Far East, especially with the advent of Confucian ethics.” [12]


East

  • In Hinduism, traditions like skyclas rituals, although rare, is still being practised. The rituals serve the purpose of allowing individuals to feel more "natural" and "conformable" in one's own skin that is given by God by . [13] Moreover, Hindus view nudity as the most ideal human state, because they believe when one is nude, one is the closest to God, as nudity shows the true spirit that lives inside the human flesh.[14]To be clothed, they believe, is to hide one’s true spirit. Due to their religious value of nudity, many Hindu goddesses are also presented in nude. For instance, the Hindu Goddess Lajja Gaun is presented fully naked, with legs spread, and with a visible vulva.[15] Chhinnamasta is another Hindu Goddess who appears in nude. Her figure is said to signify “sexual vigor, life, and nourishment.” [16]
  • Jainism is a religion originated in India. A significant feature of Jain religion is that the saints live nude. In Jainism, individuals who are aspired to sainthood discard clothing. [17] They believe any earthly attachment, including clothing, are obstacles to salvation. Therefore, they detach from their own body and cloth. Nudity, therefore, is not the main value in the religion, but nudity as a means to achieve detachment. [18] Within the Jain community, however, women are not allowed to be naked in public. Since women are prohibited from practising nudity, they cannot reach liberation directly, and are therefore perceived as inferior. [19]
  • In China sexual relationship was relatively freely talked and written about, as Huang and Dennis cited "As in many societies, erotic paintings also existed in ancient China (van Gulik 1961). During the Tang Dynasty (618–907), the imperial rulers adopted an open attitude towards other cultures, and the conservative Confucian codes were not strictly followed. As a result of cultural and economic prosperity, Chinese women enjoyed a high level of personal freedom, and the style of Chinese costumes proliferated in China" (Huang, 2011). [20] Huang also mention in their studies that many ancient Chinese poems "portrayed women in transparent or semi-nude dress"[21] One of the most famous examples is the Chungongtu or Shunga as in Japanese (originated from China), these refined artistic artwork clearly deliver heavy sexual messages and reflected the desire for female nudity in ancient China. [22]


West

  • When one thinks of nudity from the perspectives of the Christians, one would immediately be reminded of the story of Garden of Eden. Nakedness did not carry any negative connotation such as shame and guilt, until Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, which they immediately felt ashamed of (Genesis 3:1-6).

The term nudity in the Bible extends from the conventional definition “being without clothes” to “without conventional or usual clothing “, that is, the “improper covering of the body nakedness.” (see 1 Samuel 19:24; 2 Samuel 6:14, 20; 1 Chronicles 15:27; Isaiah 20:2-4; John 21:7) [23]

Although in the past, shame and guilt are associated with nudity, the view has however slowly shifted to a more liberal understanding. In 1981, Pope John Paul II expresses “The human body can remain nude and uncovered and preserve intact its splendour and its beauty... Nakedness as such is not to be equated with physical shamelessness... Immodesty is present only when nakedness plays a negative role with regard to the value of the person... The human body is not in itself shameful…” [24] This explains the rise of Christian naturism ( see Nautrist-Christians.org).

Art and Pornography

The “lines of competing definitions of acceptability and unacceptability” are drawn somewhere between the poles of fine art “, and therefore, art is relevant in the subject of nudity (Nead 1992).[25] Moreover, “the female nude is precisely matter contained," and the female body is "given form and framed by the conventions of art.”[26] In viewing nudity from the perspective of art, Beth (2001) claims, nude bodies presented in classical art “is not expected to give way to arousal or titillation”, it is therefore, viewed and interpreted differently than nude bodies in pornography or sexualized advertisements, where these bodies convey a different expression. [27]

As suggested, there is a clear boundary and distinction between the portrayal of nudity in art and pornography, since art is based on “continence”, and that it is “kept, held within the body” (Nead, 1992). [28] Therefore, an artistic female nude body conveys cues that frame individuals into "revering, admiring, and keeping the nude bodies in the sacred realm of art”, where the bodies are not presented for “sexual pleasure”. On the other hand, pornography “pours out beyond the body into the city streets”. It represents the opposite of the artistic nude, which serves the purpose of sexual arousal. Thus, unlike the “contained body” in art, the nude female in pornography “showcases her orifices." [29]

History of Art and Gender Differences

In art history, there exists gender differences in the depiction of the female and male nude body. The male nude body tends to emphasize "form and composition", neglecting the sexuality aspect of nudity. [30] Moreover, nude men in art often take an active role, and are depicted as warriors, verses the passive roles assigned to women in art. The female nude body, on the other hand, often portrays a sense of sexualization and idealization of beauty. [31] In addition, "the nude" in western art were often of female bodies. As Lynda Nead concludes from Kenneth Clark, "It is in the process of dropping the gendered prefix – the moment when the female nude becomes simply ‘the nude’ – that the male identity of artist and connoisseur, creator and consumer of the female body, is fully installed". [32]

Nudity and Sexualization: response of women

2014 Celebrity Photo Hack

In August, 2014, many celebrities, including Jennifer Lawrence, Kate Upton, and Emma Watson became the victims of nude photo leakage after their iCloud accounts were hacked. Pictures of their nude bodies were distributed to porn websites and other social networks. While many celebrities took legal actions immediately for the invasion of privacy, some pleaded on social networks and asked the public to stop abusing the pictures. Yet, others had chosen to fight against it.

In an interview, Jennifer Lawrence referred the incidence as a “sex crime” and a “sexual violation”. She told the public that she was initially going to apologize, but then realized that “it’s my body, and it should be my choice, and the fact that it is not my choice is absolutely disgusting.” [33] In the end, she refused to apologize.

Emma Holten

Emma Holten is a Danish student who had been violated when a hacker raided her email and spread her private nude photos for public to view online. Surprisingly, however, she took an empowering and counterproductive move—she took more new topless pictures of herself in “everyday situation” to “un-sexulaize” and “challenge the way with which we see the female (naked) body." [34]

Visit her inspiring website for her biography and photographies.

Differential attention of the media on celebrity nude photo leakage for colored female celebrities

As aforementioned, the issue of the recent leakage of various celebrity nude photos is a significant topic that falls into the realm of gender, sexuality and racialization. In a personal blog, Dr. David J Leonard illustrates a sampling of headlines of this incident:

“Jennifer Lawrence, Other Aren’t Just Hacking Victims”

“Kate Upton, Jennifer Lawrence’s Hacked Photos to Be in Art Show”

“Nude Photos of Jennifer Lawrence, Kate Upton, Arana Grande, Kirsten Dunst Leaked Online”

With these topics, and other hundreds of them, a theme emerged: “White Female Victimhood” [35]. It is obvious that much of the attention of the incident went to Jennifer Lawrence, Kate Upton and other celebrity who share one common characteristic— being a white woman. Although Jill Scott, Rihanna and other colored female celebrities were also victims of this incident, the media mainly focused on the white female celebrities, demonstrating a differential attention. Therefore, it seems that racialized women, in context like this, are particularly marginalized and deprived of support, although they are as much of a victim as other white celebrities. A flip side to these headlines, a less obvious theme, according to Dr. Leonard, appears: that black women are “underserving of protection; that when their privacy is criminally violated, it isn’t such a scandal” [36]. This theme is further emphasized with a Google News search for celebrities’ names associated with “leaked,” which shows that Lawrence and Upton have the most searches (22,700,000 and 126000, respectively); Scott and Rihanna has 39,100 and 8,760, respectively [37].

Nudity as a means for Feminist protests

Nudity has been a part of female empowerment and feminist protests, which explains the rise of “nudist feminism”. Nudist feminists aim to promote positivity to the female body and to transform the idea of female nude’s existence for male pleasure to women’s agency, freedom, and empowerment. [38] These protests often reflect women’s desire for consent and bodily sovereignty in a patriarchal society.

Femen

It is a feminist protest group founded in Ukraine in 2008. The group organizes many topless protests against sex tourism, sexism, and homophobia. Their protests advocate sextremism, which is the mission to protest and “the weapons are naked breasts.” [39] It is said that when the group had their first protest, they covered their breasts with hands due to the embarrassment, but eventually, they came to see their breasts as “nothing but a uniform." [40] On the official Femen website, it elucidates its view of the female body :

“In the beginning, there was the body, feeling of the woman’s body, feeling of joy because it is so light and free. Then there was injustice, so sharp that you feel it with your body, it immobilizes the body, hinders its movements, and then you find yourself your body’s hostage. And so you turn your body against this injustice, mobilizing every body’s cell to struggle against the patriarchy and humiliation.” " [41]

Not only does the group seek to fight injustices about patriarchy and humiliation, with their “our body is our manifesto” slogan, activists attempt to reclaim their naked breasts and agency of the body.

However, many critics such as Gill (2009) claims the group is unintelligently feeding the “most predictable templates of male sexual fantasy”, which contradicts the vision of the group.[42] Some critics even question why the activists appear with “pop star” looks and wear excessive cosmetics. [43] Moreover, the “mastermind” of Femen is discovered to be an abusive patriarch named Victor Svyatski, whose influence is described by the activist as “Stockholm syndrome." [44] According to the female activists, he “yells at them”, “berates them”, and calls them “fucking idiots”. He also claims himself to be the “father of New Feminism”. [45]This poses a lot of questions regarding the organization.

SlutWalk

SlutWalkis a transnational movement that started in Toronto as a local protest against a police officer’s claim that women should not “dress like sluts if they do not want to be victimized by rape." [46] This rapidly transformed into an anti-sexual violence movement with protestors being partially naked. Moreover, the movement aims to “challenge the word slut and other degrading words around sexuality and sexual assault in their current mainstream use.” [47]

Activists of SlutWalk are often appeared “scantily, and wear fishnets, stockings and suspenders, bras…and other items associated with sexualisation of the female body in western societies.” Some even go as extreme as to writing the word ‘slut’ across their naked body in lipstick. [48]

Some critics suggest that “women need to find ways to create their own authentic sexuality, outside of male-defined terms like “slut” rather than imitating “dominate societal norms of sexual objectification." [49]

Other critiques from women-of-color:

On the website, BlackWomen’s Blueprint, an open letter is addressed to SlutWalk. It states “as Black women and girls we find no space in SlutWalk, no space for participation and to unequivocally denounce rape and sexual assault as we have experienced it… We do not recognize ourselves nor do we see our lived experiences reflected within SlutWalk and especially not in its brand and its label" [50] Moreover, in a feminist blog, a black woman expresses that Black women’s histories are different to that of White women, in that Black woman sexuality is mainly understood from without to be “deviant, hyper, and excessive”[51] Therefore, she claims that the word slut has not necessarily used to shame black women into “chaste moral categories”, as they have been understood to be unable to “practice normal and caste sexuality anyway” [52] This illustrates the interpretation, perspective and ways to utilize the nude body can be different for women from different race and different background. Moreover, similar to the context of celebrity nude photo leakage, black women in this context also experience a sense of marginalization as well as society's and their fellow women's neglect.

Nudity and Racialization

Slavery and Exploitation of Black Women’s bodies

Historically, Black female Slaves had a very low status and their values were only based on their work ethics and their bodies. As slaves and Black women, their bodies were very vulnerable to abuse and objectification [53]. This is especially so when a slave appears promiscuous, as this will subject her to sexual abuse. Since Black female slaves were believed to be the “source of promiscuity”, white men often did not feel a sense of responsibility to their pregnancy, as they saw it as the enslaved woman’s fault for “initiating a sexual relationship” [54]. Therefore, the blame is switched from the men who violated the bodies of these black female slaves to the women who are the true victims.

Human Zoo at The World’s Fair

In 1879 and 1889, the Parisian World’s Fair exhibited black individuals in a human zoo, and named it as the Negro Village. It presented 400 indigenous people as the major attraction, which attracted almost 28 million people. In Paris, during 1907 and 1931, the World’s Fair displayed individuals of colour nude or partially nude in cages. These displays often stress the “cultural differences between Europeans of Western civilization and non-European people”; they furthered the notion of “primitivism of Africans and was predicted on scientific racism” [55].


See Also

References

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