Moral compunctions want to close your eyes but how do you interrogate the new nakedness with eyes closed? It’s a cop-out. Before now, you needed to go out of your way to espy the female physique. It showcased behind closed doors, both real and symbolic. You had to make an effort to access Playboy or Penthouse magazine. Internet was hardly this ubiquitous then and the printed magazine was only available on demand and at the equivalent of red light newsstands. The prudish could keep out of harm’s way simply by remaining in the regular zone. Not anymore. Now, they come at you, online and in the street and, gratuitously. The motivation could be as flimsy as a wish to “break the Internet”. If any further proof is needed of the ubiquity of nudity, it is provided by Playboy which is to lay off nude women in its print editions because of plunging sales. Penthouse is shutting down its print editions after more than 50 years. What moralizing could not accomplish, competition has. A tabloid screams: Pornography Kills Playboy. But the Internet is not adult magazines’ only competitor in pornography. The street is the Real McCoy.
Feminism has come full cycle but what she does with her hard-won freedom to ‘be’ herself is to bare herself. This barring bazaar like the access to pornography used to be restricted to women of easy virtue and entertainment divas. Now mothers and grandmothers on the popular stands of living are giving their daughters and grand-daughters a run for their money. Otherwise respectable housewives minding their families have suddenly found out they can do with a little exposure. From showing some cleavage, even if enhanced by a scaffolding of reinforced bras, they have taken the show above the knee. An Igbo adage says a handshake gone beyond the elbow becomes an embrace. Feminist embrace of nudism is now total – gone the whole hog.
To what ends could this be nudity and semi-nudity? To the assertiveness of feminist independence, even dominance? To the newfangled idea of allowing women “regain ownership of their bodies”? Like Brexiters are now doing with their country. The right of misuse is a legitimate one in the bouquet of rights of ownership. But is it a beneficial one? This abuse of independence in making harmful choices is not unlike what many an African nation have done with their own political independence. Little wonder nations take female pronouns. It is very much like humans to first subvert the normative as a way of asserting ownership. Now, in Africa and many decades of self-rule after, many of us would rather our governance were outsourced to the former colonialists if only to stanch the flow of blood from inter-ethnic and sectarian conflicts. I foresee the inheritors of today’s rabid feminism seeking out male dominance in the near future. This is by no means original to me. The Holy Book asserts: “And in that day seven women shall take hold of one man, saying, we will eat our own bread, and wear our own apparel: only let us be called by thy name, to take away our reproach.”
The Humanities has made a growth industry these past decades of discontent – real and imagined. It has told women that they have been subjugated under a “patriarchal” social system, that men have “objectified” their bodies in advertisement, marketing, music videos, rap music lyrics and through a dozen other means and avenues. Truth be told, it has a point. Many cultural practices in my own society are weighted against women and there’s no reason why they should remain. But many too are instituted with the best of intentions for the female folk. One example is the taboo on the climbing of trees by girls. Unlike now that women are mostly in trousers, it was just beads around the waist back then. You’d think that for a patriarchal society to decree that this scant covering be not exposed on tree tops would be a sign of altruism. But no. Feminists would wrest every right back, both the beneficial and the injurious. This is not unlike the stand-up comedian’s joke: A little girl had been rebuked by her granny about how indecent it was to climb. “Why?” wondered our potential feminist. “Because the boys will see your underpants.” Next time, little feminist was caught climbing and challenged by granny again. “I made sure to remove my underpants so the boys wouldn’t look at it,” explained our little wiseacre. This may look like the stuff of a comedian’s repertoire but is it? In the real life imitation, “Keira Knightley goes topless to protest photoshopping”.
It is this omnibus reclamation of all the rights of womanhood, including the right to naked exhibitionism that befuddles with feminism. It has been said that victims of oppression in the long run turn the oppression against themselves. Female oppression has been spun by feminism into something that the fraternity of all males sat down and decided upon and went out of their way to execute thereafter. This canard elicits the counter of feminists resisting the social order, even the aspects beneficial to their nature like some delinquent kid. Therefore, if this (semi)nudist bazaar is their way of getting back at a “patriarchal society”, it is, at best, a self-immolating one because the men are having a ball at their expense.
Nudism has become the go-to panacea for the positive self-image industry. It is hawked as the antidote to body shaming which is counterintuitive. How ever does maximum exposure cure any feeling of inadequacy with one’s body? Comfort in one’s skin wasn’t meant to be literal. The lay physicians who prescribe maximum exposure as antidote to poor self-image all say their prescription is non-erotic. You wish. They’d need to hear the other side of the story not from their obviously sick patients but from the less obviously sick voyeurs and patrons.
I may be wrong about the feminist ends of the new nudism. I know socially unconscious jerks in my ideologically phlegmatic society who, nonetheless subscribe to female fashion’s semi-nudist ways. For these ones, it simply comes trendy and they could have a go at it. Their tools of trade consist of low-hanging necklines, sheer fabrics, contour-squeezing polythene-thin pants and micro-mini skirts. To be fair, boys also sag their pants below their waists and un-button their shirts. But the seduction value of this must be very minimal. Even at that, it is nowhere near the scale of its female equivalent plus; it is age-related in the males. The feminist response to the seduction charge is that a lady reserves the right to dress up how she wants. They reject every linkage of parts exposure to male arousal. At best they insist that even if a man is aroused by this exposure, he should keep it to himself while the female provocateur does what she likes with her license. The more insidious cause of rising male impotency may yet be linked to this serial arousal without gratification. If this alfresco of female privates is not an invitation to treat, how come it is the hooker’s most common come-on?
The itch to be espied should also have a fair share of the blame for the audacity of female nudity and semi-nudity. You remember those times when, as a kid, you put on new shoes and you wished every friend of yours gazed downwards to notice. It would seem this itch survives childhood in some women. Instead of wanting you to notice what they are putting on, theirs is about you espying what they are not covering. Following a relay of links while reading the online edition of a serious newspaper, I soon found myself looking at the paparazzi’s compilation of otherwise respectable women whose skirts had been lifted by the wind to reveal their stark underneath. My knee-jerk was to regard these ladies as victims of the elemental equivalent of wardrobe malfunction and the paparazzi. But on second thoughts, it struck me that four unrelated and unlikely coincidences would need to have conflated to work these particular exposures – a quadra-incidence of sorts. There’s the unlikely happenstance of forgetting to put on underpants while dressing up. Then the second one of having a short flared skirt over airing groin. An iconoclastic wind has to be procured and where it is not forthcoming, exiting the car or sitting cross-legged will do to contrive the third happenstance. The fourth and final factor in this unlikely equation would be the paparazzi at the ready with lenses trained awaiting a slip up. The unusual thing about the women who flashed bums and groins is that they were not all entertainment industry divas at red carpet events. They included royalty and, in one case, a mother at her son’s sporting event. With the unlikely conflation of all four happenstances in real time, the inescapable conclusion is that the itch to be espied is responsible for this variety of wardrobe malfunction. Far from being victims of a nosey paparazzi, these bored coquettes are actors in carefully choreographed porn skits with the paparazzi merely recording as victims.
Western neo-nudism leaves Africans bemused. Just after Western colonialism has successfully made them associate civilization with prude and covering up, there comes the daughters of that civilization screaming the opposite. Perhaps, it’s all down to the cyclical pattern of most trends, the booms and bursts of haute couture, for example. But having something as fundamental as shelter for body parts going with the caprices of style would have the Early Man wondering wherefore he was so labeled. We may no longer forage for food in caves but sartorial progress that returns us to where we started surely gives the Early Man the last laugh.
Musing on nudity and semi-nudity, you’d think there is nothing ennobling about flashing so much flesh until you watch Tina Fey stripping down for David Letterman. Her gifting of herself in underwear as a valedictory memento to the retiring show host has framed the utility values of nudity in very positive hues. Nudity as a gift has been practiced for ages in more private settings appreciated only by the one on whom it is bestowed. Star-struck fans also show off some privates in fits of ecstasy. But never has there been this clear-headed solemnity to the public gifting of semi-nudity. With Fey, we can imagine a transformative future for nudist displays away from erotic ends.
In Africa, female nudity has been employed in non-erotic contexts as advocacy weapon or as omen for a scourge. The moment the women of a community mass up on the streets and bare their chests, the men get the message that a snafu is afoot. Usually no male on-lookers dare gawk at such display which makes you wonder how it ever does get reported. Protest nudity can be ennobling, even sacred, and presents a non-sexualized context for nudity and semi-nudity. The practice of protest nudity has survived till date and is subscribed to by Western and Oriental societies too. Wolfgang Kraushaar, in “The Globalisation of the Naked Protest”, reveals: “If we were to draw a tentative conclusion at this point, the truly surprising thing would be how this development in the repertoire of forms of protest has not spared a single part of the earth, religion or culture. Though the frequency of naked protests may exhibit significant geographical differences, we may justifiably claim that in this digital age in which society is being newly defined down into the tiniest microcosm, we are experiencing a globalization of the naked protest.” Reporting such protests always falls short of the no-holds-barred graphics of the display. Editors censor all such nude protests maybe because mainstream media is not rated for age like movies. This may be just as well on print and television but much more licentious on the Internet. To what else would Playboy owe the plunging sales of its print edition if not to the competition from Internet sources?
In recent times, female celebrity selfies have been more about Eve’s suits than designer wears. Where they manage to cover up, it is the sartorial equivalent of nudity or semi-nudity. There’s a role model remit to celebrity which the media has tried to push for ever. Before now, some of us have refused to hold out a man or woman as role model just because they put out an album which sold millions. Celeb role modeling may be good for endorsements, sponsorships and all that venality but surely does nothing about being examples of good public conduct which is why the dummy young impressionable minds get sold. Now that entertainment divas from Kim Kardashian to Emma Watson are scandalizing prudishness with their Eve’s suits, maybe it is time to finally trash the notion of celebrity role modeling.
Michelle Ekunno whose alter ego is widely-published likes self-company playing chess but gets often thrown into the middle of things. As Tom Boy, his other credits include Bridge Eight (due in Feb., 2017), The First Line, Carbon Culture and Hamilton Stone Review among others.
Photo Credit: Cédric via Flickr