Nudism , Feminism and Women
Nudism with a Feminist Twist:
I’ve been reflecting lately about why there aren’t more women, especially young women, involved in nudism. Generally speaking, it’s obvious we live in a society where people are afraid of nudity, ashamed of it, and deem it only acceptable during sex or bathing. But when it comes to women and nudity, is there another factor at play called patriarchy? There was a recent post from a feminist blog entitled “Go Naked; it’s good for everybody (but particularly for women)” about nudism and feminism that got me thinking.
First, the “naked rambler” story from a feminist point of view. A man named Nigel Keer was recently was fined under the Public Order Act for walking nude at Otley Chevin, a popular nature spot in the UK. That’s all he was doing. He was spotted by a woman who had a “distressed frown” on her face, according to the off-duty police officer that stopped him. (This story is a lot like the case of nude hiker John Cropper, except he wasn’t seen by anyone else. Perhaps it would have turned out differently if a female witness had been involved.) This woman was never identified, never testified, and never spoken to. However, it was enough to convict Nigel. As a feminist would immediately point out, the woman was assumed to be a “victim,” helpless in front of this strolling naked man. Ironically, this officer unwittingly offended women everywhere by deciding this female victim was distressed and needed his protection.
However, in one of the comments, a woman identified with the female victim. She says,
“Yes, not all men are sexual predators, and walking naked doesn’t necessarily equate to predatory behaviour, but the sad fact is that many, many women have experienced sexual violence at the hands of men and seeing a naked man when you’re out for a walk could well make a woman feel threatened, and could even trigger her.”
Yes, many women have been victims of sexual assault or rape, and I can understand a lone woman feeling threatened or disturbed seeing Nigel. But when does walking naked ever equate to someone being a sexual predator? When they attack. It doesn’t make sense to arrest someone for simply “causing alarm” because they are doing something unusual.
A lone naked man is an assumed predator, maybe even a rapist? As the writer, CP Reece, intelligently remarks, rape has nothing to do with nudity, but with exercising power over someone.
Reece points out the hypocrisies of female nudity. It’s OK in advertising and trashy magazines, but not OK in the park or on the beach. Breasts are not even ok to show in public breastfeeding. She notes that we live in a patriarchal society where men have always had control over how much skin ladies can show in public. Is this why there aren’t more young women involved in naturism? If women associate taking off their clothes just with sexy modeling, acting, and showing off their bodies, then they might think they have to look good enough to go nude in front of others. Of course looking good means being tall and thin like the unattainable ideal we see everywhere in the media.
For female nudity, patriarchy seems to play a significant role, especially in regards to topless rights. Reece says, “To require women to cover up their breasts in public is a highly visible expression of patriarchal control.” Indeed women don’t have to cover up breasts because they are breasts, but because they are women. Reese reminds us of the policeman in the documentary, My Daughter the Teenage Nudist, who, between the topless girl and guy, went after the girl to put her top back on. “Why?” Reese asks. Because she has a vagina. It’s a sexist, partriarchal law; or in this case, a sexist norm enforced by this officer, since it’s legal to go nude in public in the UK. It exists in a society in which men hold the power.
But what about male nudity? They gained the right to go topless first. Will they be out enjoying nude hiking before us ladies? Sounds crazy, and I hope that won’t be the case..
Referring back to the title, how is naturism good for everyone and especially for women? It fosters gender equality, which is particularly great for women whose bodies for once are not being put on display for male enjoyment. (Yes there are men who will still stare or join for that purpose, but it’s a totally different atmosphere in a true naturist setting. As Reece says to ladies, “a naturist man will look you in the eye!”) Naturism also advocates positive body image and celebrates all body types outside of the media’s ideal. Everyone is naked and equal, free of any sexist textile constraints and with much less stereotyping, judgment, labeling, profiling, etc.
To be continued in a second post about Reece’s call for radical action for naturist rights…