Is common bodily modesty sexist, or even misogynistic? I’d say so. Can a woman not be truly free of patriarchy, until she is free of the traps of clothing? I’d say so.
But, who am I to speak for women? Can I really understand? Shouldn’t this be written by a woman? I think that I can speak to this because as a man, I also can’t be free, until I’m free of our societal situation. That being okay, still, I’ll extensively quote some women throughout this article, as I make my case.
Let’s look at the inside first, body shame. We are pressured into living up to unreasonable bodily ideals. From young to aging, people are subjected to fashionable impositions. It changes, but our body types won’t always agree with those changes. People starve, suffer social insecurities, and lie to themselves and others. We are told that we are flawed. We are manipulated into clothing that will make us look something other than what we are.
We are sexualized, something that has its place, but this overused imposition confines the identity to within limits, and with that, it limits personal potential. We are reduced, corralled and channeled into living life as someone else’s object. People get dressed to support that fantasy. People also dress to diminish objectification. Our other abilities, our other humanity, our inter-relationships are constantly tainted with this. People tease, fish, manipulate and game within this context. We are more than that. We can’t be equal, if we have to be so separated by sexual concerns and inhibitions.
The trap of gender roles is rampant. Dress, the uniform of conformity, plays a big part. Be it power garb, masculine superiority, a female’s place, or inequality, gender determines “who wears the pants,” a term that comes directly from this kind of culture.
Things have changed. Here’s evidence, but still, what remains?
There is the identification of the stereotypes of women as feminine, frail and delicate, men as rough and tough.
We are all both of these aspects and we have a right to choose. Clothing doesn’t allow for choice, or mood. It tells us to act out one, or the other. Much of this is being broken down. In my lifetime, change has given a man the okay to cry, admit weakness, be emotionally available, cooperate and be respected in the ability to be a single parent. Women have come much further than smoking. They are getting into combat, traditional male roles, leadership and speaking up when actually knowing something outside of the kitchen. Still, the destination is down the road.
Still, it is difficult for many of us to even see that our male and female sides are closer than the stereotypical differences. Much of the vast grey area is treated as if it doesn’t exist. Many of us identify with the lies to the point that we can’t sit down with the other gender and respectfully be equal.
Establishing that this inequity is wrapped up in clothing, what about his thing called modesty. I’m not talking about Webster’s “the quality of not being too proud or confident about yourself or your abilities.” I’m talking about “propriety in dress, speech, or conduct.”
To practice modesty is to accept the socio-cultural oppression spread across most of the world. The premise is that the body is sexually attractive, and we have little control over it. Suppression must be used to control a mad animal within us, so cover it up, out of sight, out of mind. This is a false narrative. I think that use of this concept is close to the one that was once placed on the backs of black people. It was once widely believed that the race was innately wild, lacking self-control and dangerously sex obsessed. What was done to remedy this misconception? Suppression.
Modesty tells us a bare body part is improper, a shaming faux pas, a crude social mistake, a brazen impropriety. Modesty is also a demure game, played on women and played by women, to place them in a self-image as a sex object that can turn a man into a wild beast. A modest man must be as to not scare the frail damsel. This is a fairy tale, “Beauty and the Beast.” This is not who we are. We are taught to be these ways. Liberation must cast those ways off; recognizing them as the antiquated mess in humanity that it is.
What might gymno-feminism be?
What would be the behavior and outlook of a someone you might call a Gymno-feminist ? It has to do with equality, but what would that look like?
It would mean equality in the ability to be disrobed, to be accepted as we are, flaws included, in all aspects. To have no fear, stand naked and be proud, accepting of self, as one essential self, not just the social layer around us. This idea is not something new. We were getting at this during the late 1960’s when nude encounter groups were the rage.
It would mean being authentic, who we are, how we feel, what we feel that we want to do, accepting our masculine, our feminine, our shortcomings, our strengths, or our choices in our place in reality. If he wants to be a stay at home parent, or she doesn’t, if they want to change and do something different, or risk, then stand up and do it.
Do we want a level playing field? We all have flaws, shortcomings, and positive attributes, but we wear clothing to hide our insecurity about them. There is a game with clothing and often we believe that that is us. It can be a crutch. It is tough to be real, but we have to accept ourselves and present ourselves. To pull the rug out from under all of that, we need to stand naked, literally and figuratively. They go hand in hand. Anything else becomes a false relationship.
I’ve begun to pepper the rest of this with quotes from the comments section, about an article that Monica Tan wrote in “The Guardian”, “Nudity is the ultimate test of self-acceptance. Why are we so afraid of it?” These are women’s quotes.
“As for those afraid of criticism – who is in any place to judge? Nudity enlightens us to the fact that human beings, truly, come in all shapes and sizes, and bodies that adhere to conventional beauty standards are as rare as Jennifer Lawrence.”
“And the final terror of being naked in public is the fear of being turned on by it. But being naked taught me that a partially clothed form is infinitely sexier than a nude one. Clothing is what denotes our bodies as illicit. Consider this: which sentence is more sexual? 1) The man and woman were naked. 2) The man unbuttoned his shirt and slid it over his smooth back. The woman slipped her panties down to her knees.”
“Nudity, and nude photos are the ultimate test of self-acceptance. Do you love yourself enough that you can give it all away? I want to believe my answer is ‘yes’.”
On being authentic, “They exercised their agency in deciding to undertake the parade. Hence they were the actors. These were middle aged women and they emphasized the fact that these were mothers. This is important because when mothers strip it signifies that they are pointing to the origin of people or where they were born from, that is the mother’s womb and such protest signifies their stand by showing them saying as if ‘we revoke your birth’ and hence condemning the very birth of men.”
We all know the following epitaphs are wrongly associated with simple nudity, “Put your top on little girl, “slut” “whore” “bad girl.” DF says that sometimes a little voice pops into her head when she is nude and still says, “Nice girls don’t do that.” For a moment, she has to shake it off. It is ingrained at a very early age. It comes from the spectrum of imprisonment, stoning, and genital mutilation, degrees of body veiling, bustles and bras. Also, subtle offensive advertising with guys in control, supported by women. It comes from over-protective parents. It comes from the subliminal messages of anti-body laws.
“It is all control of bodies, especially women’s bodies. Women’s freedom. When you get scared, you’ll try to hide your body. You will try to make it something that it is not, you will feel shame for your breasts, your thighs, your natural hair, unworthy, less than you are, lack of self-acceptance. You may eat unhealthy, suppress your sexuality, or use it as a social tool, or manipulation instead of a natural inner expression.”
Put these all together and they spell it out. We need to stand naked, outside and inside. We need to put it all out there, blasting away our shackles. This means finding the opportunities to stand tall and tell the world, “This is my body, stop making such an issue of it.” “Here ya go, this is me, now let’s move on to other things.”
“We all have to be naked sometimes. If we all strip bare every day, and expose our deepest truths, we can live naked in our passion, naked in our power, naked in ourselves, naked in the moment. Dance, be the body, be that way. Spread radiance.”
One more quote, this by Philip Carr-Gomm from his 2006 book, “The Druid Way”.
“Nakedness means freedom, and although dancing on a sun-kissed hillside with shorts on seems pretty similar to dancing with shorts off, there is all the difference in the world. It is as if your clothes take on the weight of your worries and concerns – they come to embody your defenses against the world, and if you can feel confident enough and safe enough, then taking them off evokes a powerful sense of liberation, of joy and freedom; and more than that – of innocence and of openness to the world”.
I’d like to clarify by an example and tell you about someone that I admire. She is herself. She gives to the world. She makes free choices.
She is not going to be asked to appear in Playboy, she embraces her body type. Her most attractive physical feature is that she keeps herself healthy. She isn’t 20, she is her age. She doesn’t wear makeup, or get trendy hairstyles, she naturally radiates instead, with a smile and a welcoming warmth.
She is mother, grandmother, healer, that friend who shows up when you are stuck in the hospital. She is spiritual and compassionate.
She is confident and responsible and brave.
She makes her own choices, choosing her independence, her equality, her self-reliance, her friends. She chooses authenticity and its honesty. She chooses to be herself.
She takes action upon her beliefs and is passionate about injustice. She embraces gratitude. She stands naked in her body, unashamed, proud, wholesome and natural. She stands naked to show others that nudity is a liberation. She embraces her body and living nude in nice weather and the natural world. She enjoys her naturism. Being seen without clothing has become of little consequence.
This is who she is. She’s is perfect in her human imperfection. It is evident in her spirit. She knows how liberation feels.
The Monica Tan article that I refer to and her reader’s quoted comments were published in “The Guardian”
If you would like to discuss anything naturism, I’m at FreeRangeNaturism.com, often.
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I disagree with this premise. The drawing and the good wife article look like they come from the 1950s or so. I enjoy pleasing my husband and he enjoys pleasing me. It is not a servant relationship, it is a loving relationship. I choose to be in this type of relationship and others can choose theirs. Some may find that their wife or husband expects or demands they serve them. This is not love and they need to decide if this is for them or not and it may be either the man or the woman mistreating the other.
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The date, May 13th, 1955, is marked on the picture. I did mention that things have changed and this is merely an example. I figured it would attract attention. I’d like to see this article create talk, thought and discussion. I think that we both disagree with the 1950’s.
I was raised by two people in a similar kind of arrangement, mom the officer’s wife, backing him up and essential to his career. It was their career as a respected team. I have her old published guide book for officer’s wives.
We decided to try my parent’s model in my 2nd marriage. It didn’t work out for us, eventually.
My son and his new wife have a new arrival this May. She will be a stay at home mom. They behave like best friends.
I figure “to each his own.” Isn’t marriage a flexible grand experiment for each of us? It didn’t used to be quite that way.
As to the coercive nature of that 67 year old example, there is a great deal of validity to it. Back then, a woman was second to a man in culture, the common social environment and the work place. A woman was usually looking at being a secretary, nurse, or mother, not a doctor, lawyer, or mother with other interests. She was not expecting to be employed as “the boss.” College was usually a place to land a good husband and provider. It was a man’s world.
I am deeply grateful that my granddaughter doesn’t have to grow up in those constraints. She also has a choice like you. She can generally be anything that she wants to, just like her male counterpart.
So, after coming a long way, here we are. This article is about true equality. Where and how we all move forward toward more equable and just relationships. I think that body liberation is a key.
Also, thanks for re-posting that other article.
Although I agree that things are improving, there is an incredible message here.
Mysoginism, as well as racism, continues to stain our culture, even as we evolve beyond their grasp.
I love how you have illustrated how nudism can further advance this cause. I think it is an excellent conversation starter.
There is a huge push to bring back the morals of past generations. To put women, and minorities, back into “their place”. It’s more than sad.
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Interesting article with a valid point. While men are subject to many of these things as well, the consequences for ignoring societal convention regarding either dress or nudity are usually much less severe for men.
Over the years I’ve seen a number of articles like this one from 1955. Aside from being ridiculous in too many ways to count, they share another commonality which I’ve rarely seen mentioned. They assume the their target audience isn’t particularly bright. The whole tone seems to assume anyone reading the article is cognitively impaired. To add insult to injury, the housewife’s work isn’t even acknowledged as being actual work. Forgetting the misogyny involved, there isn’t even an acknowedgement of the fact that if the housewife doesn’t do ‘her’ job, the husband can’t do his. I.e. The value she contributes isn’t acknowledged as being real. At least in the 60’s, men’s magazines such as Popular Mechanics kept reminding its audience (the husbands) that it was their job to make sure all the housewife’s tools of the trade (stove, washer, dryer, vacuum, etc.) were working properly and if they weren’t, it was HIS fault if she couldn’t do her job as a result and he had no right to complain. It was still lame, but at least it was a small step.
Back to point… I think middle-aged women leading the charge for change is a good idea. Younger women doing so would cause nudity to be immediately sexualized by many/most men. This would pave the way for the trope of ‘frail damsels’ being scared by naked men. My opinion is that many/most men themselves do not believe this schtick. They trot it out to deflect the topic from their own body shame and insecurities. They make it about women so as to remove themselves as a topic of either conversation or scrutiny.
What I find interesting is that men even police themselves. Whenever a man says something negative about another man’s garb or lack thereof, take a look at the man making the comment. 99% of the time he does not have the kind of body society says a man should have in order for said garb to be acceptable and the man being derided does.
Sometimes I think men are the main obstacles to women’s acceptance and willingness to participate in social nudity.
Clothing, lack of time and opportunity to be nude, keep a disrobed body from being a usual experience. Clothing as a norm certainly does compound what should and could be, a much less complex and authentic social interaction.
Just getting it over with, that is to stop hiding one’s body anymore, leaves a profound liberation. Most complications, for example inner insecurities, or fears, just melt away. To feel embarrassed, uncomfortable, endangered, threatened, or suffer superficial judgment, all are wrong impositions of clothing. Exposed, I feel empowered, against such unhealthy abuse. Instead of feeling more vulnerable in an imagined situation, it is replaced by being less vulnerable and more comfortable in my skin and my revealed truth.