This Puritan attitude about nudity has always been one of my big pet peeves with my fellow Americans. I think we’re the most uptight culture when it comes to nudity and sexuality and, as a woman, I find it particularly hard to stomach. Why should I be made to feel guilty about my own body parts? After all, we don’t come into this world clothed.
In this Puritanical society of ours, women are expected to behave as though they are indifferent to sex. Well, that is, the type of woman a man would want to take home to his parents and marry; women who express their sexual natures are labeled “slut” and “loose,” often times very unfairly. In trying to figure out just what a man wants in a mate, a woman is constantly stuck between the images of being the “vixen” or the “good girl.” I suppose you can have both, but your public image must always be “the good girl” while you’re the “vixen” in bed.
Yet men never have to live this double life. Men are granted the right to be sexual beings publicly and, in fact, are encouraged to do so, for if they are not outright sexual, they are labeled “gay” or “sissy.” Gay is the favorite emasculating insult among heterosexual males for some reason, even though most of the gay men I’ve ever known are just as upfront with their maleness and sexuality as any heterosexual male I know. (I won’t even go into how discriminating it is to use one minority group’s sexual orientation as a cut-down. I look forward to the day that “gay” is not used to insult a heterosexual male who fails to meet the cultural “male standard.”)
At the same time that our society administers these rules of sexual behavior, we publicly try to create an almost Victorian attitude that sexuality is of the baser nature and it is sinful. Therefore, just the suggestion of nudity or sexuality in public causes lips to pucker. I never fully understood the whole Janet Jackson debacle and why it caused such the controversy it did. I, too, was enraged by the incident but not for the same reason as the rest of the American public; I was upset that everyone had made such a big deal about a boob.
A boob, folks, is the derogatory term for the organ a female mammal uses to feed her young. Has that been forgotten in this world of formula and baby bottles? I’m reminded of all those cases, the big stink, that went on a few years ago over the “lewd act” of women breast-feeding in public. Let me say this again: The lewd act of a woman breast-feeding in public. Breast-feeding is the most nonsexual function of a breast. I wonder if the problem is as simple as the men in our society being secretly jealous of the baby’s right to suckle openly the breast men covet so highly. The act of breast feeding is not supposed to be titillating (no pun intended); it’s a function of child-rearing. Once the process of breast feeding has begun, I’m told that it’s very difficult for a woman to break her schedule. I’ve never gone through it, so I can’t say so myself, but the way I understand it is that it’s kind of painful or frustrating to not release the milk. Not to mention the baby’s demands for food. Should women perhaps be locked up at home throughout the duration of their baby’s breast feeding needs? Should we return to the days suggested in the Bible, when women were cast away from everyone else once a month during their natural, feminine cycle? Why is everyone so uncomfortable about womanhood?
I suppose prude behavior is not restricted solely to the American culture. In my tour of the Vatican this past summer, I was appalled that the boobs and genitalia on most of the naked statues were covered by special bronze leaves, like the fig leaves that cover the same features of every artistic depiction of Adam and Eve I’ve ever seen. I want to hate religion sometimes for its suggestion that nakedness is sinful, that the very bodies with which we were endowed are something we should feel ashamed about. I’m not advocating public nudity–there’s a time and place for everything–but in our works of art that celebrate the lovely human form, can we not by-pass our prudishness and just bask in the beauty of the features that make us unique as a race and, individually, as both our genders? Can we not appreciate that the human form–both male and female–has physical attributes that rightly we find attractive and that feeling this attractiveness is not a bad thing?
I guess the major objection to the Janet Jackson debacle was the fact that kids may have seen The Boob and that they were somehow scarred or wounded by the viewing. This is the part of the whole incident that infuriates me. What is so shameful in a child seeing a boob? I’ve known about boobs since I became aware of the world around me. As a child, it’s hard not to notice this obvious difference between yourself and your mother. I was raised in an open environment in which my questions about sexuality were not stifled to be discussed on another day when I was “old enough to understand.” My mom always answered my questions with replies she thought I could handle at the moment. My sexuality was never a mystery to me. For as long as I remember, I knew I was going to grow up and develop my own boobs and that someday, too, I’d have a monthly cycle called a “period.” My mom didn’t want any surprises. As far as I can see, this early exposure to my sexuality did not corrupt me (unless you consider my emergence as a liberal feminist as one of the ill-effects of my upbringing). A society that makes taboo the discussion of sexuality and our own bodies breeds teen pregnancy and irresponsible sexual promiscuity.
I know you’re out there saying, “Yes, but there is too much nudity on television and what kind of message does this send my kids?”
Let’s put this in perspective: It was a boob. A harmless, two-second exposure that I regretfully missed as I watched the Super Bowl on a television across the bar at an Old Chicago restaurant in Colorado. We are not talking here of two people going at it with skin-on-skin, close-up action. A boob is about as harmless as seeing butt cheeks. For some reason, butt cheeks are socially acceptable, as long as they are a man’s. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a candid two-second shot of a woman below the waist on regular television channels, even for something as “harmless” as a butt.
Yes, it was a shameless publicity act, undoubtedly planned by Ms. Jackson to shock. It seems to have worked, for here we are, four years later, still talking about it. So you have to hand it to her for understanding fully the prudishness of the American audience whom she must have known could not handle the shock of a boob. Perhaps she’s a media genius. Her boob spot has hoisted her dwindling music career and kept her as a talking point, at the very least, once a year for perhaps the next ten years. I wonder if this is an incident of pop culture I’ll have to relate fondly to my nieces and nephews someday. To miss it might be like missing out on a major event, like when the Challenger blew up or the day of that Ohio earthquake in January 1986 (a few weeks after).
“Where were you when the boob was exposed?” my young, impressionable nieces and nephews will ask.
I’ll have to change my story to impress them and say that I actually saw it. Who wants to admit to missing out on an incident that caused so much controversy? I did, however, get glimpses of The Boob in internet news rooms later. I wasn’t impressed.