Don’t get too excited. There will be zero naked men involved in this post…
Are you familiar with the Free the Nipple (link NSFW) campaign? In a nutshell, it’s a movement that seeks to end the stigma around women’s bodies by liberating the nipple from the shirts, bras, breastfeeding covers, and general censorship that have made it a source of shame and hyper-sexualization.
Why should men get to run around topless everywhere from yoga class to the beach to mowing their own front lawns, while women are expected to cover up? As Violet Rose points out, “It is illegal for women to go topless in most cities, yet you can buy a magazine of a woman without her top on at any 7-11 store. So, you can sell breasts, but you cannot wear breasts, in America.”
These are valid points; points I whole-heartedly support. But here is what concerns me: While I think Free the Nipple is a message worth supporting, I’m not convinced that making the nipple even more ubiquitous (i.e., letting it loose on Instagram) would succeed in helping normalize its presence.
I mean, do you watch HBO? Turn on basically any of their most popular programs, and it’s plain to see: the nipple is as free as a herd of feral cats. Yes, these are typically nipples of the hyper-sexualized variety. But I am shouting another, louder question: Where are all the naked men?
Last night, I was watching the first season of “True Detective” (more accurately, the boyfriend was watching it while I was getting increasingly annoyed by its presence) in which all of the female characters are either prostitutes or exist for the sole purpose of removing their clothes. Yes, I concede that it has a compelling plot. Yes, I appreciate the quality of the writing. But this doesn’t change the fact that it’s like a well-scripted equivalent of playing Grand Theft Auto*.
(*In case you’re uninitiated, it’s a video game where you drive a virtual car around and occasionally run over prostitutes.)
Far too often, contemporary dramas leave me feeling like I’ve stumbled into a college Halloween party: the men look like all sorts of things, while the women are different variations on sexy. Yet “True Detective” is one of the best/worst examples of testosterone television I’ve ever seen. The two title characters spend all their efforts hunting a perverted killer who treats women like fetishistic objects, while all the women — dead or alive — are portrayed as…fetishistic objects. There’s not a compelling or inspiring lady to be found.
Behold, stills from the glorious opening sequence! Men: have faces, do stuff. Women: have boobs and butts.
To be clear: I’m not anti-nudity. I wish it was natural and normal. I’m simply offended by the blatant inequality in the nudity we see.
What if the tables were turned? How hilariously, glaringly different would that look?
Imagine, if you will…
A show in which women solve crimes, fend off monsters, run the government or otherwise have complex, interesting lives, and men just… remove their clothing. Painfully slowly and in very bright light. Naturally, said men must be young, fit, attractive, and unnaturally well-endowed.
The actors would have some options, though: they could be type-cast as Channing Tatum-esque dancer types, gigolos, sniveling husbands, and sometimes — if they’re really good actors or the offspring of some high-level executive — they’d get cast in other roles, too. They might get to play the son of a major character or maybe even — I smell an Emmy nomination — a scorned husband seeking revenge!
I was talking with my friend last night, and she said this:
“You know just how unequal it is when you’re watching a movie and ONE peen appears and my husband actually covered his eyes and said it was making him uncomfortable. I was like, ‘Are you kidding?? I have to look at perfect naked women ALL THE TIME. Can you imagine how I feel?'”
I suspect that the answer is no. How could he realistically imagine it? No matter how sensitive or open-minded or progressive the man, it would be hard to fully empathize with something they’ve never experienced.
So… maybe we should change that.
I know this isn’t a novel argument. But must my hypothetical children grow up in a world where boobs are essential to every plot line and penii remain shrouded in mystery, like some rare and precious lilly that blooms but once a year?
There is nothing I’d like more than to end the stigma surrounding female bodies. But I’m rallying for a level playing field — both on the sidewalk and on our screens. If I — and all the daughters of the world — have to confront shame and awkwardness, stereotypes and sexualization — then everyone should have to. Because maybe that’s the only way to even things out.
If anyone wants to fund an amazing production, where the women are complex and the men are exposed — I mean, celebrated — you know where to find me.