Am I missing something?
When I first decided to re-watch Xena recently, I looked around the web a bit for other people’s opinions on the show. One complaint that kept coming up was: too much nudity. Costumes shrinking as time went by. More and more exposed female skin, pandering to the objectification of women. I wondered if I would see what they saw in it as I watched.
I watched. I saw exactly what they were talking about. But I was lost on why they found it so offensive. I had to wonder why it struck me so differently. Here’s the best theory I came up with.
It’s that damn Victorian era.
Most people seem to associate nudity with sex, first and foremost. This is odd to me, because don’t we all get partially or fully naked at least a couple of times a day for purposes as boring and non-sexual as showering and changing clothes? Didn’t ancient people in warm climates – and some modern – manage to wear next to nothing on a regular basis without finding themselves in a state of perpetual arousal? Was the statue of David meant to turn people on, or was it, you know, an artistic representation of the male human form in its most potentially perfect state?
How did we get to the point where any glimpse of a partially exposed breast or stomach or thigh means something sexual? Simple: lots and lots of programming. It took billboards and commercials and saxophone music played over beach scenes, but we managed it. Let’s all pat ourselves on the back for the fact that unless otherwise reminded, most of us think of breasts as genitalia for male titillation (no pun intended) instead of baby food spigots. We’ve made amazing progress on our total disconnect from reality.
Now, all that said, there is no question that nudity is often used for objectification, and I object to objectification (no, I will not say that three times fast). I’m also adamant that men need to shed some clothing and join the party. But nudity does not automatically equal objectification.
A person can be objectified with all her clothes on. So it seems to me, if we focus on a platform like “nudity=bad”, we’ve missed the whole point. Imagine a scene of a woman bathing naked in a pond. There is no one else around, and she’s not acting particularly sexy. Now imagine a scene of a woman, fully clothed, letting her boss know that if he’d like to give her a performance review on the couch instead of at the desk, she’s all for that. Which one is sending an uglier message about women? Which one offends you?
Here’s a thought. Maybe we need more non-sexual nudity on screen, to get folks over their Pavlov’s dog response to exposed skin. More nudity involving ugly people should help with that, too. And maybe a real quick way to get things equalized would be to have a few male characters who simper around with no purpose other than to keep fit and twitch their pecs at any woman who’ll have them.